Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor
Born William Waldorf Astor II in New York, New York, United States, he was the son of the extremely wealthy William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919), 1st Viscount Astor, and Mary Dahlgren Paul (1858-1894). He grew up in New York City but at age 12 the family moved to England where he would receive an education at the exclusive Eton College in Eton (then in Buckinghamshire) and at New College, Oxford.
The family's wealth allowed Waldorf Astor many choices but his interest in politics would dominate his life. In 1906, he married the American divorcee, Nancy Witcher Langhorne and a few years later entered politics, winning in the election of 1910 as a Conservative Party member of the British House of Commons for the Sutton division of Plymouth, England.
As a wedding gift, Astor's father had given him and his bride the family estate at Cliveden. There, Nancy Astor undertook a redecoration of the house, installing electricity for the first time. The young couple's lavish entertaining at the estate is often referred to as the 'golden period' at Cliveden when guests such as Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, and others of the British elite gathered for parties, fox hunting, and other pastimes of the wealthy. This prominent circle became known as the "Cliveden Set" and were very influential over the affairs of state. Waldorf Astor was a friend and supporter of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and during World War I he served as the prime minister's parliamentary secretary.
On the death of his father, Waldorf Astor inherited a fortune that included the influential newspaper, The Observer. In addition, as the eldest son, he received the hereditary title of Lord Astor and automatically became a member of the House of Lords. This appointment required him to give up his seat in the House of Commons and his wife Nancy then became the party's candidate in the required by-election. In December of 1919, she became the second woman elected, and the first to take a seat, in the House of Commons. She would be re-elected many times, serving until 1945.
Waldorf Astor was active in charitable causes and served as a governor of the Peabody Trust and Guy's Hospital. Still involved in political matters, he was Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs from 1935 to 1949 and also served as Lord Mayor of Plymouth from 1939 to 1944. He took over a successful thoroughbred racing stable from his father and expanded it further, winning many important races throughout Britain including the prestigious St. Leger Stakes in 1927.
During the military buildup by Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, the Astors understood the weakness of the British military, believing that war would most certainly bring defeat. Their promotion of entente with Germany was seen by some as appeasement of Hitler and led to much criticism of the family. However, Nancy Astor was often fiercely critical of the Nazis, and Waldorf had protested to Hitler about his treatment of the Jews. In 1940, they urged Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign and supported Churchill as his replacement. His son David who became owner/editor of The Observer newspaper in 1948, would never forgive Claud Cockburn and his newssheet "The Week" for spreading lies about the "Cliveden Set".
Although the Astor family donated the Cliveden Estate, Cliveden-on-Thames, Buckinghamshire, England, to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, Waldorf Astor lived there until his death in 1952 and his wife remained until her passing in 1964.
- William Waldorf Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor (1907-1966)
- Nancy Phyllis Louise (1909-1975)
- Francis David Langhorne (1912-2001)
- Michael Langhorne (1916-1979)
- John Jacob (born 1918)
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