Peter G. Gerry

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Peter Gerry
US Senator Peter G. Gerry (1920).jpg
Senate Minority Whip
In office
March 4, 1919 – March 4, 1929
LeaderThomas S. Martin (1919)
Gilbert Hitchcock (1919–1920)
Oscar Underwood (1920–1923)
Joseph Taylor Robinson (1923–1929)
Preceded byCharles Curtis
Succeeded byMorris Sheppard
United States Senator
from Rhode Island
In office
January 3, 1935 – January 3, 1947
Preceded byFelix Hebert
Succeeded byJ. Howard McGrath
In office
March 4, 1917 – March 4, 1929
Preceded byHenry F. Lippitt
Succeeded byFelix Hebert
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Rhode Island's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1915
Preceded byGeorge H. Utter
Succeeded byWalter Russell Stiness
Personal details
Peter Goelet Gerry

(1879-09-18)September 18, 1879
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 31, 1957(1957-10-31) (aged 78)
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Mathilde Townsend
(m. 1910; div. 1925)

(m. 1925; his death 1957)
ParentsElbridge Thomas Gerry
Louisa Matilda Livingston
RelativesRobert Livingston Gerry Sr. (Brother)
EducationHarvard University (BA)

Peter Goelet Gerry (September 18, 1879 – October 31, 1957) was an American lawyer and politician who served in the United States House of Representatives and later, as a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. He is the only U.S. Senator in American history to lose re-election and later reclaim his Senate seat from the person who had defeated him.[1]

Early life[edit]

Gerry was born on September 18, 1879 in Manhattan, New York City, to Elbridge Thomas Gerry and Louisa Matilda Livingston Gerry. He was a great-grandson of Elbridge Gerry, the fifth Vice President of the United States (who had given his name to the term gerrymandering). His father was worth an estimated $25,000,000 (equivalent to $662,327,586 today) in 1912.[2] Through his paternal grandmother, Hannah Green Goelet, he was a great-great-grandson of real estate investor Peter Goelet. His father, Elbridge T. Gerry, was first cousins with Robert Goelet and Ogden Goelet.[2]

In the summer of 1899, Gerry and his brother Robert were tutored by William Lyon Mackenzie King, who later became the Prime Minister of Canada[3] In 1901, Gerry graduated from Harvard University. He studied law and was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1906.[4]


Gerry inherited large real estate holdings from his mother, who died in 1920, which Gerry and his elder brother agreed to sell in 1922.[5] In a 1918 trust agreement, the brothers and their sisters, Angelica Livingston Gerry and Mabel Gerry, could all exchange ownership in Gerry real estate for stock in the Gerry Estates, Inc.[5]

Political career[edit]

Gerry was elected to the United States House of Representatives for Rhode Island's 2nd District as a Democrat from 1913 to 1915.[6] He was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1914,[7] but he was elected to the United States Senate in 1916 and served from 1917 to 1929. He was the first United States senator from Rhode Island elected by popular vote rather than by the state senate. He was also the first Rhode Island Democrat United States senator to serve since 1859.[8]

From 1919 to 1929, Gerry was the Democratic Whip. He has been described as a "Wilsonian Moralist".[citation needed] In 1928 he was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election, but in 1934 he was again elected to the U.S Senate over the man who had defeated him six years earlier. He was not a candidate for re-election in 1946 and served until 1947.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Portrait of Gerry's first wife, Mathilde Townsend, painted by John Singer Sargent, 1907
Portrait of Gerry's second wife, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, painted by Giovanni Boldini, 1900

First marriage[edit]

In 1910, Gerry married Mathilde Scott Townsend (1885–1949), the daughter of Richard H. Townsend (1850–1902), the President of the Erie and Pittsburgh Railroad, and the granddaughter of William Lawrence Scott (1828–1891), a Pennsylvania railroad and coal magnate who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. They did not have children and divorced in 1925. Later that same year, Mathilde married Sumner Welles (1892–1961), who was eleven years her junior, and who had divorced his wife, Esther Slater, in 1923.[9] At the time, rumors circulated around Washington that Sumner and Mathilde were having an affair that wrecked both their marriages.[9]

