A Woman to Know: Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter

She walks like a man, she talks like a man — God, she even dresses like a man. — Helen Lynd

She walks like a man, she talks like a man — God, she even dresses like a man. — Helen Lynd

(image via Delaware Public Archives)

Tallulah Bankhead. Louise Brooks. Greta Garbo. Libby Holman. Jane Bowles. A who’s who of 1930s upper-crust society, sure, but also a collection of DuPont heiress Louisa Carpenter’s secret — and some not-so-secret! — lesbian lovers.

Louisa grew up in the blueblood du Pont family, heir to a grand reputation and an even grander fortune. She spent her early life in the Delaware countryside, breeding horses and hunting foxes with her father. Following a sham marriage to a du Pont exec in 1929, Louisa decided to live apart from her husband and moved to New York.

Once in New York, Louisa cast off all society trappings. The slender blonde aviatrix threw herself into the center of the Jazz Age, trading galas for gambling and tiaras for trousers. She eventually earned her pilot’s license and found work in the theater, later taking over an array of aging movie houses and staging plays for her many friends.

She took her girlfriends to Harlem’s legendary lesbian haunt, The Clam House (I am not making that name up), and became known for throwing all-night parties (one attendee called them “conventions of homosexuals”). The hottest ticket in town: an invitation to Louisa’s Rehoboth Beach House, where the nearby stretch of sand is now lovingly called “Carpenter Beach” by the local LGBTQ community.

In 1932, the notoriously private Louisa found her name in the headlines. Her on-again, off-again girlfriend, actress Libby Holman, was indicted for the murder of her husband, a high-profile tobacco heir. As the tabloid press swarmed Libby for comment, Louisa quietly paid her lover’s $25,000 bail and secreted her away to Rehoboth Beach. Once the charges were dropped, Libby gave birth to a child, deciding to raise it with Louisa. In 1933, Louisa adopted a young boy from a Philadelphia orphanage and raised the two children as siblings. Even as they continued to see other people, Libby and Louisa remained devoted parents and lifelong domestic partners, calling their arrangement that of “romantic friends.”

In her 50s and 60s, Louisa devoted her life to charity work. She converted many of her family’s opulent houses into historical museums, orphanages and summer camps for children and adults with disabilities. In 1963, she founded the Springfield Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing housing for impoverished Black Marylanders. In 1976, when Louisa’s plane crashed just a few miles away from her Maryland farmhouse, the majority of her estate went to the Springfield Foundation.

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