Studio photograph of Mary Lily Kenan.
Mary Lily Kenan (1867-1917) was born to the Kenan Family of Wilmington, NC. She married late in life in 1901 to Henry M. Flagler, an extremely wealthy gentleman. He was 71, she was 34. They were married at the Kenan family home, Liberty Hall in Duplin County, NC, in what was described as a fabulous wedding. By all accounts they were very happy until Flagler’s death in 1913, which left Mary the richest woman in America at that time. In 1916 Mary Lily Kenan Flagler married her second husband, Robert Worth Bingham, a publisher and mayor of Louisville. Her family was unhappy with this marriage and insisted that Bingham sign a pre-nuptial agreement stating that he had no claim on Mary’s fortune. They were married less than a year when Mary passed away. The cause of her death, her treatment prior to death, her husband’s supposed involvement, and how a codicil to her will appeared that gave her husband five million dollars are all still a mystery. Her family asked for an autopsy, but results were never released, and whether or not it even took place is questionable. Flagler’s money, managed by the Kenan heirs through Mary Lily Kenan, has benefited many institutions, especially the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their multi-million dollar contributions have helped attract top quality professors, and transformed UNC into the large research institute it is today. Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham is buried in Oakdale Cemetery.
Bingham, Mary Lily Kenan, 1867-1917; Upper class women; Philanthropists
Cowan and Denson Family Papers, Sp. Coll. #1243
Donated to the New Hanover County Library by R. Beverly R. Webb in 2007 and 2008
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