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Lucy Wortham James (1880 - 1938)


Lucy Wortham James was a philanthropist who preserved Maramec Spring, one of Missouri's most beautiful natural features, and sought to better the lives of her fellow Missourians through philanthropy.

Lucy Wortham James Lucy Wortham James Lucy Wortham James.

This image shows Lucy Wortham James as a young woman. Her granduncle R.G. Dun left her a large fortune that she used to improve the lives of others through numerous philanthropic works.

[James Foundation Papers, 1912-1980s (R1316), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Rolla]

James was born on September 13, 1880, to Thomas and Octavia Ann Bowles James in St. James, Missouri. She was a descendant of the family that established Maramec Iron Works in 1826. William James, her grandfather, was the last to manufacture iron at Maramec. Although the ironworks went bankrupt before Lucy's birth, she lived in St. James as a child. 

Lucy later spent summers at Maramec Spring in the company of her grandmother, Lucy Ann Dun James, and developed a lifelong fondness for the scenic and historic site. Lucy's grandmother was the sister of Robert G. Dun, owner of the mercantile reporting agency that bore his name.

Dun supported his sister's family following William James's bankruptcy in 1878. His grandniece, Lucy, was a favorite and lived part of the time in New York with Dun and his wife. Through Dun's assistance Lucy attended schools in Kansas City and New York and traveled to Europe to study music in Vienna, Austria.

Wedding Portrait Wedding Portrait Wedding Portrait.

This is a photograph of Lucy Wortham James on her wedding day in 1903. She married diplomat Huntington Wilson but the two later divorced in 1915.

[James Foundation Papers, 1912-1980s (R1316), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Rolla]

In 1903 she married diplomat Huntington Wilson and together they traveled the world. The Wilsons divorced, childless, in 1915, after which Lucy was known as "Mrs. Lucy Wortham James." She resided in New York City and hobnobbed with sophisticates including society painter John Singer Sargent, who produced a portrait of her in 1922.

Upon her father's death in 1912, James inherited a portion of the sizable estate of Robert G. Dun in the form of shares of R.G. Dun & Company. She later became the largest stockholder of the reorganized firm, Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.

Although she was not among the ultra-rich, James's income was enough to maintain a New York apartment, own a seaside home in Newport, Rhode Island, and enjoy long vacations at St. James and Maramec Spring. She also pursued various philanthropic interests. In Missouri, her philanthropic assistance extended to Trinity Episcopal Church, the Masonic Cemetery, and the public library in St. James.

After her father's estate was settled, Lucy began buying land in Phelps County at the site of the former Maramec Iron Works. Ultimately she bought over thirteen hundred acres and fended off proposals to run a state highway and power transmission lines through the spring basin.  When her income plummeted in the early years of the Great Depression, James spent some years in residence in St. James and at Maramec Spring. At that time, she began planning for the conservation and perpetual public use of the historic property and deposited the first funds in what became the Lucy Wortham James Memorial.

James's health had never been robust. In 1929 she underwent surgery from which she never fully recovered. With advice from her friend and counselor, William H. Greenough, she began estate planning
Estate planning is the process that an individual goes through to create a plan to dispose of their personal belongings and money after their death. In most cases, an individual will consult an attorney for advice, and then work with the attorney to create a legal document that explains their final wishes.
in 1930. That impulse led her to the New York Community Trust and eventual establishment of the Lucy Wortham James Memorial.

When she died in New York City on January 20, 1938, Lucy Wortham James left an estate worth nearly two million dollars. Adjusted for inflation, her estate would be worth just over thirty-three million dollars in 2015. Her will left the bulk of the estate to the New York Community Trust to further her philanthropic interests, the first of which were the preservation of Maramec Spring as a private park open to the public and civic improvements in St. James.

Encompassing over eighteen hundred acres, the park opened to the public in 1947. It was an instant success, and the foundation's development of the park received the greatest funding by the trust for almost two decades. The park is a very popular destination for trout fishing enthusiasts.

In St. James during the same period, the foundation built the James Memorial Library in 1952, acquired fifty-six acres for a public park that opened in 1965, and built a swimming pool and fishing lake in 1966–1971. Other civic endeavors at St. James funded by the foundation included construction of a new city hall and extensive beautification projects that earned St. James the nickname "Forest City of the Ozarks." There were also small grants to the Phelps County Memorial Hospital, the Boy Scouts, civic groups, schools, and Trinity Episcopal Church.

In recent years the foundation has reduced its activity in St. James, ending its funding and administration of the James Memorial Library, park, and swimming pool in 2013.

Maramec Spring Maramec Spring Maramec Spring.

This shows the source of Maramec Spring. The spring's cold water is just the right temperature for trout. The Missouri Department of Conservation has a trout hatchery and fishery located at the park to help sustain the trout population.

[Courtesy of Wikipedia]
Lucy Wortham James was a thoughtful and generous woman whose thinking represented a dynamic mix of Gilded Age
A phrase coined by Mark Twain, the Gilded Age is a period in American history from roughly 1870 to 1900 that was characterized by the obscene display of wealth by the newly rich who benefited greatly from industrialization and higher wages, largely at the expense of poor immigrants.
and Progressive Era
The Progressive Era was a reform movement that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century and was a direct backlash to the Gilded Age. Progressives attempted to right the wrongs of the industrial age and greed of the wealthy by improving the factory system, such as limiting work days to eight hours and ending child labor.
notions. Above all, they show her devotion to Maramec Spring and desire to see that her wealth would serve the public good.
Text and research by John Bradbury


References and Resources

For more information about Lucy Wortham James's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Lucy Wortham James in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Books and Articles
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.  pp. 431-432.  [REF F508 D561]
    • Genet, Nancy. Lucy Wortham James, 1880–1938, Founder of the Lucy Wortham James Memorial in the New York Community Trust. St. James, MO: James Foundation, 1971. [REF F508.1 J2342]
    • Norris, James D. The James Foundation in Missouri, 1941-1991. New York: The New York Community Trust, 1996. [REF F566 J232n]
    • ____. The Story of the Maramec Iron Works, 1826-1876. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1972. [REF F566 N794 1972]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • James Foundation Papers, 1912-1980s (R1316)
      The James Foundation was established in Missouri in 1941 by the New York Community Trust to administer grants from the Lucy Wortham James Memorial. The Foundation carries out philanthropic projects in Missouri in accordance with the will of Lucy Wortham James.
    • James, Lucy Wortham, Collection, 1801-1895 (C0001)
      The records of the Maramec Iron Works in St. James, Missouri, and the papers of the James family, who owned the iron works, includes financial records, correspondence, and account books. The correspondence discusses the hiring of slaves, prices, banking and financial conditions, transportation costs and railroads, political conditions, immigration, and the Civil War

Outside Resources

  • Lucy Wortham James
    This website was created by the New York Community Trust and offers a brief illustrated biography of Lucy Wortham James.
  • Maramec Spring Park
    This website for Maramec Spring Park is administered by the James Foundation. It offers an overview of the park and information for visitors.

Historic Missourians: Lucy Wortham James
Lucy Wortham JamesLucy Wortham James.

Artist John Singer Sargent produced this portrait of Lucy Wortham James in 1922. Singer, who was the premier portraitist of his time, was highly sought after by wealthy clients.

[James Foundation Papers, 1912-1980s (R1316), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Rolla]

Lucy Wortham James

Born: September 13, 1880
Died: January 20, 1938 (age 57)
Categories: Leaders & Activists, Philanthropists, Women
Region of Missouri: Central
Missouri Hometown: St. James
James Signature