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The Rogue Rockefeller McCormick

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Andrea Friederici Ross


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
248 pages, 6 x 9, 34 illustrations


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About the Book

WINNER, 2021 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year in Traditional Nonfiction!

Chicago’s quirky patron saint

This thrilling story of a daughter of America’s foremost industrialist, John D. Rockefeller, is complete with sex, money, mental illness, and opera divas—and a woman who strove for the independence to make her own choices. Rejecting the limited gender role carved out for her by her father and society, Edith Rockefeller McCormick forged her own path, despite pushback from her family and ultimate financial ruin.

Young Edith and her siblings had access to the best educators in the world, but the girls were not taught how to handle the family money; that responsibility was reserved for their younger brother. A parsimonious upbringing did little to prepare Edith for life after marriage to Harold McCormick, son of the Reaper King Cyrus McCormick. The rich young couple spent lavishly. They purchased treasures like the jewels of Catherine the Great, entertained in grand style in a Chicago mansion, and contributed to the city’s cultural uplift, founding the Chicago Grand Opera. They supported free health care for the poor, founding and supporting the John R. McCormick Memorial Institute for Infectious Diseases. Later, Edith donated land for what would become Brookfield Zoo.

Though she lived a seemingly enviable life, Edith’s disposition was ill-suited for the mores of the time. Societal and personal issues—not least of which were the deaths of two of her five children—caused Edith to experience phobias and panic attacks. Dissatisfied with rest cures, she ignored her father’s expectations, moved her family to Zurich, and embarked on a journey of education and self-examination. Edith pursued analysis with then-unknown Carl Jung. Her generosity of spirit led Edith to become Jung’s leading patron. She also supported up-and-coming musicians, artists, and writers, including James Joyce as he wrote Ulysses.

While Edith became a Jungian analyst, her husband, Harold, pursued an affair with an opera star. After returning to Chicago and divorcing Harold, Edith continued to deplete her fortune. She hoped to create something of lasting value, such as a utopian community and affordable homes for the middle class. Edith’s goals caused further difficulties in her relationship with her father and are why he and her brother cut her off from the family funds even after the 1929 stock market crash ruined her. Edith’s death from breast cancer three years later was mourned by thousands of Chicagoans.

Respectful and truthful, Andrea Friederici Ross presents the full arc of this amazing woman’s life and expertly helps readers understand Edith’s generosity, intelligence, and fierce determination to change the world


Andrea Friederici Ross is the author of Let the Lions Roar! The Evolution of Brookfield Zoo. A native of the Chicago area and a graduate of Northwestern University, Ross works in a grade school library, where she encourages young readers to develop a lasting love of books. 


“This is a terrific biography, deeply researched and written with care and flair. It is peopled with all sorts of compelling and real characters.”—Rick KoganChicago Tribune

"Edith fills a longstanding lacuna in American biographical literature. By consolidating and centralizing disparate sources and fragmented accounts into a single narrative treatment, Ross offers an important touchstone for further work on Rockefeller McCormick herself or on the various topical intersections related to her life. Ideally, this work will mark the beginning of a renewed interest in Edith Rockefeller McCormick, sparking further contributions and building on the ground broken by Ross."—C.A. Norling, Middle West Review

"A deeply researched, briskly readable account of the life of Chicago grande dame Edith Rockefeller McCormick . . . This is fascinating, stranger-than-fiction Chicago history, and a page-turner. Can’t wait for the miniseries it’s sure to inspire."—Deanna IssacsChicago Reader

“'Unusual woman' is only a hint to whom readers will meet in the book. It is filled with family members and recipients of her patronage who have their own views of Edith and her spending. She acquired costly jewels and antiques but was also interested in affordable housing for young, first-time home buyers."—Jodie JacobsChicago Theater and Arts

“This is a fascinating, well-researched book about the life of John D. Rockefeller’s most intelligent, creative and misunderstood child.”—Ann McCauleyStory Circle

“Meticulously researched and featuring a number of black/white historical photos, Edith: The Rogue Rockefeller McCormick is an inherently fascinating life story of a remarkable woman who lived a wealthy yet unconventional life.”—James A. CoxMidwest Book Review

"A research tour de force that reads like a novel. . . . This book is so involving, I even enjoyed consulting the footnotes."—J. Wynn Rousuck, Theater Critic, Midday, WYPR Radio, Baltimore 

Edith: The Rogue Rockefeller McCormick” is an exceptional book about an exceptional woman. . . . This is a remarkable work that honors Edith’s many legacies and highlights a history that might otherwise have been lost.”—Valerie Biel, author of the Circle of Nine series 

“Edith Rockefeller was the most intelligent, creative, and misunderstood of John D.’s children. In this well-researched and nuanced biography, Ross recounts how Edith’s determination, boldness, and sheer will defied her patriarchal family. Her belief in a socially responsible life led to significant contributions in medicine, philosophy, psychology, and the civic life of Chicago. The arc of her life reveals startling shifts certain to surprise and engage the reader.”—Clarice Stasz, author, The Vanderbilt Women: Dynasty of Wealth, Glamour, and Tragedy

Edith: The Rogue Rockefeller McCormick is a revealing and captivating account that illuminates the significance and the originality of my great-grandmother. Fascinating!”—A descendant of Edith Rockefeller McCormick

“Andrea Friederici Ross has brought fresh light to the story of the powerful Rockefeller family through the life of John D.’s daughter Edith. Raised in a strict Baptist household where her mother, Laura Spelman, carried on John’s prescription of severe thriftiness despite enormous wealth, Edith liberated herself through marriage to another wealthy heir, Harold McCormick. Extravagant in the extreme and often in debt, the power couple lived a peripatetic life marked alternatively by great joy and tragedy, excessive spending and generous philanthropy. Ross masterfully weaves in the family’s struggles with mental illness and their pursuit of treatment through the new field of psychoanalysis and old-fashioned quackery. Edith takes us into the world of early twentieth-century industrial capitalists and a new generation of modern women seeking to reshape America and claim their place. A captivating read!”—Kate Clifford Larson, author of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

“This is . . . the first biography of Edith Rockefeller McCormick, and Ross champions Edith’s cause. Although patronizing, patriarchal treatment of women was not unusual in Edith’s time (nor has it died out in the present), the actions of the male members of her family seem particularly egregious and irking to any reader who values women having a say in their own affairs. The biography is very readable, with short chapters and endnotes citing sources used.”—Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society