Willard Dickerman Straight (January 31, 1880 – December 1, 1918) was an American investment banker, publisher, reporter, Army Reserve officer, diplomat and by marriage, a member of the Whitney family.
Straight was born on January 31, 1880 in Oswego, New York, the son of Henry H. Straight (1846-1886) and his wife, née Emma Dickerman (1850–1890), who was born at Beardstown, Illinois and was the daughter of Col. Willard Arms Dickerman (d. 1864), of the 103rd Illinois Infantry, and Margaret Elizabeth Deaver. The Dickermans were descended from Thomas Dickerman, who likely came to America from Bristol with the Reverend Richard Mather in 1636 and settled in Dorchester. Emma was described as an artist who loved poetry, pictures, and beauty in all its forms, but above all else, she loved people. His parents were faculty members at Oswego Normal School. Straight was orphaned at age ten, by the death of his father in 1886 and his mother in 1890. After his mother's death, Willard and his sister were taken in by Dr. Elvire Ranier, one of the earliest woman physicians in the country, and her friend (and fellow spinster who she lived with), Laura R. Newkirk of Oswego, women who were teachers and close friends of his parents, who cared for and educated the children.
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.
After graduation from Cornell, 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.
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 father. 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.
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.
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. When the United States entered World War I two years later, Straight joined the United States Army; and served stateside and later France with the Adjutant General's Corps and First Army. For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and served as a major.
Straight was reportedly engaged to be married to Ethel Roosevelt, daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, according to the society pages of the times. During his life, he served as a trustee of Cornell and a member of the Century Association and Knickerbocker Club.
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 United States Secretary of the Navy during the first Cleveland administration, and her mother was Flora Payne, the daughter of Senator Henry B. Payne of Ohio and sister of Col. Oliver Hazard Payne. The Straights moved first to Beijing, then, having adjudged China too unsafe after the Chinese Revolution, back to the United States in 1912. 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. His body was buried in the American cemetery at Suresnes, outside of Paris.
Following the death of Straight's good friend, Henry Schoellkopf in 1912, Straight donated $100,000 (equivalent to $2,536,000 in 2017) to construct the Schoellkopf Memorial Hall in his honor. 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.
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.
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. ...
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.
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. ...
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
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