An American Heiress Played A Critical Role In Turning The Tide Of WWII

Amid the political melting pot of pre-war Vienna, American heiress Muriel Buttinger Gardiner is living a double life. On the surface, she’s little more than an eccentric scholar, dining with high-brow academics such as Sigmund Freud. But in reality she’s a key member of the resistance, fighting the spread of fascism across Europe.

Early years

Born Muriel Morris in November 1901 in Chicago, she had enjoyed a life of privilege from an early age. Her parents, Edward and Helen, were both descended from wealthy families who had made their fortunes in the profitable meat-packing industry. And when she was 11 years old, her father passed away, leaving her the equivalent of $90 million today.

The meat-packing industry

But there was a dark side to the family fortune that may have influenced Gardiner’s future beliefs. Although those high up in the meat-packing factories, such as her father and grandfather, were raking in the profits, their success was built on the back of others’ suffering. And in 1906 Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle exposed the terrible conditions that the workers were forced to endure. 

Philanthropic acts

Of course, we don’t know how much — if anything — the young woman knew about the source of her family’s wealth. But we do know that she grew up to fight against injustice in all of its forms. Even in her youth, she was committed to redistributing her wealth through philanthropic acts.

Wellesley College

In 1918 Gardiner moved east to Massachusetts, where she enrolled at Wellesley College, a prestigious liberal arts college for women. And while there, she became the chair of a charitable committee. Over in Europe, families were struggling to survive the devastation left behind by World War I and they were writing to America for help.