Ina Ginsburg, the fashionista and fundraiser whose dinner parties were for over a half century a “Who’s Who” of not only Washington’s movers and shakers, but good friends such as Andy Warhol and fellow Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, died at her home in the District on Nov. 9. She was 98.
Born Ida Spira on Oct. 10, 1916 in Austria, she came from an upper middle-class family. She met her first husband, Kurt Ettinger through her interest in fencing. To avoid Hitler’s scourge, the couple fled to Paris, where they ultimately parted.
In 1940, Ginsburg, along with over 300 passengers who were mostly Jewish, came to the United States, arriving on a Portuguese cargo ship to New York. Her primary introduction to D.C. was as an actress, where she performed, among other places, at the National Theater.
She returned to Vienna after the war in an attempt to regain family property that had been seized by the Nazis. During this trip, she met her second husband, David Ginsburg, who was assigned to the unit in charge of the American occupation of Germany. Her husband had already become a power broker, working on FDR’s New Deal projects. He was later a major figure in the creation of Americans for Democratic Action.
When the couple settled in Georgetown, David Ginsburg, a prominent liberal lawyer and Ina Ginsburg, with her haute-couture style, passion for the arts, and continental flair, soon became trendsetters and leaders in Washington’s society “register.” (The couple eventually divorced.)
A ticket to one of her parties was platinum, as the couple entertained no less than five presidents, Supreme Court justices and other world-class guests, mixing politicians and artists. Her “social” status was more than appearances.
Throughout her life, Ginsburg was devoted to the arts, artists and enriching the cultural scene.
Her first major Washington venture was tackling the interior of the Federal Reserve Building, which in her opinion, despite its beauty, lacked interior attention. She brought this to the attention of the Federal Reserve chairman who agreed, leading to the creation of the Fine Arts Advisory Panel.
Glamorous and intelligent, she was her own woman as evidenced by her strong ties to the controversial Andy Warhol. In 1975, she hosted a dinner party for him that had Washington duennas’ tongues wagging. Yet she broke the social ceiling by helping him meet the D.C. elite, from Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post to President Jimmy Carter.
She also worked with him when he hired her to be Washington editor of his magazine, Interview. The two lifelong intimates were so close that Warhol created silk-screen portraits of Ginsburg that were shown at the National Portrait Gallery.
Ginsburg was far from a mere social butterfly. She continued to combine her social influence and fundraising efforts.
Among her many achievements, she hosted lavish events at her home, embassies and the Kennedy Center to raise funds for the arts. As a trustee of the American Film Institute, she used her influence to spotlight the Kennedy Center – an on-going passion for the philanthropist. Her interests were broader than the visual arts. She was also one of the founders of the Washington National Opera.
Her contributions to Washington’s style are a lasting tribute to the immigrant who, in short order, wearing designer duds, not only knew and called friend some of the most important and fascinating people of her time, but will be remembered for her own personal style, and devotion to Washington culture.
Ginsburg is survived by her sons, Jonathan Ginsburg of Fairfax, Mark Ginsburg of Berlin; a daughter, Susan Ginsburg of Alexandria and two grandchildren.