McCormick, Katharine Dexter, 1876-1967Variant names
Katharine Dexter was born on August 27, 1875, in Dexter, Michigan, in her grandparents' mansion, Gordon Hall, and grew up in Chicago where her father, Wirt Dexter, was a prominent lawyer. Following the early death of her father of a heart attack at age 57 when she was 14 years old, she and her mother Josephine moved to Boston in 1890. Four years later, her brother Samuel died of meningitis at age 25. Katharine graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1904, earning a BSc in biology. She planned to attend medical school, but instead married Stanley Robert McCormick, the youngest son of Cyrus McCormick and heir to the International Harvester fortune, on September 15, 1904. In September 1905, they moved into a house in Brookline, Massachusetts. The couple did not have any children.
Stanley graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1895 where he had also been a gifted athlete on the varsity tennis team. He had been showing signs of progressively worsening mental illness. In September 1906, he was hospitalized for over a year at McLean Hospital and was originally diagnosed with dementia praecox, an early label for what is now today known as schizophrenia.
In June 1908, Stanley was moved to the McCormicks' Riven Rock estate in Montecito, California, where his schizophrenic older sister, Mary Virginia, had lived from 1898 to 1904 before being placed in a Huntsville, Alabama, sanitarium. While there, he was examined by the prominent German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin and diagnosed with the catatonic form of dementia praecox. In 1909, Stanley was declared legally incompetent and his guardianship divided between Katharine and the McCormick family.
Katharine's plea for gender equality was apparent from early on. As an undergraduate at MIT, she confronted administration officials. MIT required that women wear hats (fashionably spruced up with feathers). Katharine refused. She argued that it was a fire hazard for feathered hats to be worn in laboratories. As a result, MIT's administration changed their policies.
In 1909 McCormick spoke at the first outdoor rally for woman suffrage in Massachusetts. She became vice president and treasurer of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and funded the association's publication the Woman's Journal. McCormick organized much of Carrie Chapman Catt's efforts to gain ratification for the Nineteenth Amendment. While working with Catt, she met other social activists, including Mary Dennett and Margaret Sanger. Katharine met Sanger in 1917, and later that year joined the Committee of 100, a group of women who practiced promoting the legalization of birth control. During World War I, Katharine also worked as a chairwoman of the association's War Service Department. In addition, she was a member of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense. In 1920, after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, McCormick became the vice president of the League of Women Voters.
Throughout the 1920s McCormick worked with Sanger on birth control issues. McCormick smuggled more than 1,000 diaphragms from Europe to New York City to Sanger's Clinical Research Bureau. She scheduled meetings with major European diaphragm manufacturers in cities such as Rome and Paris, and used her language skills and biology background to pose as a French or German scientist and place large orders for the devices. They were shipped to her family chateau outside Geneva, where they were sewn into the linings of fashionable coats and other garments. She smuggled them past U.S. customs agents in New York, having successfully disguised them as the spoils of extravagant European shopping sprees for high-end fashions. She made these trips every summer from 1922 to 1925, only retiring after the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake forced her to redirect her attention to rebuilding her husband's estate and devote her energy to helping direct his care.
She died on December 28, 1967, in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 92. Her will provided $5 million to the Stanford University School of Medicine to support female physicians, $5 million to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which funded the Katharine Dexter McCormick Library in Manhattan, New York City, and $1 million to the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. In addition, McCormick made arrangements for $500,000 to be donated to the Chicago Art Institute and the donation of nine important impressionist paintings to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which included three major landscapes by Claude Monet. Along with these paintings, McCormick also donated her residence, which is now known as the Ridley-Tree Education Center. It is currently used by the Museum for child and adult art classes.
|referencedIn||Council of National Defense - Mrs. Stanley McCormick, Chairman, Department of Food Production, Council of National Defense||National Archives at College Park|
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