Calvin Coolidge was the President and George Silzer was in his final days as the Governor eighty-one years ago when a woman went to Trenton to watch her husband take the oath of office as a newly-elected Assemblyman.
Well known today as Brooke Astor, the socialite and philanthropist who died this week at age 105, she was, in 1925, married to John Dryden Kuser, a member of an influential New Jersey family. She married him in 1919 — just after her seventeenth birthday — and left him ten years later following accusations of physical abuse, alcoholism and adultery.
Kuser came from a wealthy and prominent family. His father, Col. Anthony Kuser, was the President of the South Jersey Gas and Electric Lighting Company and one of the original investors of the Fox movie studio. Col. Kuser had served on the staffs of three New Jersey Governors in the late 1800’s and donated their 10,500 acre estate in High Point to the state for use as a park. His grandfather was John Fairfield Dryden, the founder of the Prudential Insurance Company and the United States Senator from New Jersey from 1902 to 1907.
Kuser launched his political career in 1922, at age 25, winning election as a Bernardsville Councilman. He was elected to the State Assembly two years later, and won a seat in the State Senate in 1929. Astor waited until after the Senate election to file for divorce.
During his six years as the Senator from Somerset County, Kuser’s top accomplishment was the passage of legislation that designated the Eastern Goldfinch as New Jersey’s state bird.
Kuser’s political career came to an end in 1935 when his second wife divorced him amidst allegations of abuse and cruelty. Three months later, in Reno, Nevada, he married a North Plainfield woman who was a secretary of the State Senate staff. After his term ended, he moved to Reno, where he became a newspaper columnist. He returned to New Jersey in the late 1950’s (after his fourth marriage) and worked as a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Conservation and Economic Development until his death in 1964 at age 66.
Democrats captured Kuser’s State Senate in 1935 when Assemblyman James Bowers defeated former North Plainfield Mayor William Smalley. Bowers, the last Democratic Senator from Somerset County, lost his bid for re-election to a third term in 1941 to H. Rivington Pyne, a 49-year-old former Assemblyman and the Someret County Republican Chairman.
After her divorce from Kuser, the future Brooke Astor married investment banker Buddy Marshall. Following his death, she married Vincent Astor, the Chairman of Newsweek magazine and the son of industrialist John Jacob Astor.