There are great jewelry collectors with fantastic pedigrees and great class. And then there was Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh. Born Maria Magdalena Muller in Richmond, Virginia, she first married William Haberle, who was a brewery heir from Syracuse. Little is known about how she met Mr. Haberle or for how long they were married. But by all accounts, they didn’t lead a very glamorous life, instead living in a drab, typical upper middle class Queen Anne house on Prospect Avenue in Syracuse.
Mr. Haberle passed away at a young age, leaving behind his wife and two daughters. It wasn’t long until Maria was spotted in London with her daughter Lenora (who apparently married a ne’er-do-well of a husband and never really moved out of mom’s house) and in 1912 married Colonel Kavanaugh, a cotton manufacturer from Waterford, New York, who became colonel while serving on Governor Levi Morton’s staff. It appears the much senior Mr. Kavanaugh had been introduced to Maria and followed her to London in hot pursuit.
It wasn’t long after and the Kavanaughs were back stateside and living in a grand beaux arts town house at 10 East 62nd Street in New York. It was about that time that Maria started to appear in the socialite papers, where it seems her main occupations were jewelry and attaining social status. It sounds like the marriage didn’t last all that long (there may have been reports of infidelity on Col. Kavanaugh’s part) but it’s unclear to me if a divorce actually took place.
Maria was often photographed out on the town, most notably at the Metropolitan Opera’s Diamond Jubilee, in New York with Lady Decies. It’s a photo we can’t reproduce here because of copyright issues, but it’s worth a Google, as it was shot by the famous photographer Weegee and the drunken homeless woman in the picture was apparently procured and staged for the photo.
In yet more examples of money can’t buy class, you can see Mrs. Kavanaugh wearing all of her jewels, possibly at the same time, at events such as the landmark last of the great Vanderbilt balls, when Mrs. Vanderbilt, the former Grace Graham Wilson, gave her final but most terrific ball in the vast and venerable Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue in 1941.
Whatever her status, she was definitely a great jewelry collector – although maybe not of the same caliber as we’ve highlighted before. It appears her motto was “more over quality”. We weren’t able to find many of her actual pieces, beyond a diamond star brooch, a diamond bracelet and a handful of other pieces that used to be in her collection, which were auctioned off in 2017. But if you look closely at the photos, you can see she was dripping with jewels, and the society papers even said she was the most bejeweled of anyone else at the grand Vanderbilt party. And that’s saying something.