Alexander Wilbourne Weddell
was born in the rectory of St. John's Church on April 13, 1876, the son of the Reverend Alexander
W. Weddell and Penelope Wright Weddell. Young Weddell was only seven years old when his
father died leaving four young children and his widow to face life in genteel poverty. The
youngster was tutored at home until he entered Richmond public schools at age eleven.
As a teenager he spent his summers working sixty-hour weeks for the meager salary
of $1.50 at a local grocery store to help support the family. Later through family friends
young Weddell made his way into the banking and business world, but considering himself
unfit for these jobs, he sought and obtained a post with the Library of Congress. He worked
in the Copyright Office while attending law classes at George Washington University.
Then in 1907 he secured appointment as secretary to the newly appointed minister
to Denmark, and in the diplomatic world found his profession. His first assignment upon
completing the Foreign Service exam in 1909 was
Stints in Catania, Sicily, Athens,
Beirut, Cairo, and Calcutta followed as Weddell forged his diplomatic career.
By 1923, the forty-seven-year-old, tall, courtly Virginian was convinced that he would
probably remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. In February of that year, however, a meeting for afternoon tea in a
fashionable Calcutta hotel with some old Virginia friends and a vivacious widow from St. Louis
quickly led to courtship. Weddell arranged to take his leave and met Mrs. Steedman's party
in Rangoon, Burma. The romance continued on the trip back to the United States, and the couple
married in St. Ambose Chapel at the Cathedral of
St. John the Divine in New York City four
months after first meeting.
The couple returned to Calcutta late in 1923 where they remained until Weddell was transferred to
Mexico City in 1924. Upon arrival in Mexico, the couple found a nation that was torn by revolution.
Years of U.S. intervention into Latin American affairs and resentment caused by the vast profits American
corporations syphoned from their extensive Mexican holdings were fueling a strong "anti-Yankee" sentiment.
Americans demanded restitution for the deaths of several U. S. citizens during Poncho Villa's border
raids into Arizona and New Mexico. Weddell, who initially sympathized with Mexican interests, found
coping with corruption and bureaucracy extremely vexing and discouraging.
In 1928, deeply concerned about his wife's health, yearning to return to Virginia, and disappointed
in his assignment by the Republican administration to Montreal, Weddell, a southern Democrat, resigned
from the diplomatic corps. Weddell's retirement came to an end, however, in 1933 when he finally
achieved his dream of becoming an ambassador, being assigned by Franklin D. Roosevelt
to the mission to Argentina. He and his wife spent "five interesting and happy years
in that wonderful country," after which Roosevelt offered Weddell the very difficult
post of ambassador to Fransisco Franco's Spain in 1939. By 1942, advancing age, health
problems, and the cumulative frustration of working with an
unresponsive State Department and observing Nazi influence in the Madrid government
convinced Ambassador Weddell to retire permanently from foreign service.
By 1943, the couple had returned to Richmond where he was
elected president of the Virginia Historical Society, and she resumed her gardening and continued her
charity work. On January 1, 1948, the Weddells, accompanied by their English maid Violet Andrews,
were traveling to Arizona for the winter. During a blinding snow storm their Pullman car was rammed
by another train, and all three were killed instantly.