Lawyer, financier, ambassador and US Senator Dwight W. Morrow (Amherst class of 1895) had a brilliant career in business and diplomacy, despite dying at only 58. In the 1920s, his name was often mentioned as a top prospect for Secretary of State or even President. As Ambassador to Mexico (1927-1930) he was very successful, not just for representing American interests (oil, primarily), but for playing an important role in negotiating a solution to the Cristero War in Mexico, which pitted the ruling government against the Catholic Church. His frequent breakfast meetings with Mexican President Calles caused him to be dubbed “the ham and eggs diplomat” by newspaper reporters.
But alas, in the cruel compendium of popular history, what is Morrow mainly known for? Being the father-in-law of Charles Lindbergh. In his recent best-selling pop history of 1920s America (One Summer: America, 1927), Bill Bryson simply characterizes Morrow as a comical tippler with a tendency to be frighteningly absent-minded. Regrettable.
Bryson was describing Colonel Lindbergh’s famous visit in December 1927 as the special guest of Ambassador Morrow in Mexico City. After Lindbergh’s achievement of the first non-stop oceanic flight in May 1927 from New York to Paris — an accomplishment that immediately made him spectacularly famous — Morrow served as his financial adviser at J. P. Morgan and Co.
Shortly after Morrow became Ambassador to Mexico, he invited Lindbergh to Mexico City to promote good relations between the two countries. “As one interested in Mexico, in aviation, and in you personally,” Morrow wrote to Lindbergh a month earlier, “I am exceedingly anxious that you should fly down here.”
Morrow’s professed interest in aviation was well established. Two years earlier, he had been appointed by his friend and fellow Amherst alum President Calvin Coolidge (AC 1896) to take charge of the President’s Aircraft Board. This advisory commission of military, political, and civilian experts investigated all aspects of American aviation — a field in which the US, at that time, was lagging far behind Europe in commercial development, safety, standards and regulation. Lindbergh’s flight to Paris was a stellar achievement for American aviation, and the man did have interesting things to say about its future, so it was only natural that Morrow was keenly interested in getting to know him more intimately.
Lindbergh accepted the invitation and flew to Mexico City in mid-December 1927, where he (and his mother) stayed through the Christmas holiday. He parlayed the journey into a lengthy flying tour of Central America, a portion of South America and the Caribbean:
His visit to Mexico was famous because it was here that he met and fell in love with his future wife, Dwight Morrow’s daughter Anne, a pretty 21-year-old senior at Smith College. Her mother’s scrapbook records the event this way:
Since Lindbergh was then the focus of wild-eyed hero worship, newspapers covered his every movement. When news of the engagement came out in early 1928 (some papers erroneously reporting that his fiancée was not Anne but her younger sister Constance!), it broke the hearts of thousands of American girls.
The Morrow-Lindbergh wedding plans were covered exhaustively in the newspapers; the event marked the advent of modern celebrity obsession in the new mass media. The Morrows (probably intentionally) hinted to the press that the wedding would take place in the summer of 1929 at their Maine residence; but instead, it was held in secret at the family’s Englewood (NJ) estate in May.
The American public’s obsession with the Lindbergh couple, which is palpably documented in the Morrow family scrapbooks, sickeningly foreshadows the immense personal tragedy that came in 1932 with the kidnapping and murder of their first child, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. That grim event, which also became a public spectacle (famously characterized by H.L. Mencken as “the greatest story since the Resurrection”), sent the Lindberghs into voluntary exile in Europe for the remainder of the decade.