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Willard Straight


Willard Straight

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

Life and career

An orphan, Straight was born on January 31, 1880 in Oswego, New York.[1] His father had been a faculty member at Oswego Normal School.[2] 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]

Straight's papers are at Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY. The papers are available in digital form from Cornell University:


Children with Dorothy Payne Whitney:


Further reading

  • Cohen, Warren I. (2000). ISBN 978-0-231-11929-0
  • Croly, Herbert. (1924). Willard Straight. New York: The Macmillan Company.

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