Until the 1970s, when they became the focus of a controversial book, the family dynamics of the Rockefeller dynasty were one of America's best-kept secrets.
That's exactly how John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had always wanted it. Even in his personal letters, he avoided any intimate details or private confessions.
And yet, in all its Victorian restraint, Rockefeller's correspondence with his rebellious daughter Edith is surprisingly eloquent. Between the lines, these letters reveal the strong personalities and the sometimes strained relationships of these two very different Rockefellers.
Below is a sample of the correspondence, spanning the years 1915 to 1922:
Correspondence between John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and Edith Rockefeller McCormick
Hôtel Baur au Lac
September 4, 1915
I want to thank you for your birthday cheque which is always welcome.
My thoughts in regard to the early history of yours and Mother's lives together is only for family research. It is the link in our family history which you alone can give now to hand down to your children, as I will hand down to my children dates and events in Harold's and my early lives together. Mother used to tell us about your going to school, about how you were dressed the first time you called, about your wedding and the early days in Cheshire Street. I am sure that you understand what I mean.
We would all like to help in your philanthropies. It is beautiful and developing work and John is privileged in a way which Alta and I as yet have not had the opportunity of being. I am sure that as women we are serious minded and earnest and deeply interested in mankind and that we would only be too glad to shoulder our inherited responsibilities if we were permitted to.
Fowler expects to sail back to school in a few days. We have had a beautiful summer all together.
May each day bring some new beauty into your life, dear Father, and may you feel the love of your children near you.
With repeated thanks and my love.
Your loving daughter,
Hôtel Bar au Lac
October 22, 1915
Your cheque on the anniversary of Mother's birth linked together the past and the present and showed me that you still hold me in your remembrance. There is warmth and love in your heart when one can get through all the outside barriers which you have thrown up to protect yourself -- your own self -- from the world. This warmth and love draws me, for is it not living?
Thank you, Father.
Hôtel Bar au Lac
January 31, 1916
I want to thank you for your Christmas cheque which brings with it to me your thought and remembrance.
Also I want to ask you if you will give me some more stocks in order to increase my income. In 1908 you gave me some S.O. stocks ($10,000.00) in 1909 or 1910 you gave me the Riverside property, and since then my principal and my allowance have remained the same. For myself I spend a sixth or seventh of my allowance and the rest I give away. As a woman of 43 I would like to have more money to help with. There are causes in which I am interested which are uplifting and of vital importance to my development which I cannot help as I should like to because I have not the money. I hope you will see that as a woman of earnestness of purpose and singleness of spirit I am worthy of more confidence on your part.
Hoping that you have entirely recovered from your cold, and with renewed thanks and love.
Hôtel Bar au Lac
June 22, 1917
We are thinking of your birthday which is approaching and are happy in the thought that you are well and happy. I wish some times that you would let me get nearer to you -- your real self, so that your heart would feel the warmth of a simple human soul. Perhaps you will let me some day.
For this coming year on which you are just entering I wish you continued health and joy, and I send to you many loving wishes.
Your affectionate daughter,
P.S. For all the help which you are giving in so many times I am grateful and appreciative.
July 27, 1917
I thank you for your beautiful letter on the occasion of my 78th birthday. I can think of nothing which I would more devoutly desire than that we should be constantly drawn closer and closer together, to the end that we may be of the greatest assistance to each other, not only, but to the dear ones so near and so dear to us.
All goes well with us at Forest Hill. It was never so beautiful here before. Our thoughts go out to all the dear ones, the memory of whom makes the place so sweet and sacred to me.
With tenderest love for each and everyone of you, I am,
April 9, 1921
Answering yours of the 10th ult., I cherish no unkindly feelings, but I could not say I did not regret you should not have taken my advice in respect to the use of the funds which I had given you.
However, while we have all suffered in this connection, for such things cannot be hid under a bushel, as perhaps I intimated in some former letter, yet you have had to bear most, and now, as to the future of your financial management I see no other way than that you will have to cut your garment to suit the cloth.
But, Edith dear, the financial question, while important, is not important when compared to the other question -- the great question of your being present with your children. And how sadly they need your presence, and how very solicitous we all are for them! In this connection I may add that you could have been a great comfort and help to your mother and me. But this sinks into insignificance also, when we consider the dear children, and the importance of the constant, jealous, watch-care of the mother, and the untold sorrow that may be entailed upon us all. Edith dear, you know it all, and so much better than I -- indeed, I know so little. The responsibility is with you. I hope it is not too late.
This knowledge adds to my burdens, and with increasing years, though I do not complain, I have enough, possibly more than I should undertake to carry.
I am not lecturing. I am not scolding. I love you, Edith dear; and I am still hoping.
1000 Lake Shore Drive
September 9, 1922
Today is dear Mother's birthday, and as my thoughts turn to her in loving remembrance I am impelled to send you just a word of love.
One of my earliest remembrances is being wakened in the city house in Cleveland by your voice as you talked to Mother from your bathroom where you were dressing, while she coiffed her hair in your bedroom. Alta and I slept in the room next to your bathroom, and your voice which was deep and full, came through to us as you talked on. Then I remember sitting on Mother's lap by the middle front window in the music room, while she cut my nails (I must have been very young). Then I remember your sitting in front of the fire in the music room after luncheon on Sunday, and taking the meat out of a hickory nut for me with a nut picker. And then, one morning while Mother was playing the piano, you came up and rubbed my back which was making me restless on account of the prickly heat. You came up so quietly and you went down again so quietly. These are some of my earliest remembrances.
Mother's love for children and her belief that to mould them was building for the future was an inspiration in her life perhaps even the greatest one.
It is nice to be together again for a while as we were for so many years -- you, Mother and I. She lives with us still, and her good works follow her.
Your loving daughter,
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