McCormick, Katharine Dexter, 1876-1967

Variant names

Hide Profile

Katharine Dexter McCormick (August 27, 1875 – December 28, 1967) was a U.S. suffragist, philanthropist and, after her husband's death, heir to a substantial part of the McCormick family fortune. She funded most of the research necessary to develop the first birth control pill.

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.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Woman's rights collection, 1853-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Margaret Sanger Papers MS 138., 1761-1995, 1900-1966 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn McCormick, Stanley R., 1874-1947. Papers, 1881-1945. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf Taylor, Graham, 1851-1938. Graham Taylor papers, 1820-1975, (bulk 1866-1940). Newberry Library
referencedIn Laidlaw, Harriet Burton, 1873-1949. Papers, 1851-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947. Carrie Chapman Catt papers, 1848-1950 (bulk 1890-1920). Library of Congress
referencedIn Correspondence, Reports, and Related Records Pertaining to Consultations and Requests for Medical Advice, 1906 - 1937 United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Fields, Armond, 1930-. Armond Fields American Theatre collection, 1856-2000 (bulk 1895-1925). University of Southern California, USC Libraries
referencedIn Beard, Mary Ritter, 1876-1958. Papers, 1935-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Interviews, 1973-1977 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970. Papers, 1919-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Daniels, Mabel W. (Mabel Wheeler), 1878-1971. Papers, 1884-1971 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts records, 1859-2002 (ongoing) (bulk 1916-1960). Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Margaret Sanger papers, 1900-1966 (bulk 1928-1940). Library of Congress
referencedIn Woman's rights collection, 1853-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, 1848-1950, (bulk 1890-1920) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records MS 371., 1928-2009 (PPFA II) Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES V. Affiliates (Part 1) MS 371., 1921, 1939-1981 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Papers of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, ca. 1860-1969 (inclusive) Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II): SERIES I. Chronological Files MS 371., 1964-80 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970. Papers, 1919-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts Records MS 359., 1859-2002, 1916-1960 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947. Papers, 1874-1945 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Margaret Sanger Papers, 1900-1966, (bulk 1928-1940) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Roessing, Jennie Bradley, 1882-1963. Papers of Jennie Bradley Roessing, 1887-1962. University of Pittsburgh
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records MS 371., 1918-1974 (PPFA I) Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Ames, Blanche, 1878-1969. Papers, 1860-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Family Planning Oral History Project. Records, 1909-1984 (inclusive), 1973-1977 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947. Papers of Carrie Chapman Catt, 1848-1950 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Shaw, Anna Howard, 1847-1919. Papers in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection, 1863-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ames, Blanche. Papers, 1860-1961 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES VIII. Foreign MS 371., 1952-79 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES IV. Subject Files MS 371., 1925-80 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Eastman, Max Forrester, 1883-1969. Eastman mss. 1892-1968 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES V. Affiliates (Part 2) MS 371., 1921, 1939-1981 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Papers of Anna Howard Shaw in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection, 1863-1961 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES III. Publications MS 371., 1930-80 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955. Papers in the Woman's Rights Collection, 1870-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947. Papers, 1848-1950 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Tilton, Elizabeth, 1869-1950. Papers, 1914-1949 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Armond Fields American Theatre collection, Bulk, 1895-1925, 1856-2000 USC Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Blaine, Anita McCormick. Additional papers received in 1971, 1850-1958. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf McCormick, Katharine Dexter, 1875-1967. Papers, 1912-1958 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES IX. Guttmacher MS 371., 1947-70 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn McCulloch, Catharine Waugh, 1862-1945. Papers in the Mary Earhart Dillon collection, 1869-1945 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966. Papers 1761-1995. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES II. Classified Files (part 2) MS 371., 1921-80 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Marshall, Alice Kahler,. Women artists and sculptors graphics collection, 1836-1988. Penn State Harrisburg Library
