Mrs. Doheny’s Story

Carrie Estelle Doheny was a woman of strong faith, intellectual curiosity, and deep compassion for the underserved in her community.

From humble origin, her marriage to Edward L. Doheny allowed her the resources to emerge as a significant philanthropist in Los Angeles and a renowned collector of books. She lived her life with an eye towards heaven, always trying to contribute to His Kingdom on earth.

Carrie Estelle Betzold was born in Philadelphia on August 2, 1875. At fifteen, she and her German immigrant parents moved to Los Angeles. A decade later, Carrie Estelle was working as a telephone operator when she met forty-four-year-old Edward Laurence Doheny, a self-made businessman. After a brief courtship, the two were married and Carrie Estelle took over as the primary caretaker of Ned, her new stepson.

Carrie Estelle Doheny as a child and with her sister.
Carrie Estelle as a child, and with her sister as a young adult.

Mrs. Doheny was a devout Catholic and had a special affinity for the Vincentians and Daughters of Charity, orders of religious men and women formed around the charism of St. Vincent de Paul. During their thirty-five-year union, the Dohenys would fund the construction of a church and hospital in the name of this saint.

During the later years of the Dohenys’ marriage, Reverend William G. Ward, C.M., a Vincentian priest, was assigned as their chaplain. He remained one of Mrs. Doheny’s chief advisors throughout the rest of her life. He was instrumental in the formation and design of the Carrie Estelle Doheny Foundation and many other charitable pursuits of Mrs. Doheny.

After Mr. Doheny died in 1935, Carrie Estelle began to dispose of some of the properties and other time-consuming holdings, but she did not decrease the scope of her charitable work. In early 1939, Carrie Estelle was elevated to the rank of Papal Countess by Pope Pius XII.

Edward and Carrie Estelle Doheny in their garden.
Edward and Carrie Estelle enjoying time with friends in their garden at 10 Chester Place.

On her 69th birthday, Mrs. Doheny became partially blind while kneeling at Mass. Later she learned that glaucoma had destroyed her sight. After studying the disease, she created what would become the Doheny Eye Institute.

In her later years, Carrie Estelle made provisions for the future of several of her charitable endeavors, including St. Vincent’s Church and the Vincentian Fathers’ House of Studies. On June 17, 1949, she created the Carrie Estelle Doheny Foundation. She wanted the Foundation to be continuous, to further provide for the charities close to her heart after she was gone. Carrie Estelle Doheny died on October 30, 1958.

Edward L. Doheny

Edward was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin on August 10, 1856, the son of Irish immigrants. Edward left home quite young to prospect for gold and silver. Together with his partner, Charles Canfield, he located oil in Los Angeles and brought in the first commercially successful oil well in Mexico. Carrie Estelle never bore any children; Edward had a seven-year-old son from his first marriage named Ned.

The successes of the oil business and the satisfaction in their charitable work were tempered by a congressional investigation of the leasing of naval oil reserves in 1922. The trials, which began in 1923, lasted through 1930, with Mr. Doheny’s acquittal. The Dohenys led a quiet life until Edward died on September 8, 1935.

Mrs. and Mr. Doheny at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library
Mrs. and Mr. Doheny at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library on the University of Southern California campus, c. 1931.

Mrs. Doheny, the Collector

Carrie Estelle Doheny was a renowned collector of books with a particular interest in Bibles, most notably the Guttenberg Bible, which she owned for decades. In 1983, 25 years after her death, her gift to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles became unrestricted and was liquidated. During the two years of auctions in New York, London, and Paris, her collection at the Edward Laurence Doheny Memorial Library ultimately realized upwards of $34 million.

Treasure Room at Edward L. Doheny Jr Memorial Library, USC.
The first exhibition in the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library Treasure Room featured rare items from Carrie Estelle’s literary collection, c. 1932.
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