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Giving It All Away

The Story of William W. Cook and His Michigan Law Quadrangle

Margaret A. Leary

Publication Year: 2011

“Margaret Leary's carefully researched book illuminates a complex man who marked his university in a truly enduring way." ---Francis X. Blouin Jr., Director, Bentley Historical Library, and Professor, School of Information and Department of History, University of Michigan “Generations of Michigan Law grads have passed on myths about their generous but eccentric benefactor. . . . Now Margaret Leary has given us the real story, and it reads like a gripping whodunit." ---Theodore J. St. Antoine, James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor Emeritus of Law and Past Dean, University of Michigan Law School “In an absorbing book, Margaret Leary unstintingly investigates unpublished, archival material to unravel enigmas surrounding William Wilson Cook. She brings to life Cook's brilliant interactions with powerful moguls of the early twentieth century as she traces his lofty, philanthropic mission to elevate the legal profession." ---Ilene H. Forsyth, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of the History of Art, emerita, University of Michigan William W. Cook, born in 1858 and a graduate of the University of Michigan and of its law school, made his fortune by investing in the burgeoning telegraph and communications industry, as well as in representing the Mackay Company in their frequent tumultuous battles with Western Union and the U.S. government. Though Cook entered New York society and never returned to Michigan after receiving his law degree, he decided not just to give his alma mater the finest physical facility of any existing law school, but to donate permanent resources that would permit the law school to engage in groundbreaking legal research. However, his generosity proved controversial and eventually very litigious. Margaret A. Leary places Cook's story in the rich social and cultural context of his time and paints a fascinating portrait of a complex figure whose legacy continues to shape the University of Michigan. Cover photographs: (left) Gregory Fox Photography; (right) Ann B. Cook collection, photo by Russell R. Serbay

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 12-15

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pp. 16-19

I couldn ’t possibly have completed this book without the help of my supportive community at the University of Michigan Law School, to whom I will be forever grateful. I am also tremendously thankful to many around the country who gave me tours through William Cook’s former stomping grounds, clued me in to family histories, and guided me through archives, court records, genealogies, and American legal history...


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pp. 20-25

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1. Will Sue to Break W. W. Cook’s Will

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pp. 3-13

June 3, 193 0, is the hottest day of the year (so far ). William Cook, once one of Manhattan’s wealthiest and most powerful lawyers, is lying hostage on a small metal cot that has been placed on a worn Oriental rug in the dining room of his dilapidated old house in Port Chester, New York, overlooking Long Island Sound. His captors, though tiny, are overwhelming...

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2. 1858 - 82: Hillsdale childhood, student days in Ann Arbor

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pp. 15-31

Surrounding the column are numerous tombstones and memorial tablets for fifteen of his children, two of their spouses, and nine other descendants and their spouses. The cemetery fairly glowed on a lovely late July day in 2006. Sunshine filtered through the deep green oaks and lighter maples, and the gravestones were easy to read in the summer light. The names and dates on Cook family tombstones and a review of census and other local records...

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3. 1882−98: The ambitious young New York lawyer, the brilliant writer on corporate law, the wooer and husband of Ida Olmstead, the indispensable employee of John Mackay

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pp. 33-81

Will Cook was ambitious. He took himself from sleepy Hillsdale in southern Michigan, by way of Ann Arbor for college and law school, to New York. He must have been agog when he first arrived in Manhattan at age twentyfour in the late summer of 1882...

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4. 1898–1910: Divorcing Ida, thriving at the Mackay Companies, losing a boss and mentor, becoming a man of property, establishing enduring friendships, making philanthropic plans for the University of Michigan

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pp. 59-105

By 1898 Will Cook is setting off in a new direction. For one thing, he is now a divorced man. For the rest of his life, he will describe himself as “single” rather than “divorced.” Although it is not possible to ever know what happened between Will and Ida in their marriage, it is hard to not feel sorry for Ida. She is leaving the marriage without any assets, to say the least. As the years go by, Will Cook will become ever more successful and wealthy; Ida will become ever more dependent on her family for emotional and financial support...

