Mary Virginia McCormick

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Mary Virginia McCormick
Photograph of McCormick by William Cunningham Gray, February 17, 1901
Photograph of Mary V. McCormick, 1901
Born
Mary Virginia McCormick

(1861-05-05)May 5, 1861
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedMay 24, 1941(1941-05-24) (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeGraceland Cemetery, Chicago
Parent(s)Cyrus Hall McCormick
Nancy Fowler McCormick
RelativesSee McCormick family

Mary Virginia McCormick (May 5, 1861 – May 24, 1941) was a wealthy American philanthropist[1] who donated to humanitarian causes in the United States and Canada in the early twentieth century. She was a member of the McCormick family who had schizophrenia[2] and a reclusive lifestyle.[3][4]

Biography[edit]

Childhood and adolescence[edit]

Born in Chicago, Illinois[5] on May 5, 1861,[5][6] Mary Virginia McCormick was the eldest daughter[7] of Nancy Maria "Nettie" Fowler McCormick and Cyrus Hall McCormick,[8] the American inventor of the mechanical reaper[9][10] and industrialist[11][12] who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in 1847.[13][14] She was the couple's second child,[6][8][15] born two years after her brother, Cyrus McCormick Jr.[6][16] 

Mary Virginia McCormick circa 1872

In July 1862, she sailed with her family across the Atlantic aboard the SS Scotia to Liverpool, England,[17][18] and lived with her mother in London[19][20] while her father toured the United Kingdom, France and Germany to exhibit his farming invention.[20] When the McCormicks returned to the United States in 1864,[21][22] by mid-November[23][24] they occupied a second-floor suite at the Fifth Avenue Hotel[25] in New York City.[5][26]

While staying at the hotel, Mary McCormick and her older brother were infected with scarlet fever that winter,[5][25] an illness that took the life of her younger brother, Robert Fowler McCormick,[5][25] on January 6, 1865.[5][6] At the age of five, she lived at 40 Fifth Avenue[27] in Lower Manhattan after her father purchased the residential property for the family[5][28] in November 1866.[5]

The McCormicks settled in Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871,[29][30][31] residing at 62 North Sheldon Street until the spring of 1875[32][33] and then moving to a house on 363 Superior Street.[32][33] Although Mary McCormick was educated by private tutors[34][35] and stayed at private boarding schools away from home,[36] she attended Central High School, a Chicago public school on Monroe Street.[7] In her early teenage years, she displayed musical talent and became a skilled pianist.[15][37]

When the McCormicks visited Europe in the summer of 1878,[38][39] the family addressed her thereafter by her middle name, Virginia.[40] In August,[41] she vacationed with her mother at St. Moritz,[40] a Swiss town near the Albula Alps, while her father featured the reaper at the World's Fair in Paris.[39][42] The pair then rejoined the family at the French capital in October[43][44] and stayed at the Hôtel du Jardin,[44][45] across from the Tuileries Garden.[44] Mary McCormick remained with her parents and younger siblings in Paris until mid-April 1879[46][47] to care for her father[48] as he recovered from a malignant carbuncle on the back of his neck.[49][50] During her stay, she visited museums, historic places, the French opera, performances by stage actress Sarah Bernhardt and a mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral with church music led by composer Charles Gounod.[47]

The family returned to the United States in the summer of 1879.[51] When the McCormicks moved into their new Chicago mansion on Rush Street in late November, she was at a boarding school in New York.[52]

Mental illness[edit]

Mary Virginia McCormick circa 1890

Mary McCormick exhibited signs of anxiety that worsened throughout her teenage years.[15][37] By the age of 18, she expressed delusional ideas and hallucinated.[15] She had frequent bouts of weeping and frantic praying.[15][37] Episodes of insomnia[37] were marked with incidents of her climbing out of windows[15] and wandering around at night.[15]  

