Dorothy Whitney Straight, the daughter of Flora and William C. Whitney, was born on January 23, 1887, in Washington, D.C., where her father was serving as secretary of the navy under President Cleveland. Dorothy was the youngest of four children. Harry born in 1872, married Gertrude Vanderbilt in 1896; Pauline, born in 1974, married Almeric Paget in 1895; and Payne, born in 1876, married Helen Hay in 1902.
"Dorothy was easily the most remarkable of the Whitney children". An intelligent woman, full of energy and hungry for knowledge, she developed an independent way of thinking which her friends and family did not always appreciate. Dorothy came to admire people who were idealists and achievers. After starting her education at home with a small group of friends from wealthy families in New York, she attended Miss Spence's and Miss Finch's schools.
On first meeting Dorothy, one encountered an appropriate touch of reserve; then the warmth of her personality came through in a smile that invited friendship. She was taller than average, a slender woman with a patrician aura that gave no doubt of her background, yet she was known "for taking the hard chair with the drumstick." Her friends of both sexes numbered in the hundreds. She loved to dance, preferably till three in the morning (in her younger years).
Dorothy studied her suitors with the same objectivity and serious purpose that she applied to studying Italian architecture. She analyzed the man's character and his sense of direction in life. Did he long to do something big and worthwhile? She established her own priorities and values from observing those around her.
Willard Straight appealed to her idealism and was overwhelmingly ambitious. Could he also be patient enough to accomplish his goals? That trait was tested during their courtship (mostly through correspondence), when Dorothy encouraged Willard, almost pleaded with him, to hold his course with tedious negotiations with the Chinese and not give up as he threatened to do. Willard held on and when the negotiation was successful he received high acclaim. Still, her friends and family strongly opposed the match, except for one family friend, Theodore Roosevelt, who took Willard's side and urged Dorothy to accept his proposal. She finally decided in Willard's favor but insisted the engagement be kept secret.
Cofer, R. H. 1990. The Straight story: an informal history of Willard Straight Hall Ithaca, NY: Cornell University