Nettie Fowler McCormick Correspondence, 1775-1939

Scope and Content Note

Papers of Nettie Fowler McCormick, a philanthropist and wife of the inventor, Cyrus Hall McCormick, including correspondence with family and friends, with company officials, and with individuals, organizations, and institutions involved in her many philanthropies. Interfiled are legal documents such as powers of attorney, indentures, and contracts; and annual statements and reports. Correspondence before her marriage consists chiefly of letters relating to her own and her husband's ancestors and friends; relatives included the Adams, Esselstyn, Fowler, Merick, and Spicer families. She corresponded regularly with her children Harold, Stanley, Virginia, and Anita and with those who cared for Stanley and Virginia after their mental breakdowns.

The papers reveal Mrs. McCormick's role as her husband's aid and her eldest son's advisor. The correspondence illustrates her involvement in business as she accompanied her husband on many trips, discussed problems and wrote letters for him, and in his absence received confidential mail relating to his business and their family life. After Cyrus H. Jr. entered the company in 1879 and became president in 1884, frequent communications between son and mother discuss the business, the estate, and investments. References are made to competitors, patents, and strikes of 1885 and 1886; the unsuccessful attempt to form the American Harvester Company in 1888-1890; and problems attending consolidation when the International Harvester Company was established in 1902. Her close contact with these interests, as well as investments and philanthropies, produced correspondence with lawyers, employees, financial agents, and advisors. Mrs. McCormick received informational copies of many letters and reports from the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and the International Harvester Company long after she ceased to be closely involved.

In the 1890s, Mrs. McCormick gave more attention to her interest in philanthropy, an interest that accounts for fully half of her correspondence. The McCormick Theological Seminary, originally her husband's interest, continued to receive a major share of her attention and funds. Its administrators and faculty, as well as her own pastors at Fourth Presbyterian Church, consulted with her regularly and advised her on other schools and missions. Using the need for Christian service as her personal motivation, she became greatly interested in aiding small schools and academies, particularly those stressing self help for students, manual training, and domestic service. These were chiefly white, although some were African-American. Letters give evidence of the extent to which she advised them, influenced their curricula, and helped to maintain them. The extent of her personal involvement is illustrated by her many years of correspondence with Harold S. Clemons, whom she assisted through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Her interest in the welfare of those in the southern Appalachians led her to aid the Home Industrial School at Asheville under Florence Stephenson; and to give encouragement to the Laurel schools and to projects in mountain crafts, out of which grew correspondence with Frances L. Goodrich. She helped support Thornwell Orphanage in South Carolina, writing to William Plumer Jacobs; and she kept in touch with James G.K. McClure Jr., of the Farmers' Federation in North Carolina. Mrs. McCormick also received numerous requests from civic groups in the Chicago area, and responded to many. Letters concerning the Presbyterian Church, its various boards of education and missions, and its publications comprise much of the correspondence; Bible work and rescue missions were also important to her.

In the last thirty years of her life, foreign mission schools claimed much of her attention; and both the personnel and the institutions were her correspondents as well as recipients of her largess. The papers also document her great interest in both the Young Men's and the Young Women's Christian Association, locally, nationally, and internationally. Through numerous letters exchanged with John R. Motte she aided the World's Student Christian Movement and the work of the International Committee of the YMCA. She corresponded also with Fletcher S. Brockman, George M. Day, Sherwood Eddy, Carlisle V. Hibbard, Richard C. Morse, and Luther D. Wishard concerning the YMCA; and with Grace Dodge and Elizabeth Wilson of the YWCA.