Alta Rockefeller Prentice

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Alta Rockefeller Prentice
Alta Rockefeller

(1871-04-12)April 12, 1871
DiedJune 21, 1962(1962-06-21) (aged 91)
Ezra Parmalee Prentice
(m. 1901; died 1955)
ChildrenJohn Rockefeller Prentice
Mary Adeline Prentice
Spelman Prentice
Parent(s)John D. Rockefeller
Laura Spelman Rockefeller
RelativesSee Rockefeller family

Alta Rockefeller Prentice (April 12, 1871 – June 21, 1962) was an American philanthropist and socialite, daughter of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller.

Early life[edit]

Alta was born on April 12, 1871 in Cleveland in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.[1] She was the third daughter of John Davison Rockefeller (1839–1937) and Laura Celestia "Cettie" (née Spelman) Rockefeller (1839–1915). Among her siblings was Bessie Rockefeller, who married psychologist Charles Augustus Strong; Edith Rockefeller, who married Harold Fowler McCormick; and John D. Rockefeller Jr., who married Abby Aldrich and Martha Baird. Her father was a founder of the Standard Oil Company and, later in life, became a prominent philanthropist.[1]


In 1917, her father gifted 12,000 shares of Standard Oil of Indiana (today known as Amoco), worth approximately $9,000,000 (equivalent to $179,602,597 today), to a trust fund with Alta receiving the income except for $30,000 directed to her husband. By 1930, the original 12,000 shares had turned into 356,000 shares through stock splits and dividends paid with stocks.[1]

Married life[edit]

On January 17, 1901, Alta was married to Colonel Ezra Parmalee Prentice (1863–1955)[2] by the Rev. Dr. William Faunce, the President of Brown University and former pastor of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church.[3] The wedding, which took place on the wide landing of the staircase in the main hall of her parents brownstone in Manhattan located at 4 West 54th Street, had originally been planned as an elaborate church wedding but was changed to a quiet affair at the Rockefeller home due to the recent death of Alta's young nephew, John Rockefeller McCormick, from scarlet fever.[3] Prentice, an attorney, was the son of Sartell Prentice and Mary Adeline (née Isham) Prentice and his maternal grandfather was Pierpoint Isham, a justice of the Vermont Supreme Court and a direct descendant of Rev. James Pierpont, the founder of Yale University.[4] His uncle, Edward Swift Isham, was the law partner of Robert Todd Lincoln.[5] Together, Alta and Ezra lived at 5 West 53rd Street in Manhattan (bought by her father for the couple as a wedding present) and were the parents of three children:

  • John Rockefeller Prentice (1902–1972), a Yale and Yale Law School graduate who became a cattle breeder.[6]
  • Mary Adeline Prentice (1907–1981), a 1934 Vassar College graduate who married Benjamin Davis Gilbert (1907–1992).[7]
  • Spelman Prentice (1911–2000), founder of the Prenalta Corporation which ran oil and gas operations.[8][9]

She founded Alta House (c. 1900), a settlement house in Little Italy in Cleveland, Ohio, which is named in her honor.[10][11]

In 1910, Alta and Ezra bought 1,400 acres (5.7 km²) of land near Williamstown, Massachusetts.[12] Elm Tree House, the Prentices' 72-room summer home on Mount Hope Farm, was completed in 1928 at a cost of $400,000 (equivalent to $5,955,814 today), and their estate became "the most valuable estate in the Berkshire Hills."[1] In the 1930s and 1940s, several geneticists were employed by Ezra to develop more profitable farm animals, particularly cattle and poultry. At that time, Mount Hope Farm was one of the most outstanding experimental farms in the United States.[2]

Alta died at Midtown Hospital in New York City in June 1962 at the age of 91, the last surviving child of John D. Rockefeller.[1] She left her New York City brownstone to her neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art, who tore it down and built a new wing of the museum. Her Berkshires property was willed to New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. Shortly thereafter, Elm Tree House was purchased by its current owner, Williams College.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Mrs. E. Parmalee Prentice Dies; Daughter of J.D. Rockefeller Sr" (PDF). The New York Times. 22 June 1962. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b "EZRA P. PRENTICE, LAWYER, 92, DIES; Author Also Was an Expert in Breeding Dairy Herds--Married Alta Rockefeller" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 December 1955. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b "WEDDINGS OF A DAY.; Prentice--Rockefeller" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 January 1901. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  4. ^ Industrial Chicago: The Bench and Bar. Goodspeed Publishing Company. 1896. p. 176. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  5. ^ American Ancestry: Embracing lineages from the whole of the United States. 1888-1898. Ed. by Frank Munsell. J. Munsell's Sons. 1888. pp. 28-29. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  6. ^ "J. R. Prentice Dies; Cattle Breeder, 69". The New York Times. 16 June 1972. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  7. ^ "MISS MARY PRENTICE TO BE MARRIED OCT. 16; Granddaughter of Late John D. Rockefeller Will Be Bride of Benjamin D. Gilbert" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 September 1937. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  8. ^ "Spelman Prentice, 88, Rockefeller Grandson". The New York Times. 13 March 2000. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Miss Mimi Walters Married In West to Spelman Prentice". The New York Times. 7 November 1972. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-04-22. Retrieved 2006-08-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Mitchell, Sandy (2008). Cleveland's Little Italy. Arcadia Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 9780738552132. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  12. ^ "MRS. E. P. PRENTICE BERKSHIRE HOSTESS; Entertains at Garden Party for Representatives of New England" (PDF). The New York Times. 22 June 1938. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  13. ^ "News Report". The Academy. 1966: 129. Retrieved 4 May 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Ronan, Patrick (June 29, 2010). "Williamstown Native Draws Up Big Plans For Elm Tree House". Retrieved 4 May 2019.

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