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



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

After graduating, he was appointed to the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service in Peking and worked as a 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 was made personal secretary to Edwin V. Morgan, the Consul General to the Kingdom of Korea and American Vice-Counsel in Seoul, Korea.[3] 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.[1] He then went on to work for J. P. Morgan & Co. In April 1908, Straight was involved in a diplomatic incident involving a Japanese mailman's attack on a American consulate coolie who had been perceived to insult him, which resulted in Straight brandishing a revolver and eventually turning in the Japanese attackers to their government for punishment. Before his engagement to Dorothy Payne Whitney, there were society pages rumors that he was engaged to Ethel Roosevelt.[1]

Straight married Dorothy Payne Whitney, a member of the prominent Whitney family, in 1911 after 5 years of courtship. They married in Geneva, Switzerland, and moved to China. They moved back to the United States in 1912, having judged it too unsafe due to the Chinese Revolution[4]. In 1915, Straight, his wife and Herbert Croly began the publication of The New Republic, a weekly political magazine. In 1917 they helped to found Asia Magazine, a prominent academic journal on China. Also in 1915, he left J.P. Morgan and went to work as a vice-president for American International Corporation.

During 1915, Straight became involved with the Preparedness Movement, and when the United States entered World War I, he joined the U.S. Army. His service in Europe won him the Distinguished Service Medal and he was promoted to the rank of Major. He died of pneumonia (a complication of the Spanish Flu) in Paris while working to arrange for the arrival of the American Mission to the Paris Peace Conference. He 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 Field, 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.[6]


Children with Dorothy Payne Whitney:


  1. ^ 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," The New York Times July 30, 1911
  2. ^ Willard Straight Hall - HistoryCornell University, Dean of Students Office; accessed 05-05-2008
  3. ^ Willard Straight biography Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections] accessed 05-05-2008
  4. ^ Dear Uncle Ezra Cornell University; accessed 05-05-2008
  5. ^ burial listing American Battle Monuments Commission website; accessed 05-05-2008; full burial listing: 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. ^ Cornell Big Schoellkopf facts/history accessed 10-09-2007




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