Who Was Rebekah Harkness? Debutante in Taylor Swift's 'Last Great American Dynasty'

One of the most surprising characters to crop up on Taylor Swift's latest album is Rebekah Harkness in "the last great american dynasty." Harkness was one of the wealthiest women in America, mainly due to her marriage to the heir to Standard Oil, William Harkness.

The album's third track is an ode to the glamorous lifestyle of a rich socialite in a bygone era. Swift refers to Harkness and her second husband, the late William Hale "Bill" Harkness, one of the heirs to Standard Oil, as the titular "last great American dynasty." She also calls Harkness "the maddest woman this town has ever seen." Despite the "maddest woman" title, Swift obviously has a fondness and seems to show some kinship with Harkness and her life, being the talk of the town, going to luxurious parties, and days spent with celebrities like Salvador Dalí.

Born Rebekah Semple West, Harkness was a patron of the arts and philanthropist. After her husband's death in 1954, Harkness embarked on her own creative endeavors. Being an avid dance supporter, she started the Rebekah Harkness Foundation to put on shows and dance festivals throughout the 1960's and 70's, according to the Harkness Foundation website. Her foundation merged with her husband's in the 1990's to become the Harkness Foundation for Dance. Actively creating avenues for dancers, she founded the company Harkness Ballet and began the Harkness House, a school for dancers, in 1965, according to The New York Times. Besides dance, Harkness was also a sculptor and composer.

After her husband's death, Harkness married twice more. Both ended in divorce. She died in 1982 from cancer at 67.

Swift's connection goes beyond simply just an interest in Harkness. The heiress renovated their Rhode Island home after her husband died, adding eight kitchens and a whopping 21 baths. Swift, in turn, scooped up Harkness' "Holiday House" in 2013 for around $17 million.

Anyone still playing 2020 bingo check off "Taylor Swift writes a song to appease the ghost of an oil tycoon's widow who lives in her mansion"

— Jenny Nicholson (@JennyENicholson) July 24, 2020

Craig Unger shared Harkness' story in his book Blue Blood. In The New York Times review of the book, some of the "B***h Pack" shenanigans that Swift sings about seem to be confirmed like "clean[ing] her pool out with Dom Perignon" and "putting mineral oil in the punch at her sister's debutante ball."

Additionally, the Dalí connection that Swift makes is not far-fetched. According to The Day, Harkness and the artist were good friends. She purchased a piece called "The Chalice of Life" from the surrealist, where her remains were kept after her death.

A contact for Swift did not respond to Newsweek's emailed request for comment in time for publication.

Rebekah Harkness
Rebekah Harkness and her Harkness Ballet in 1966. Harkness is the subject of Swift's song "the last great american dynasty." Getty/Jack Mitchell