Willard Dickerman Straight

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Willard Dickerman Straight (January 31, 1880 – December 1, 1918) was an American investment banker, publisher, reporter and diplomat.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Straight was born on January 31, 1880 in Oswego, New York.,[1] the son of Henry H. Straight and his wife, née Emma Dickerman. His father had been a faculty member at Oswego Normal School.[2] Straight was orphaned at age ten, after the death of his father in 1886 and his mother in 1890. He attended Bordentown Military Institute in New Jersey, and in 1897 he enrolled at Cornell University and graduated in 1901 with a degree in architecture. While a student at Cornell, he joined Delta Tau Delta, edited and contributed to several publications, and helped to organize Dragon Day, an annual architecture students' event. He was also elected to the Sphinx Head Society, membership in which was reserved for the most respected men of the senior class.[3]

After graduation, Straight was appointed to the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service in Nanjing and worked as secretary to Sir Robert Hart, the Service's Inspector General. While in the Far East, he worked as a Reuters correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War, bringing him to Korea in 1904. In June 1905, he became the personal secretary of Edwin V. Morgan, the American consul general in the Kingdom of Korea and American vice-consul in Seoul, Korea.[1] After briefly working in Havana, Cuba, he returned to China in 1906 as American Consul-General at Mukden, Manchuria. While there, he and Ms. Mary Harriman were reportedly romantically involved, but their marriage was prevented by E. H. Harriman, her father.[2] He then went on to work for J. P. Morgan & Co. In April, 1908, Straight was involved in a diplomatic incident involving a Japanese postman's attack on a coolie working for the American consulate whom the Japanese believed to have insulted him: Straight brandished a revolver and sent the Japanese attackers to their government for punishment.

Before his engagement to Dorothy Payne Whitney, the society pages reported that Straight was engaged to marry Ethel Roosevelt.[2]

Straight married Dorothy Payne Whitney, a member of the prominent Whitney family, at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1911, after five years of courtship. The Straights moved first to Beijing, then, having adjudged China too unsafe after the Chinese Revolution, back to the United States in 1912.[4] In 1914, Willard Straight, his wife, and Herbert Croly began publication of The New Republic, a weekly political magazine. In 1917, they helped found Asia Magazine, a prominent academic journal on China.

Straight left J.P. Morgan in 1915 and went to work as a vice-president for American International Corporation. In that same year, Straight became involved with the Preparedness Movement. When the United States entered World War I two years later, Straight joined the United States Army; his service in Europe won him the Distinguished Service Medal and promotion to the rank of major.

Willard Straight died in Paris (where he was arranging the arrival of the American mission to the Paris Peace Conference) of pneumonia, a complication of the Spanish influenza.[1] His body was buried in the American cemetery at Suresnes, outside of Paris.[5]


In his life he made major donations to fund the construction of Schoellkopf Memorial Hall,[6] and after his death his wife made a substantial donation to Cornell to build the school's first student union building, which was named in his honor.[7]

In 1920, the Willard Straight Post of the American Legion was formed in New York, having as members Cyrus Baldridge, Walter Lippmann, John Dos Passos and other veterans of distinction who had come to doubt the efficacy of international violence as a means to idealistic ends, and sought to counter the extreme nationalism that came to characterize the Legion. The Post was active in promoting those ends through the 1930s.

Straight's papers are at Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY. The papers are available in digital form from Cornell University: https://ecommons.library.cornell.edu/handle/1813/22047


Children of Willard Dickerman Straight and his wife Dorothy Payne Whitney:


  1. ^ a b c d "Willard D. Straight". Cornell University Library. Retrieved 2010-03-22. Willard D. Straight was born on January 31, 1880 in Oswego, New York. Having spent four years in Japan during his childhood, he early on developed an interest in all things connected to the Far East. After majoring in architecture at Cornell University (1897–1901), he was appointed to a position with the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service, and from 1902–04 he was personal secretary to Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Service in Peking. Also in 1902, he illustrated Verse and Worse for J.O.P. Bland. In 1903, Reuters (some sources say Associated Press) hired Straight as a correspondent during the Russo-Japanese war, which brought him for the first time to Korea on March 16, 1904. In that capacity, he remained in Korea (mostly in its northern parts around Pyongyang, the port city of Nampo and the Yalu River). In June 1905, he was appointed personal secretary to the American ambassador to Korea, Edwin V. Morgan, and was at the same time named vice-consul to Seoul by the Foreign Affairs Office. He resided in Korea until December 25th of the same year, recording the dramatic events of the Japanese takeover of Korea in great detail. ... 
  2. ^ a b c "Willard Straight, who is to marry Dorthy Whitney. A Career That Reads Like a Romance Is That of the Missionary's Son Who Became a Figure in Finance, Politics and International Affairs, and Who Won the Love of Two Heiresses". New York Times. July 30, 1911. Retrieved 2010-03-22. Willard D.Straight, the handsome young American diplomat who has had a career in the Far East that Midas himself might have envied, who has, within the past year, obtained millions for the houses of Morgan and Rockefeller, is now, for the first time in his eventful life, on the fair road to fortune in his own right. 
  3. ^ Willard Straight Hall – History Cornell University, Dean of Students Office; accessed 05-05-2008
  4. ^ Dear Uncle Ezra Cornell University; accessed 05-05-2008
  5. ^ "Willard Dickerman Straight". American Battle Monuments Commission. Retrieved 2010-03-22. Willard Straight; Major, U.S. Army; Entered the Service from: New York; Died: November 30, 1918; Buried at: Plot B Row 16 Grave 1; Suresnes American Cemetery; Suresnes, France; Awards: Distinguished Service Medal 
  6. ^ {The Schoellkopfs, A Family History}, 1994 Copy Held by Cornell University Archives.
  7. ^ Cornell Big Red.com Schoellkopf facts/history accessed 10-09-2007
  8. ^ "Michael Straight". The Telegraph. January 7, 2004. Retrieved 2010-03-22. Michael Straight, who has died aged 87, was the former Soviet spy responsible for telling MI5 that Anthony Blunt – whose lover he had briefly been at Cambridge in the 1930s – was a mole. ... 

Further reading[edit]