At the age of 19,[2][53][54] she was diagnosed by doctors with dementia praecox.[37][55] Due to her medical diagnosis, doctors declared her as insane[54][56] and mentally incompetent[57][58] in 1880.[58] Her condition became worse after the death of her father[59] on May 13, 1884.[60][61][62] The following August,[63] she stayed at Clayton Lodge, the McCormick family estate in Richfield Springs, New York,[64] and after Christmas,[65] her mother brought her to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to seek treatment under the care of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a neurologist.[66]

By 1889,[67] she occupied a camp in the Adirondack Mountains[67][68] of upstate New York and a house in the Upper West Side of Manhattan near the Hudson River,[67][68] two dwellings that were provided by her mother[67][68] who had employed a resident physician[67][68] and household attendants to care for her.[68] Grace Thorne Walker, a Canadian-born[69][70] business secretary for the McCormick family,[69] was the head of Mary McCormick's household[71] and served as her nursing companion.[72][73] Cyrus McCormick Jr. negotiated a three-year contract to recruit Dr. Alice Bennett,[71][74] a superintendent at the Norristown State Hospital for the Insane,[71] as Mary McCormick's attending physician in 1896[71][74] but Bennett resigned two years later[71][74] after resident nurses had accused the doctor of morphine addiction.[74]

Mid-life in the United States and Canada[edit]

Kildare manor in Huntsville, Alabama

In 1897,[2][15][75] Mary McCormick moved to the family estate at Riven Rock in Montecito, California[76][77] and lived there until 1904.[78] She stayed in Asheville, North Carolina[79] in the summer of 1898,[80] which became her winter residence.[81]

The Kildare manor near Oakwood Avenue in Huntsville, Alabama then became her winter home[73][81][82] after her mother purchased the property from industrialist Michael Joseph O'Shaughnessy in 1900.[1][72] She kept a small herd of deer on the estate[83] and maintained a dairy that provided free milk to underprivileged children in Huntsville.[82] On May 5 of each year, an outdoor festival was held on the grounds of her manor for hundreds of invited schoolchildren to celebrate her birthday.[82][84]  

Oaklands manor in Toronto, Ontario

Mary McCormick visited Canada in 1904[85][86] and remained in Toronto for months.[86] She noticed the Oaklands manor on Avenue Road during her stay[85][86] and her family bought the property from the family of Senator John Macdonald[87] in November 1905[85][86][88] as a summer residence[88] for her.[86] By 1908, she occupied the estate[89] where her home held indoor gatherings for the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA),[90][91][92][93] the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)[94] and the Women's Christian Medical College.[95][96] The grounds of her manor held outdoor garden parties every June that raised funds for the benefit of the Girl Guides of Canada,[97][98] the Toronto General Hospital[99][100] and the Home and School Association of Brown Public School on Avenue Road.[101][102][103][104][105] In June 1916, her estate had the largest fête ever held in Canada,[106][107][108] a four-day festival[106][107][108] that was opened by Ontario Premier William Hearst[109][110] for the Canadian Red Cross Society[107][108] at the mid-point of the First World War.

She visited Cohasset, Massachusetts in 1910 and leased the Caravels manor on Nichols Road.[111] Fond of music herself,[69][82][111] she accommodated musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra during her stay at the manor that year.[111] Her family then acquired the property from industrialist Albert Cameron Burrage the following year[111] as her seaside residence.[112] The Caravels manor served as a layover during her travels between Huntsville and Toronto[113] as the McCormicks made annual family visits to Cohasset at the end of June.[114]  

Later life in California and death[edit]

After the death of her mother on July 5, 1923,[115][116] Mary McCormick moved back to California in 1924.[3][4][117][118] The property at 1400 Hillcrest Avenue in Pasadena[119][120] was purchased by the McCormicks from the family of oil magnate Frank Whitney Emery[119] as her primary residence.[121] She was placed under the care of Dr. Adolf Meyer,[122][123] a psychiatrist who was retained in 1927 for five years by her younger sister, Anita McCormick Blaine.[122]

