Photograph courtesy of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
His father was one of the wealthiest men in America, a Detroit icon and entrepreneur. But when Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only child, married Eleanor Lowthian Clay on Nov. 1, 1916, it wasn’t a lavish affair. If anything, it was relatively modest.
Roughly 100 people attended the fall ceremony, held at Clay’s uncle’s house, department store tycoon J.L. Hudson. According to the newspapers that reported the nuptials at the time, it was “very comfortable, almost informal,” said Kathleen Mullins, president and chief executive office of the Ford House, which oversees the estate where the couple eventually settled with their four children, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House.
“It was very much who they were,” Mullins said. “They were very much about family and friends.”
Edsel and Eleanor met at Annie Ward Foster’s Dancing School when she was 15 and he was 18. They lived just blocks apart at that time. When they married in 1916, she was 20 and Edsel was almost 23.
After their wedding, they left on a honeymoon trip out west, going as far as Hawaii. Eleanor kept a scrapbook that details their trip.
Edsel and Eleanor were the parents of four children: Henry II, Benson, Josephine, and William. Edsel, a talented designer, shared his love of art with his wife; they were astute collectors. The couple also received private art history instruction from Detroit Institute of Arts director William Valentiner, as mentioned in the book The Passionate Eye: The Life of William R. Valentiner. It was Edsel Ford who also bankrolled the execution of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry frescoes at the DIA.
Edsel died at the age of 49. Eleanor, who never married again, died in 1976.
“He was the love of her life,” Mullins said.