Willard Dickerman Straight

Willard Dickerman Straight (January 31, 1880 – December 1, 1918) was an American investment banker, publisher, reporter, diplomat and by marriage, a member of the very wealthy Whitney family.[1][2] He was a promoter of Chinese arts and investments, and a major supporter of liberal causes.

Willard Dickerman Straight
Williard Straight, portrait bust LCCN2014680658 (2) (cropped).jpg
Born(1880-01-31)January 31, 1880
DiedDecember 1, 1918(1918-12-01) (aged 38)
Paris, France
Resting placeSuresnes American Cemetery and Memorial
EducationBordentown Military Institute
Alma materCornell University (1901)
(m. 1911)
ChildrenWhitney Willard Straight
Beatrice Whitney Straight
Michael Whitney Straight
Parent(s)Henry H. Straight
Emma Dickerman

Early lifeEdit

Straight was born on January 31, 1880, in Oswego, New York,[1] the son of two Yankee missionaries to China and Japan, Henry H. Straight (1846-1886) and née Emma Dickerman (1850–1890).[3] Emma was described as an artist who "loved poetry, pictures — beauty in all its forms — but above all else, people."[4] His parents were faculty members at Oswego Normal School.[5] Straight was orphaned at age ten, by the death of his father in 1886 and his mother in 1890. Willard and his sister were taken in by Dr. Elvire Ranier, one of the earliest woman physicians in the country. He attended Bordentown Military Institute in New Jersey, and in 1897 he enrolled at Cornell University in upstate New York and graduated in 1901 with a degree in architecture. 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.[6]


Straight in 1917

After graduation from Cornell, Straight was hired by the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service, an agency of the Chinese government. He served as secretary to Sir Robert Hart, the Service's head, in Nanjing. 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 vice consul under Edwin V. Morgan, the American consul general in the Kingdom of Korea.[1]

In 1906, after briefly working in Havana, Cuba, he returned to China 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 wealthy father.[5] He then went on to work for J. P. Morgan & Co.

In 1914, Willard Straight, his wife, and Herbert Croly began publication of The New Republic, a weekly political magazine that quickly became the voice of American liberalism. In 1917, they helped found Asia Magazine, a prominent academic journal on China.

In 1915, Straight left J.P. Morgan and went to work as a vice-president for American International Corporation. In that same year, Straight became involved with the Preparedness Movement and attended the July 1915 Citizens' Military Training Camp in Plattsburgh, New York.[7] When the United States entered World War I two years later, Straight joined the United States Army. He served stateside and later in France with the Adjutant General's Corps and First Army.[8] For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and served as a major.[9]

According to Eric Rauchway, Straight favored an American version of imperialism that was a liberal effort to take political control in Asia away from Britain, Russia, Japan, and other colonial powers and to put it in the hands of those more enlightened. Believing deeply in liberal doctrines about human nature, Straight believed American imperialism was the one best hope for the oppressed peoples of the world.[10]

Personal lifeEdit

Straight was romantically involved with Ethel Roosevelt, daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, according to the society pages of the times, but they broke up.[5] He served as a trustee of Cornell University and a member of the Century Association and Knickerbocker Club.[11]

In 1911, after five years of courtship, Straight married Dorothy Payne Whitney (1887–1968), a member of the prominent Whitney family, in Geneva, Switzerland. Her father was William Collins Whitney, the Secretary of the Navy during the first Cleveland administration, and her mother was Flora Payne, the daughter of Senator Henry B. Payne of Ohio.[12] The Straights moved first to Beijing, then, having adjudged China too unsafe after the Chinese Revolution, back to the United States in 1912.[13] Together, Willard and Dorothy had:

On December 1, 1918, Straight died of pneumonia, a complication of the Spanish influenza, in Paris, where he was arranging the arrival of the American mission to the Paris Peace Conference.[1] His body was buried in the American cemetery at Suresnes, outside of Paris.[15]


Following the death of Straight's good friend Henry Schoellkopf in 1912, Straight donated $100,000 (equivalent to $2,808,000 in 2021) to construct the Schoellkopf Memorial Hall in his honor.[16] After his death, his wife made a substantial donation to Cornell to build the school's first student union building, Willard Straight Hall, which was named in his honor.[17]

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ MAJ. W.D. STRAIGHT IS DEAD IN PARIS Financier and Diplomat Victim of Pneumonia While on War Mission with Col. House. BEGAN LIFE AS A POOR BOY Son of Missionary to Japan and China, He Won International Fame—Tributes Here. Chosen by E.H. Harriman Associated With J.P. Morgan & Co. - The New York Times December 2, 1918; accessed Dec 6, 2015
  3. ^ Croly, Herbert David (1924). Willard Straight. New York: The Macmillan Company. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  4. ^ Graves, Louis (1922). Willard Straight in the Orient: With Illustrations from His Sketch-books. New York: Asia Publishing Company. p. 1. Retrieved 21 September 2016. Henry H. Straight.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Willard Straight Hall – History Cornell University, Dean of Students Office; accessed 05-05-2008
  7. ^ Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris, p.433, published 2010 by Random House
  8. ^ My Life before the World War, 1860--1917: A Memoir by John Pershing, University of Kentucky Press, 2013; accessed Dec 6 2015
  9. ^ "Cornell Alumni News". 21. Cornell University. 1919: 163, 327. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Eric * Rauchway, "Willard Straight and the Paradox of Liberal Imperialism." Pacific Historical Review 66.3 (1997): 363+. online
  11. ^ MAJ. W.D. STRAIGHT IS DEAD IN PARIS - Financier and Diplomat Victim of Pneumonia While on War Mission with Col. House. BEGAN LIFE AS A POOR BOY Son of Missionary to Japan and China, He Won International Fame—Tributes Here. Chosen by E.H. Harriman Associated With J.P. Morgan & Co. - The New York Times December 2, 1918; accessed Dec 6, 2015
  12. ^ Newspaper Enterprise Association (1914). The World Almanac & Book of Facts. Newspaper Enterprise Association. p. 662. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  13. ^ Dear Uncle Ezra Cornell University; accessed 05-05-2008
  14. ^ "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. ...
  15. ^ "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
  16. ^ {The Schoellkopfs, A Family History}, 1994 Copy Held by Cornell University Archives.
  17. ^ Cornell Big Red.com Schoellkopf facts/history accessed 10-09-2007

Further readingEdit

  • Cohen, Warren I. (2000). America's Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11929-0
  • Croly, Herbert. (1924). Willard Straight. New York: The Macmillan Company. online
  • Graves, Louis. Willard Straight in the Orient: With Illustrations from His Sketch-books (Asia Publishing Company, 1922) online.
  • Rauchway, Eric. "Willard Straight and the Paradox of Liberal Imperialism." Pacific Historical Review 66.3 (1997): 363–387. online
  • Rauchway, Eric. "A Gentlemen's Club in a Woman's Sphere: How Dorothy Whitney Straight Created the New Republic." Journal of Women's History 11.2 (1999): 60–85.
  • Roberts, Priscilla. "Willard D. Straight and the diplomacy of international finance during the First World War." Business History 40.3 (1998): 16–47.
  • Scheiber, Harry N. "World War I as Entrepreneurial Opportunity: Willard Straight and the American International Corporation." Political Science Quarterly 84.3 (1969): 486–511. online
  • Vevier, Charles. The United States and China, 1906-1913;: A study of finance and diplomacy (1968)

External linksEdit