Category: History, Values

March is Women's History Month, and Ford House is proud to honor the legacy of Eleanor Ford, not just this month but throughout the year. 

Eleanor Ford stands in front of a portrait in Ford House.Born on June 6, 1896, in Detroit to William Clay and Eliza Hudson, Eleanor’s upbringing instilled in her a deep sense of civic duty and social responsibility. She received her education at the Detroit Home and Day School, now known as the University Liggett School. Before marrying Edsel Ford, she expressed a keen interest in social work, teaching at a settlement school, and displaying an early commitment to service.
Eleanor’s life took a transformative turn when she married Edsel Ford, the only son of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, in 1916. Their union amplified her already strong ties to Detroit’s elite circles and provided her with a platform to pursue her philanthropic endeavors.
One of Eleanor’s most enduring legacies lies in her unwavering support for the arts and, in particular, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). She, alongside Edsel, cultivated a deep appreciation for art under the guidance of William R. Valentiner, the DIA’s first director. Together, they traveled throughout Europe, immersing themselves in the study of masterpieces and objets d’art. Eleanor’s love of art was shared by her cousin and friend, Robert Hudson Tannahill, nephew of department store magnate Joseph Lowthian Hudson. In fact, Eleanor and Edsel, along with Robert Hudson Tannahill, each left enduring marks on the DIA. 
Eleanor’s commitment to the DIA manifested in various forms, including generous financial contributions and advocacy for the institution’s growth. She played a pivotal role in the construction of the DIA’s south wing and established the Department of African, Oceanic, and New World Cultures with a substantial donation in 1976.
Beyond her philanthropic endeavors, Eleanor wielded considerable influence within the Ford Motor Company, where she held significant stock ownership. It’s said that she exerted pressure on Henry Ford to appoint her son, Henry Ford II, as president following the death of Edsel in 1943, underscoring her strategic acumen and leadership within the family business.
Eleanor and Edsel shared a deep familial bond, raising four children together: Henry II, Benson, Josephine, and William. In 1926, the couple commissioned architect Albert Kahn and landscape architect Jens Jensen to design their iconic Cotswold-style home here on the shores of Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores. Today, this historic residence is a testament to their enduring legacy and commitment to preserving history and the arts.
When Eleanor passed away on October 19, 1976, she ensured that her home and its grounds would be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Her philanthropic spirit and dedication to the arts continue to inspire and enrich the lives of countless individuals, cementing her place as a trailblazer in Detroit’s cultural landscape.

Learn more about Eleanor and the Ford Family

Visit our Ford Family Story exhibition to learn more about Eleanor, Edsel and the Ford Family. This permanent exhibition introduces visitors to Edsel and Eleanor Ford, their family, and their beautiful estate.