Ruth Hanna McCormick Simpson
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
At least three former residents of the Edgewater neighborhood make an appearance in The Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, which may be accessed online at http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp.
The first to make an appearance is U.S. Representative William John White. Congressman White –perhaps one of the most colorful characters to have lived in the Edgewater neighborhood -- served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1893-1895. While not in Washington, he resided at his Thornwood Estate on Lake Avenue (near West 110th) in a 52 room mansion. His story – and what a story it is! – will be explored at a later date.
The second to make an appearance in The Biographical Dictionary is U.S. Senator Marcus Alonzo Hanna. Senator Hanna, whose political career and significance have been explored in previous issues of the EHA Bulletin, served in the U.S. Senate from 1897 until his death in 1904. Sadly, Senator Hanna died in Washington, far from the comfort of his Glenmere Estate on Lake Avenue (between West Boulevard and West 104th).
The third to make an appearance, and the subject of this brief portrait, was Senator Hanna’s daughter, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simpson (1880-1944), a woman whose life and career were so remarkable that she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1928.
The Biographical Dictionary entry for Ruth Hanna states the following:
McCORMICK, Ruth Hanna, (daughter of Marcus Alonzo Hanna, wife of Joseph Medill McCormick and of Albert Gallatin Simms), a Representative from Illinois; born in Cleveland, Ohio, March 27, 1880; attended Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Dobbs Ferry (N.Y.) School, and Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn.; owned and operated a dairy and breeding farm near Byron, Ill.; publisher and president of the Rockford Consolidated Newspapers (Inc.), Rockford, Ill.; chairman of the first woman’s executive committee of the Republican National Committee, and an associate member of the national committee 1919-1924, in the latter year becoming the first elected national committeewoman from Illinois and served until 1928; active worker for the suffrage amendment from 1913 until the Constitution was amended; elected as a Republican to the Seventy-first Congress (March 4, 1929-March 3, 1931); was not a candidate for renomination in 1930, having received the Republican nomination for United States Senator, in which election she was unsuccessful; resumed her newspaper interests; married Albert Gallatin Simms, of New Mexico, who was also a Member of the Seventy-first Congress; and resided in Albuquerque, N.Mex.; died in Chicago, Ill., on December 31, 1944; interment in Fairview Cemetery, Albuquerque, N.Mex.
What this entry does not record is that Ruth Hanna was one of the first children to be raised in the Edgewater neighborhood – living at the Glenmere Estate from its construction in 1889 until June 10, 1903 – the day when her wedding shone a national spotlight on Glenmere and President Theodore Roosevelt came to the neighborhood to partake in the festivities.
In West of the Cuyahoga, George E. Condon devotes an entire chapter, entitled “The Wedding of the Century,” to the June 10, 1903, wedding of Ruth Hanna to Joseph Medill McCormick, Mr. McCormick was a newspaper executive and heir to the family-owned Chicago Tribune.
He also had interests in the Cleveland Leader and the Cleveland News. He was the son of Robert Sanderson McCormick, who was Ambassador to Russia and heir to the McCormick Reaper fortune.
Mr. Condon sets the scene for the wedding: “The guest list of the wedding, attended by the top crust of American society, reflected the political and journalistic backgrounds of the families. The principals, with all their political ties, made the wedding more than a society event. There were strong political implications.” The “political implications,” not expounded upon by Mr. Condon, were the strong desire of many businessmen and politicians to have Senator Hanna run against President Roosevelt for the presidency in 1904, a desire which greatly strained the relationship between the President and the Senator in the weeks immediately before the wedding. Thomas Beer, author of Hanna, details the high political drama and tensions between Roosevelt and Hanna in May 1903 and the interested reader is directed to Beer’s biography of the Senator for a riveting story which, surprisingly, leaves Roosevelt looking less the gentleman. In any event, President Roosevelt solicited and received an invitation to the wedding in spite of, or perhaps because of, the political implications.
President Roosevelt and his daughter Alice arrived by special train in Cleveland on the morning of the wedding and were immediately escorted to Glenmere to pay their respects to Senator Hanna and his daughter Ruth. Mr. Condon records that the President’s first words on being welcomed to Glenmere were “Hello, Uncle Mark!” and that the “friendly, affectionate greeting set the tone of their meetings during the day and put everyone at ease.”
In contrast, Thomas Beer’s biography only records the following: “The President’s teeth shimmered on the veranda of the big mansion by the Lake and he said, ‘Damn!’ audibly, catching his cuff in a twisted ornamentation of the newel post in the hall. Out under a tent on the lawn old Charles Foster lifted champagne to his lips, whispering, ‘To the next President … whichever one it is!’”
Regardless of the political circumstances, President Roosevelt was accorded every honor by Senator Hanna. After the President arrived at Glenmere, the wedding party traveled across town by carriages from Glenmere to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (East 40th and Euclid), selected for its capacity rather than any affinity to the wedding couple. The lead carriage carried the President and his daughter and the mother of the bride, Mrs. Charlotte Rhodes Hanna. The second carriage carried secret service agents – yes, even in 1903 these gentlemen had a ubiquitous presence as a shadow to the President. The third carriage carried Senator Hanna and the bride. Other carriages carried the groom’s party as well as distinguished guests like John D. Rockefeller. After the wedding ceremony, the wedding party returned to Glenmere for a reception that last well into the evening. The newlyweds departed for Illinois before the festivities ended. The President and his daughter Alice were the last guests to leave Glenmere that evening.
Although Ruth left the neighborhood when she married Joseph Medill McCormick, she certainly did not leave the political milieu that she had known growing up at Glenmere with Senator Hanna as her father. Rather, as suggested by The Biographical Dictionary cited above, once Ruth settled into her new circumstances, she immersed herself in the suffrage movement, exercising a leadership role, until the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920.
While Ruth actively worked for the right women to vote, her husband was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1912 and 1914, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916, and the U.S. Senate in 1918. Unfortunately, her husband was not successful when he sought re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1924 and, in a state of depression at his electoral loss, committed suicide in 1925, leaving Ruth the widowed mother of three children. Ruth, however, was a resilient woman and, rather than withdrawing in despair from life engaged it more fully, soon after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as an at-large representative from Illinois in 1928.
She did not seek re-election as she received the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1930. After she lost the general election for the U.S. Senate, she resumed her newspaper interests. In 1932, Ruth married U.S. Representative Albert Gallatin Simms (Rep-N.M.) and moved with him to New Mexico. Once in New Mexico, she founded several schools, ran a radio station, two newspapers, and a cattle and sheep ranch. She died in 1944 after falling from a horse.
Even from this temporal distance, it is clear that Ruth Hanna McCormick Simpson was a most extraordinary woman – and perhaps, just perhaps, no small part of her remarkable life was due to her formative years at Glenmere.