Second marriage[edit]

On October 22, 1925, Gerry married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958), the widow of George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914).[10][11] Edith, a daughter of Maj. George Warren Dresser, was the mother of Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976), who married John Francis Amherst Cecil, son of Lord William Cecil and Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney.[12][13]


Gerry died on October 31, 1957 in Providence, Rhode Island. His elder brother, Robert Livingston Gerry, died several hours later in Delhi, New York.[4] He was buried at St James Cemetery, Hyde Park, New York. His widow died on December 21, 1958.[14]


  1. ^ Pergram, Chad; The Associated Press (8 November 2016). "Johnson holds on in Wisconsin, beats Feingold in Senate rematch". Fox News. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Hendrick, Burton J. (June 1912). "PERMANENT OWNERS OF NEW YORK". McClure's Magazine. S.S. McClure. 39 (2): 121–138. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-08-16. Retrieved 2005-11-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b c Times, Special To The New York (1 November 1957). "Peter G. Gerry, Ex-Senator, Dies Hours Before His Brother Robert; Rhode Island Democrat, 78, Was a Foe of New Deal-- Supported Strong Navy". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b "GERRYS MAY SELL $18,000,000 REALTY; | Sons and Daughters Seek Consent to Transfer Big Holdings to Gerry Estates. | PARCELS IN HEART OF CITY | Include Properties Occupied by | W. & J. Sloane, Stern Bros. and Columbia University Club". The New York Times. 23 May 1922. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  6. ^ Brayley, Arthur Wellington; Tarbell, Arthur Wilson; Chappel, Joe Mitchell (1913). AFFAIRS AT WASHINGTON. National Magazine. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  7. ^ Times, Special To The New York (4 August 1915). "GROOM GERRY FOR SENATE.; Rhode Island Friends Enter Him in Next Year's Race". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  8. ^ "PETER G. GERRY". The New York Times. November 8, 1934. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b Devine, Michael J. (February 2000). "Welles, Sumner (14 Oct. 1892-24 Sept. 1961)". Oxford University Press: American National Biography Online. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  10. ^ After his death in 1914, she inherited his $50,000,000 estate and later sold the land around the Biltmore Estate to the United States Forest Service. This became part of the Pisgah National Forest.
  11. ^ "Edith Vanderbilt Wed to P.G. Gerry. Marriage by London Registrar Is Followed by Service at the Savoy Chapel". New York Times. October 23, 1925.
  12. ^ "Miss Vanderbilt Reported Engaged. Cornelia Said to Be Betrothed to the Hon. John F.A. Cecil of British Embassy". New York Times. March 6, 1924. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  13. ^ "John Cecil, Ex-Aide Of British Embassy". New York Times. Associated Press. October 23, 1954. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  14. ^ "Mrs. Peter G. Gerry". New York Times. December 22, 1958.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
George H. Utter
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Rhode Island's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Walter Russell Stiness
Party political offices
First Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Rhode Island
(Class 1)

1916, 1922, 1928, 1934, 1940
Succeeded by
J. Howard McGrath
Preceded by
William S. Flynn
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Rhode Island
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
Theodore Francis Green
Preceded by
J. Hamilton Lewis
Senate Democratic Whip
Succeeded by
Morris Sheppard
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Henry F. Lippitt
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Rhode Island
Served alongside: LeBaron B. Colt, Jesse H. Metcalf
Succeeded by
Felix Hebert
Preceded by
James D. Phelan
Chair of the Senate Railroads Committee
Succeeded by
Irvine Lenroot
Preceded by
Charles Curtis
Senate Minority Whip
Succeeded by
Morris Sheppard
Preceded by
Felix Hebert
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Rhode Island
Served alongside: Jesse H. Metcalf, Theodore F. Green
Succeeded by
J. Howard McGrath