by Howard A. Zar
Although largely forgotten today, Helen Gould was once one of the best known and most beloved philanthropists of her time. Gould wrote a check to the United States government to underwrite the Spanish-American War and was generally associated with building YMCAs near military bases to provide wholesome recreation and enrichment for soldiers. She was heavily involved in women’s economic empowerment, building a vocational school to teach sewing at Lyndhurst, and was deeply influenced by her older friend, Mrs. Russell Sage, in her pursuit of women’s issues. As noted earlier, Gould attended both Episcopal and Presbyterian services and was particularly active in the Presbyterian Church.
Surprising to many, Helen Gould received her earliest training in charitable giving from her father, notorious for his predatory practices on Wall Street. The elder Gould did not publicize his many charitable activities as he suspected that the public would have seen these as a weak attempt to whitewash his reputation. Jay Gould purchased the viewshed across from George Washington’s home Mount Vernon (and then donated the property to the institution) and had his children select a charity to anonymously receive Gould funds each week. These habits stayed with Helen.
Her first charitable endeavor in 1894 involved fulfilling the promise to her late father to rebuild the Dutch Reformed Church in Roxbury, NY, and donate memorial windows by Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company dedicated to her parents. By this time, Helen Gould had at least a passing acquaintance with the Tiffany family through the Presbyterian Church in Irvington.
After the family memorial, Gould’s first public philanthropic endeavor seems to have been the funding of the New York University Library and Hall of Fame on the Bronx campus in 1898. Her father was involved with the university prior to his death, and Helen continued as the perfect patron, writing large checks and overseeing the project, but quibbling little with the work of the university or their designers. McKim, Mead & White, and Tiffany. The New York University Library is often considered Stanford White’s most successful building. Following her positive experience there, Helen Gould also funded the Tiffany decoration of the Irvington Public Library reading room in 1902.
For her personal pleasure, Gould purchased decorative glass, lamps, and windows from Tiffany Studios. A small window in the State Bedroom at Lyndhurst, dating to about 1908, seems to be the replacement of an earlier window that was destroyed by a tree. This pink and blue window is definitely attributed to Tiffany. Even more important, Gould commissioned Tiffany’s doe landscape window for her Fifth Avenue mansion, one of Tiffany’s most beautiful scenic windows and one of his largest residential works. Gould also acquired multiple vases, decorative works, and desk sets. A tantalizing entry in the 1942 sales catalog for the Fifth Avenue mansion is for a “gilded bronze table fountain, Tiffany Studios, diameter 20 1/4 inches.” The most important glass holdings were the Tiffany aquamarine goldfish and lily vases, considered among his most technically accomplished glass vases.