referencedIn McCulloch, Catharine Waugh, 1862-1945. Papers in the Mary Earhart Dillon Collection, 1869-1945 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Laidlaw, H. B. (Harriet Burton), b. 1874. Papers: Series I-IV, 1851-1958 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Pincus, Gregory, 1903-1967. Papers of Gregory Pincus, 1920-1969 (bulk 1950-1967). Library of Congress
referencedIn Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947. Papers: Series III, 1909-1942 (inclusive) [microform]. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf McCormick family. McCormick family photographs and graphic materials, ca. 1842-1966. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES VII. Minutes MS 371., 1935-39, 1957-81 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Papers, 1884-1971 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES II. Classified Files (Part 1) MS 371., 1921-80 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Personal and Professional Papers, 1918-1983 Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
referencedIn Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records (PPFA II), :, SERIES VI. Regions MS 371., 1964-80 Sophia Smith Collection
creatorOf Rock, John Charles, 1890-1984. Personal and Professional Papers, 1918-1983. Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Council of National Defense - Mrs. Stanley McCormick, Chairman, Department of Food Production, Council of National Defense United States. National Archives and Records Administration
Relation Name
associatedWith Ames, Blanche Ames, 1878-1969 person
associatedWith Anthony, Lucy Elmina, 1861-1944 person
associatedWith Art Institute of Chicago. corporateBody
associatedWith Beard, Mary Ritter, 1876-1958 person
associatedWith Blaine, Anita McCormick. person
correspondedWith Bliss, Robert Woods, 1875-1962 person
associatedWith Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947. person
associatedWith Daniels, Mabel W. (Mabel Wheeler), 1878-1971. person
associatedWith Dennett, Mary Ware, 1872-1947 person
childOf Dexter, Mrs. Wirt person
childOf Dexter, Wirt, 1832-1890. person
associatedWith Eastman, Max, 1883-1969 person
associatedWith Family Planning Oral History Project corporateBody
associatedWith Fields, Armond, 1930- person
associatedWith Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970 person
associatedWith Harvard Medical School. corporateBody
associatedWith Howe, Marie Jenney. person
associatedWith Laidlaw, H. B. (Harriet Burton), 1874- person
memberOf League of Women Voters (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Ludington, Wright S. person
associatedWith Marshall, Alice Kahler, person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Massachusetts Institute of Technology corporateBody
associatedWith McCormick, Cyrus Hall, 1809-1884 person
spouseOf McCormick, Stanley R., 1874-1947. person
associatedWith McCulloch, Catharine Waugh, 1862-1945 person
memberOf National American Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Park, Maud Wood, 1871-1955 person
associatedWith Parsons, Elsie Worthington Clews, 1874-1941. person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965. person
associatedWith Pincus, Gregory, 1903-1967. person
associatedWith Planned Parenthood Federation of America corporateBody
associatedWith Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts person
associatedWith Rock, John Charles, 1890- person
associatedWith Rock, John Charles, 1890-1984. person
associatedWith Roessing, Jennie Bradley, 1882-1963. person
associatedWith Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966 person
associatedWith Santa Barbara Museum of Art. corporateBody
associatedWith Shaw, Anna Howard, 1847-1919 person
associatedWith Stanford University. School of Medicine corporateBody
associatedWith Taylor, Graham, 1851-1938. person
associatedWith Thomas, M. Carey (Martha Carey), 1857-1935. person
associatedWith Tilton, Elizabeth, 1869-1950. person
associatedWith Woman's Journal corporateBody
associatedWith Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology corporateBody
associatedWith Worcester State Hospital corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Dexter MI US
Boston MA US
Subject
Women--Suffrage
Philanthropists
Birth control
Mental illness
Health
Occupation
Philanthropists
Suffragists
Activity

Person

Birth 1876-08-27

Death 1967-12-28

Female

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6s866vp

Ark ID: w6s866vp

SNAC ID: 85592568