Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/George B. Cortelyou

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GEORGE BRUCE CORTELYOU, graduate Massachusetts state normal school, at Westfield, Massachusetts, 1882; student and instructor in stenography, New York city, 1883-85; principal of college preparatory schools, 1885-89; private secretary to United States post office inspector in charge at New York, 1889, and to the surveyor of the Port of New York, 1891; private secretary to the fourth assistant postmaster-general, Washington, District of Columbia, 1893-95; acting chief clerk and acting fourth assistant postmaster-general, 1895; stenographer and executive clerk to President Cleveland, 1895-96; assistant secretary to President McKinley, 1898-1900; secretary to the president, 1900-03; secretary of commerce and labor in the cabinet of President Roosevelt from February 16, 1903, to July 1, 1904; in June, 1904, was elected chairman of the Republican national committee, managing the campaign which resulted in the election of President Roosevelt by the largest popular majority ever given to a presidential candidate; and entering the new cabinet of President Roosevelt in March, 1905, as postmaster-general, on assuming the duties of that office announced his retirement from the chairmanship of the Republican national committee.

He was born in New York city, July 26, 1862. His father, Peter Crolius Cortelyou, Jr., was associated with his grandfather, Peter Crolius Cortelyou, Sr., in the type founding business in partnership with George Bruce in New York city, the leading type house in the world for nearly half a century. His ancestors were among the distinguished leaders of Colonial and Revolutionary history in the State of New York.

George Bruce Cortelyou had the advantages of an excellent home training in the best environment, and he embraced every opportunity to broaden his education. After passing through the public schools he was graduated at the Hempstead (Long Island) institute in 1879 and at the State normal school, Westfield, Massachusetts, 1882. He was prepared for college with the intention of entering Harvard, but instead he entered the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He also studied with Dr. Louis Maas former conductor of the Philharmonic Society of Boston. He tutored in literature classes of teachers from the Cambridge (Massachusetts) high school. He continued the study of music in New York city and at the same time took a course in stenography at Walworth's institute in 1883, completing the course in four and one-half months and becoming an assistant in the school. He then reported the clinical course in the New York Hospital.

In 1884 he passed the examination for stenographer and private secretary to the appraiser of the port of New York and remained there until a change of administration, resigning in 1885 to become a general law and verbatim reporter in association with James E. Munson, the author of the Munson System of Stenography. He became the principal of a college preparatory school in New York in 1885 and continued in that position for four years; and in 1889 he became private secretary to the post-office inspector in charge at New York city. He was appointed confidential stenographer to the surveyor of the port of New York in March, 1891, and in July of that year he accepted the position of private secretary to Estes G. Rathbone, the fourth assistant postmaster-general. Upon the accession of Grover Cleveland to the presidency in 1893, Robert A. Maxwell became fourth assistant postmaster-general, and that official requested Mr. Cortelyou to withdraw his resignation and to remain as private secretary. He also performed the duties of acting chief clerk of the office and for a time was acting fourth assistant postmaster-general. His efficiency came to the attention of President Cleveland, and in November, 1895, he was transferred to the executive mansion as stenographer to the president, and three months later he was made executive clerk to the president. When congress provided President McKinley with an additional assistant secretary in 1898, Mr. Cortelyou was promoted to that office, and on April 13, 1900, when Mr. Porter resigned from the secretaryship, Mr. Cortelyou was made secretary to the president, an office which had grown to something of the dignity of a cabinet position, the former title of private secretary in no way indicating the duties or responsibilities of the office.

His duties as executive clerk included the supervision of the clerical force and of the vast amount of correspondence received at the White House; the preparation of the addresses, messages and other of the state papers for transmission, and later their preparation for the public printer and the press. He also had charge of the correspondence and management of the receptions of the president's wife; and received many of the callers at the executive mansion, making appointments to meet the president. During the first year of President McKinley's administration 400,000 communications were received at the executive mansion and acted upon through the direction of executive clerk Cortelyou, and at the close of the year there was no record of the loss of a single document, and every document filed was indorsed with shorthand notes, which preserved a complete history of each case.

On the occasion of the assassination of President McKinley, Secretary Cortelyou was with him and at once assumed general direction of the arrangements attending the illness, death and burial of the president. He had not only the duty to the dead to perform, but a much more delicate one in looking after the invalid wife and widow, and helping her to bear the great sorrow in which she had been so suddenly plunged. His management of all these matters was a marvel to all who knew of the extent of his responsibility; and it is safe to say that perhaps no man will ever be called upon to assume responsibilities of greater magnitude in one week of terrible anxiety.

Mr. Roosevelt on taking the oath as president of the United States insisted upon Mr. Cortelyou remaining in the position he had so worthily filled and he reappointed him secretary to the president, September 16, 1901. When congress provided a Department of Commerce and Labor and made its chief a cabinet officer, the president on February 16, 1903, placed Secretary Cortelyou at the head of the new department. On the same day the appointment was confirmed by the senate. Secretary Cortelyou while in Washington pursued a course in law at the Georgetown university and was graduated LL.B. in 1895, and the following year on completing a post-graduate course in law at the Columbian university law school he received the degrees of LL.M. and LL.D. He was married September 15, 1888, to Lily Morris Hinds, the youngest daughter of Dr. Ephriam and Catharine (Shephard) Hinds. Dr. Hinds was principal of the Hempstead institute. The record made by Secretary Cortelyou up to his forty-second year is one that carries its own lesson and may be read by all the youth of America with profit. He did his work well, and he has been rewarded by frequent and marked promotions. His has been a busy life, full of usefulness; generous recognition has come to him, unsought but not unearned.