In 1928, the McCormick family acquired a cliffside property in Los Angeles on Alma Real Drive in the Huntington Palisades community near Santa Monica that became her summer home[121] known as the Quelindo manor.[3][4][82][124] Her estate in Toronto was sold to the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1931 for the purpose of establishing a campus for De La Salle College[125][126] and her manor in Huntsville was sold at auction in 1932 and became a hotel that year.[127]

She hired symphony orchestras to play for her[3][4][119][121] and kept three musicians among her retinue of 30 household servants[3][82][119] as she divided her time between the two California estates.[119] In May 1938, she was ill at the Quelindo manor[128] and unable to attend the wedding of her younger brother, Harold Fowler McCormick, to his nurse, Adah Wilson, that was held at her other home in Pasadena.[128][129]

Bedridden[82] by an illness in her final three months,[4][82] Mary McCormick died at the Quelindo manor on May 24, 1941 at the age of 80.[3][4][82][124][130] She was never married and did not have children.[3][121] Her belongings in California were sold at auction[119][121] and her net worth, after all inheritance taxes and expenses had been deducted, was US$6,550,802 in 1942.[71][130] She was buried with other members of the McCormick family at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.[131]

Philanthropy[edit]

Mary McCormick was endowed with a trust fund[1] that afforded her with the means to support social activities and charitable causes.[1][82] In 1904,[132][133][134] she provided the first settlement house in Huntsville[133] with the opening of Virginia Hall,[82][132][133][135] a fifteen-room community center[133][134] situated in West Huntsville.[132][134][135][136] In Toronto, her donation to the YWCA allowed the charity to open the YWCA Cafeteria in August 1910,[137] a downtown restaurant at 209 Yonge Street[137][138] that offered affordable meals for women.[137]

She pledged a donation to the Toronto Playgrounds Association in 1910 for the purpose of equipping a children's playground in the city.[139][140][141][142] Cottingham Square, a public square[139] near her Toronto home,[140] was the original location for the playground[143][144] but it was too close in proximity to the Canadian Pacific Railway line.[144] The land of the former Grand National Rink on Brock Avenue was purchased by the city of Toronto in December 1910[145][146] which then became the site for the McCormick Playground in July 1911.[147] Her mother and Toronto Mayor George Reginald Geary opened the McCormick Recreation Centre in September 1912[148][149] on the site of the playground at 163 Brock Avenue,[150] a venue where Mary McCormick held annual Christmas parties for 400 children and their parents.[151][152][153] The total of her contribution to the Toronto Playgrounds Association was CA$25,000.[154][155]

Virginia McCormick Hospital later became Virginia McCormick Hall at Alabama A&M University

During the Jim Crow era of racial segregation in the Southern United States, Mary McCormick funded the construction of a hospital in 1911 at the Alabama State Agricultural and Mechanical College, a black college in Normal, Alabama.[156][157] The Virginia McCormick Hospital cost US$10,000 to build[156] and it was the only hospital for African Americans in Madison County when it opened.[158] She also contributed US$19,000 in the same year to erect the Councill Domestic Sciences Building on the campus,[156] named after the college's founder William Hooper Councill,[158][159] an educator who was a former slave.[159] In February 1916,[160][161] she donated US$5,000 to open a black hospital annex of the Huntsville Infirmary,[160][161][162] an eight-room building[160] that was furnished by her household servants[163] and located across the street in downtown Huntsville from the segregated white hospital.[160][162][163]  

She gave US$17,500 to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) of Huntsville.[164][165] Her aid allowed the Central YMCA to open on Greene Street[165][166] in February 1912[164][165] and the West Huntsville YMCA[82][165] to open on Eighth Avenue[167] in 1915.[167][168] She contributed US$3,000[169] in 1916[170] to erect the West Huntsville School, an eight-room wooden schoolhouse[169][170] on Ninth Street.[169]

