13 May, 2012

The Facts of the Matter


With today being Mother's Day, I started thinking about Edith Rockefeller McCormick and her children. With regard to that I'd like to  address one of the many scurrilous stories that has circulated about Edith for years. Many of these misguided rumors  began with one simple print article, but with time and retelling it becomes accepted as fact - which is the case with most rumors, no?

John Rockefeller McCormick was Edith's adored first born child who was born in 1896. Her second; Editha, (born in 1897) would die in infancy - although that tragedy would quickly be atoned  with the birth of Harold Fowler McCormick in 1898. (Muriel and Mathilde would follow in 1903 and 1906 respectively.)

Harold and Edith with their two boys; John Rockefeller McCormick and Fowler McCormick, c. 1900

In December of 1900 Edith and her family were visiting the Pocantico Hills home of Edith's father, John D. Rockefeller. During their stay both of her boys contracted scarlet fever. Everything possible was done at the time to save the boys from the  disease, of which little was known at the time. John D. Rockefeller offered a New York physician $500,000 to save the boys, and special facilities were constructed at Kyukit to quarantine the two children during their treatment.

Fowler (the younger of the two) would survive, but Edith's beloved John would  succumb to the fever on January 2, 1901. Of course this was devastating to the entire family, but as a mother Edith was especially affected. Within a year she and Harold would endow the John McCormick Institution of Infectious Diseases in Chicago. One of the Institute's grants (to Johns Hopkins) would isolate the bacterium associated with scarlet fever and bring about a treatment for the disease.

None of this of course jives with the babble I mentioned; which in various forms  places Edith as being at either a party or a dinner with guests while her children were ill. It was reported that a servant whispered in her ear that John Rockefeller McCormick had died from the disease, and that Edith simply nodded her head and the party or dinner progressed as planned.


Edith is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago with John and Editha beside her; across a small lake and quite separate from the rest of the McCormicks. I am astonished to this day at how often the that defective story about this sad event is repeated. I hope in a fashion this sets the facts correct. 

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