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5. 1910−19: Rapport with President Hutchins, less rapport with Dean Bates, meeting Myrtle White, making Michigan commitments, honoring a revered mother, moving into an elegant Manhattan town house, a possible case of heartbreak, continuing a distinguished

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pp. 83-141

By 1910 it has dawned on Will Cook that he can use his influence and burgeoning wealth to have a huge impact on the University of Michigan. He is beginning to understand that the more he gives, the more control he will have. Most important, he is deciding that private giving to a public university is something on which he can lead the way. As time goes on, Cook will focus his own private giving on Michigan Law

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6. John T. Creighton: Trustee or toad?

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pp. 119-151

Dean Henry Bates did not like John Creighton, even though Creighton was a 1910 graduate of Michigan Law. By 1924 Bates feared that William Cook was going to force Creighton onto the Law School faculty. By April 1925, he understood that Creighton was to have a high salaried position with Cook. In July 1925, he told Regent James Murfin that Creighton is “smoother than we are and not in this affair for his health.” Writing later that July to his close friend Harvard law dean Roscoe Pound, he called Creighton...

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7. 1920−27: A bad diagnosis, researching a new book, the opening of the Lawyers Club, Dean Bates’s endless missteps, the final break with Blooming Grove, Law Quad politics bedevil the wise-hearted men at Michigan, Clarence Cook Little arrives in Ann Arbor

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pp. 129-189

In 1920 William Cook is diagnosed with tuberculosis and, at the advice of his doctor, begins to spend more time at his Port Chester estate. He turns his attention away from his legal career and his writings on corporate law and begins the deep research he will do for his final book...

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8. 1928−30: Agonizing over the fate of Port Chester, President Little’s appalling lapse, an exasperated Regent Murfin picks up his pen, Cook takes command and resolves to finish the Law Quad, a funeral is held in Port Chester, Trustee Creighton makes misc

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pp. 167-213

This chapter begins by very briefly turning away from the machinations surrounding Dean Bates, President Little, and William Cook that are giving the Michigan regents fits, to learn more about Cook’s beloved Port Chester estate. We must consider the agonizing decisions he is facing about what will become of Port Chester after his death. Once we do that, we can return to the fray in Ann Arbor...

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9. 1931-35:A whole lot of litigation, Trustee Creighton obfuscates and delays, Regent Murfin continues as hero, Myrtle White miraculously reappears, Ida’s suit settles, Hutchins Hall opens, dedication day for the Law Quadrangle, the Port Chester lawsuit e

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pp. 191-231

We are nearing the end of our story. What is left to tell about is a whole lot of litigation, which, after much uncertainty, wrangling, and frustration (especially affecting the long-suffering Regent Murfin), successfully concludes on Michigan’s behalf...

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10. The Fate of Everyone Else

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pp. 209-228

What happened to the key people in this story who survived Cook? What became of the Mackay Companies, Cook’s Manhattan town house, and his Port Chester estate? Did the University of Michigan eventually receive all of the residual parts of his estate?...

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pp. 229-232

William Cook was very clear about what he wanted to do with his fortune. The Tenth Part of his will states, Believing, as I do, that American institutions are of more consequence than the wealth or power of the country; and believing that the preservation and development of these institutions have been, are, and will continue to be under the leadership of the legal profession; and believing...

Appendix A

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pp. 233-242

Appendix B

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pp. 243-246

Appendix C

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-278


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pp. 279-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028023
E-ISBN-10: 0472028022
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472034840
Print-ISBN-10: 0472034847

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 48 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philanthropists -- Michigan -- Biography.
  • University of Michigan. Law School -- History.
  • Lawyers -- New York -- Biography.
  • Cook, William W. (William Wilson), 1858-1930.
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