This is a fascinating, well-researched book about the life of John D. Rockefeller’s most intelligent, creative and misunderstood child.
Edith was the fourth of five children born into the richest family of the day in 1872. She grew up in an isolated, deeply conservative, luxurious home within the lush expanses of beautiful country side. Her early education was received mostly by tutors. Later her father started a private school to educate his children along with a few other children of wealth. There she met her future husband, Harold McCormick, son of “Reaper King” Cyrus McCormick.
The wealthy young couple spend money like it grows on trees. They live a life as close to royalty as ever existed in the USA, with little to no expectations in return for their privileged lifestyle. Edith is into high fashion and is a society leader in Chicago. She hosts many extravagant parties. Their Chicago home and gardens covers an entire city block. Edith manages a household staff of more than 17 servants, and speaks directly only to the supervisors, never to the minions.
Edith and Harold have five children between 1897 and 1905. Though she states that the happiest time of her life was when her children were babies, Edith does not have a strong maternal cognizance. The children’s nannies have to arrange appointments for them to see their own mother. The death of their first-born son, Jack, leaves a shattered family. He was John D. Rockefeller’s first grandchild and namesake.
Edith begins to have mental illness symptoms from panic attacks and phobias after the death of Jack, followed by that of an infant daughter. From then on, most of her interaction with her parents is via letters.
There are several cases of mental illness in both the McCormick and Rockefeller families. Harold’s older sister Mary Virginia and younger brother Stanley are both locked away in gilded cages to protect them from their mental illnesses. Edith’s sister Bessie dies in France at age 40 from suspected mental illness complications. Mental illness always seems just around the corner. Is it hereditary or are the children of these two industrial titans overwhelmed by the long-reaching shadows of their fathers?
Edith spends eight years in Switzerland under the care of Dr. Carl Jung, the Father of Psychotherapy. Her phobias prevent her from returning to America for any reason during those years, even family weddings or the death of her mother. She loses favor with her father.
Harold deviously panders to her younger brother (who by then controls the family purse strings). He divorces Edith, connives to take everything except one home, and even turns the children against her.
Edith must now find a way to make it on her own. It seems she may have the mettle to pull it off—but then the Depression hits.
This brilliantly written biography is praised by a great granddaughter for illuminating Edith’s life. Though born in an era of no rights for women, she did live to see women gain their voting rights. A brilliant person, Edith learned to speak several languages and cut her own course despite the gender limitations and discrimination of her time. At times she was unlikable but still I felt a sense of sadness for the life she lived. Despite her privilege and wealth, Edith was indeed a poor little rich girl.