Katherine McCormick

Lived:August 27, 1875—December 28, 1967 (aged 92)

Katharine Dexter McCormick was a biologist, suffragist and philanthropist.

McCormick was born on August 27, 1875, in Dexter, Michigan, and grew up in Chicago. Her family was wealthy, and both of her parents believed in the education of women. In 1904, she earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the second woman to graduate from MIT. While a student, she successfully argued that a rule requiring female students to wear feathered hats was a fire hazard in laboratories, and MIT changed their policy. She also joined the College Equal Suffrage League. She married Stanley Robert McCormick, heir to the International Harvester fortune, on September 15, 1904. In 1906, he was diagnosed with what is now called schizophrenia, and in 1909 he was declared legally incompetent.

In 1909, McCormick became active in the women's suffrage movement in Massachusetts, providing her wealth, organizational skill and speaking talents. In 1911, was elected corresponding secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Association and appointed member-at-large of the National American Woman Suffrage Association board and that organization's auditor. In 1912, she became treasurer of NAWSA, and in 1914, she was elected vice president. She also funded the association's publication, the Woman's Journal. During World War I, McCormick was chairwoman of the association's War Service Department and a member of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense. In 1919, she helped Carrie Chapman Catt found the League of Women Voters.

McCormick met Margaret Sanger in 1917 through her connections in the suffrage movement. After passage of the 19th Amendment, she began working with Sanger on birth control, including helping plan the first American Birth Control Conference in 1921 and smuggling diaphragms from Europe into the U.S. for Sanger's clinic. Over the next several decades, McCormick provided funding for various projects and supported legislative efforts. In 1953, Sanger introduced her to Gregory Pincus, who was researching the development of hormonal birth control, and she began funding his research foundation, the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. After the pill was approved, McCormick continued to fund Pincus' research into ways to improve the pill.

Believing that her husband's schizophrenia was caused by a defective adrenal gland, McCormick founded the Neuroendocrine Research Foundation at Harvard Medical School in 1927, funding the foundation and the publication of the journal Endocrinology until her husband's death in 1947. McCormick also funded Stanley McCormick Hall at MIT, an all-female dormitory that opened in 1963 and allowed MIT to increase its housing for female students from around 50 students to 200 students.

McCormick died on December 28, 1967.

Fields, A (2003). Katharine Dexter McCormick: Pioneer for women's rights. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Ogle-Mater, J. (2012). Katharine Dexter McCormick: Scientist, Suffragist, Social Activist. In Michigan History, September/October 2012.