Almost 100 years before Kim Kardashian was advocating for prison reform, Nancy Cunard was wielding both her fortune and her notoriety for social justice.
A combustible combination of Art Deco chic and aristocratic activist, Cunard made shock waves throughout London society, publicly feuding with her mother—renowned London society hostess Emerald Cunard—and thumbing her nose at almost every conceivable convention of an era not necessarily known for its staidness, even while shielded somewhat by her mother’s reputation and the Cunard shipping line fortune.
“She was dedicated to obliterating the social class to which they all belonged. And I think she meant that,” historian and biographer Laura Thompson says. Cunard is one of a slew of wealthy women prominently featured in Thompson’s delicious new book Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies, alongside Vanderbilts and Huttons and others, stretching back to the 17th century. Cunard’s was a generation dedicated to decadence and refuting their parents’ values—but Cunard often took it to extremes.