Mary McCormick supported the Canadian war effort during the First World War by sending CA$1,500 to the Canadian Red Cross Society,[171] CA$5,000 to the YMCA Red Triangle Fund[172] and 200 pairs of socks to the Ontario Red Cross Sock Fund.[173]

Legacy[edit]

Landmarks with her namesake include the following:

  • Mary McCormick Recreation Centre at 66 Sheridan Avenue in Toronto, a municipal recreation facility that replaced the McCormick Recreation Centre at 163 Brock Avenue in 1964[174][175] and named originally as the McCormick Recreation Centre[176] until 2001.[177]
Virginia Library at the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago
  • McCormick Playground Arena at 179 Brock Avenue in Toronto, a municipal indoor ice arena that opened in 1972.[179]
  • McCormick YMCA at 3214 Eighth Avenue in Huntsville,[180] opened from 1915 to 1983.[167]
  • Virginia McCormick Hall at 308 Buchanan Way at Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama, first opened as the Virginia McCormick Hospital from 1911 to 1927.[158]

References[edit]

Print sources

  • Casson, Herbert N. (1909). Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Company.

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Ellis & Drost 2002, p. 13.
  2. ^ a b c Kleiman, Miriam (Summer 2007). "Rich, Famous, and Questionably Sane: When a Wealthy Heir's Family Sought Help From a Hospital For the Insane". Prologue. 39 (2): 41.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Recluse Who Hired Orchestras; Wealthy Spinster Dies at 80". Toronto Daily Star. 26 May 1941. p. 21.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Mary V. McCormick, 80, Mystery Woman, Dies". Wilmington Journal-Every Evening. 26 May 1941. p. 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Hutchison 1935, p. 128.
  6. ^ a b c d McCormick, Leander James (1896). Family Record and Biography. Chicago: L.J. McCormick. p. 304.
  7. ^ a b Roderick 1956, p. 116.
  8. ^ a b Roderick 1956, p. 73.
  9. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 360.
  10. ^ Casson 1909, p. 44.
  11. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 361.
  12. ^ Casson 1909, p. 53.
  13. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 44.
  14. ^ Casson 1909, p. 137.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Rosenberg 2019, p. 168.
  16. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 110.
  17. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 419.
  18. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 78.
  19. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 421.
  20. ^ a b Casson 1909, p. 133.
  21. ^ Hutchison 1935, pp. 127–128.
  22. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 82–83.
  23. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 127.
  24. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 83.
  25. ^ a b c Roderick 1956, p. 84.
  26. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 83–84.
  27. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 85.
  28. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 84–85.
  29. ^ Hutchison 1935, pp. 257, 740.
  30. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 98.
  31. ^ Casson 1909, p. 152.
  32. ^ a b Roderick 1956, p. 114.
  33. ^ a b Hutchison 1935, p. 740.
  34. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 85, 116.
  35. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 673.
  36. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 116, 129.
  37. ^ a b c d e Fields 2003, p. 40.
  38. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 667.
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  40. ^ a b Roderick 1956, p. 121.
  41. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 122.
  42. ^ Hutchison 1935, pp. 665–669.
  43. ^ Hutchison 1935, pp. 669–670.
  44. ^ a b c Roderick 1956, p. 123.
  45. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 670.
  46. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 674.
  47. ^ a b Roderick 1956, p. 127.
  48. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 124–125.
  49. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 672.
  50. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 124.
  51. ^ Hutchison 1935, p. 635.
  52. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 129.
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  56. ^ Noll 1999, p. 152.
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  65. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 145.
  66. ^ Roderick 1956, pp. 145–146.
  67. ^ a b c d e Roderick 1956, p. 178.
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  77. ^ Rosenberg 2019, pp. 38, 168.
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  115. ^ Roderick 1956, p. 315.
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  118. ^ "Once Had Oaklands; Reaper Heiress Dies". Toronto Daily Star. 27 May 1941. p. 10.
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  127. ^ Pruitt 2005, p. 149.
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