• She worked with Carl Jung.
  • She supported James Joyce as he wrote Ulysses.
  • She ate off Napoleon’s plates and wore Catherine the Great’s jewels.
  • She helped curb scarlet fever.
  • She was a brilliant intellectual determined to think new thoughts.

That’s the good side of the coin for Edith Rockefeller McCormick. Born the daughter of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and married into the McCormick clan of reaper fame, she was once estimated to be the nation’s richest woman. But when she died, she was broke, agoraphobic, and alone.

Hers was a roller-coaster life — the richest of highs and the saddest of lows. What happened?

I first learned about Edith when I wrote the Brookfield Zoo history book, Let the Lions Roar! (she donated the land to start the zoo). A cursory study of Edith showed her to be highly unusual. Now, after years of research, interviews, and contemplation, I find her character not only unusual but enigmatic, infuriating, and inspiring. She was a brilliant woman undaunted yet ultimately sidelined by the powerful men around her.

EDITH: The Rogue Rockefeller McCormick, to be published by Southern Illinois University Press in August 2020, attempts to explain Edith, giving her credit for her accomplishments without minimizing her shortcomings.

I’ve teamed up with historical re-enactor Ellie of ElliePresents to create an author/enactor presentation about Edith — great for book clubs, libraries, historical societies, and other groups. Available first as a Zoom production (followed by Q&A) and then as in-person events, more information about this program is at https://elliepresents.com/interpretations/edith-the-rogue-rockefeller-mccormick/.