A Look At Philanthropist Nettie Fowler McCormick
Nettie Fowler was born in 1835, the youngest of three children. After her father died, her mother ran the business until she herself died a few years later. Nettie went to live with her uncle and grandmother who were both devout Methodists and philanthropists in their community. These early tragedies and relationships with her grandparent’s religion and philanthropy shaped Nettie’s beliefs. Raised as an active member of the Methodist church, she felt her responsibility was to be a servant of God and give back to her community.
Her uncle Eldridge Merick’s money gave Nettie vast opportunities for young Nettie. Her uncle’s business savvy, philanthropy and shrewd business sense, had a lasting influence on Nettie. His wealth provided her advanced education and training, and she was able to attend the best seminary schools.
At the age of 21, Nettie met Cyrus Hall McCormick, a businessman and faithful Presbyterian. Though he was well over 40, the couple married a year after they met in January 1858.
Being Cyrus’ closest confidante, Nettie was also actively involved in her husband’s philanthropic activities., which were mostly religious organizations.
After the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the McCormick plant in 1871, Cyrus gave up running the company, while Nettie became the untitled head of the company up until her husband’s death.
Upon her husband’s death, Nettie was to keep their estate intact for five years, making donations only to charitable purposes targeted at Cyrus Sr.’s beliefs. After the five years passed, she turned her attention to her own philanthropy. This allowed Nettie to broaden her patronage beyond religious organizations to orphanages, educational institutions, and relief agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
A careful and deliberate woman, Nettie stayed involved in her philanthropic donations, taking an active role in the organizations that received her contributions. When Nettie died, she left $1 million to various charities. In her life, Nettie Fowler McCormick gave away millions, and always as a humble servant of God, without need for praise or recognition — the true definition of a philanthropic patron.
Photo Credit Wisconsin Historical Society