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Foster G. McGaw (1897-1986) Papers

Identifier: 55/28/5
The Foster McGaw papers document McGaw's life between 1908 and 1986 and fill 95 boxes. They are divided into three subseries: Personal Files, Philanthropic Records, and Financial Records. The papers illuminate both McGaw's personal concerns and, to a lesser extent, his business affairs, although these areas sometimes overlap. McGaw's personal interests centered largely on philanthropy and politics. The largest component of the papers is comprised of personal correspondence: McGaw was a prolific correspondent and was diligent in saving copies of his letters. Also, he clipped many newspaper and magazine articles for his own files, often sending copies to people he felt would profit thereby. The correspondence and clippings yield a substantial amount of biographical information about McGaw. Financial records relating to his philanthropic activities and political involvement, as well as more routine matters, comprise the second largest component of the papers.

McGaw's original arrangement of his papers, alphabetical by subject folder and chronological within folders, has been retained in most cases. Notable exceptions are the scrapbooks that he kept. Particularly in the second half of his life, McGaw organized personally meaningful correspondence, clippings, brochures, and ephemera in three-ring binders that he designated as "scrapbooks". These have been removed from their original format and placed in folders. In a few instances, however, scrapbook materials have been integrated in other folders when their subject matter was more conducive to such arrangement. Items originally filed in scrapbooks are distinguished by the presence of three holes along one of their margins, or by a penciled "s/b" designation on their pages.

The Personal Files are arranged in several categories, including Biographical Records, Family Files, and Personal Correspondence. The Biographical Records include address books and card files, awards and honors, birthday greetings, citations, ephemera, guest books, magazine and newspaper clippings, membership certificates, official documents, and correspondence. These files are for the most part arranged alphabetically by category, and then chronologically by date within folders. Address books and guest books are filed in one box (Box 2), as are rosters and directories of the organizations to which Foster McGaw belonged (Box 7). McGaw's address card files have been left in their original format and alphabetical arrangement and housed in Box 3. His honorary degrees and diplomas have been retained in their original casings and arranged alphabetically in Boxes 4 and 5, while similar oversized materials may be found in one dropfront box (Box 92) at the end of the series.

Eight folders among the Biographical Records (Box 11, Folder 7- Box 13, Folder 2), contain items of particular significance to Foster McGaw that were originally organized in scrapbooks. These include invitations to events at the White House, Christmas cards from several U.S. presidents, and many clippings with political content. He also kept in scrapbooks his exchanges of letters with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan; U.S. Senators Jesse Helms, Charles Percy, and Robert Packwood; Congressmen Philip Crane and John Porter, Governors Richard Ogilvie and James Thompson, and Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne; and with cabinet officers and White House staff. Taken as a whole these letters provide a vivid picture of Foster McGaw as a public figure preoccupied with the welfare of his country.

Of particular interest as a source of information regarding McGaw's life is an oral history transcribed from interviews with him conducted as part of a larger project on the history of the hospital industry (Box 11, Folder 3). Foster McGaw's personal copy of an early American Hospital Supply Corporation (AHSC) catalog is also worth noting (Box 8, Folder 1).

The Family Files, arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within folders, are comprised primarily of letters to and from relatives. As is true of all of McGaw's correspondence, intermingled with the letters are pertinent newspaper and magazine clippings. Also included here are a few official documents pertaining to the history of the McGaw family, as well as one folder of substantial genealogical information (Box 13, Folder 10). An item of interest is a handwritten manuscript of a commentary on the Biblical "Book of Revelation", written by Francis A. McGaw, Foster McGaw's father, which conveys something of the atmosphere in which the son was raised.

The Personal Correspondence comprised of McGaw's correspondence with friends and associates, is in folders arranged alphabetically by correspondent's surname and chronologically within folders, except for a miscellaneous folder for each letter of the alphabet, in which letters are arranged alphabetically by surname, and chronologically thereunder for each correspondent.

The correspondence includes numerous letters on political issues to and from such men as U.S. Senators Barry Goldwater and Alan Dixon. Others deal with Republican Party business, including financing, party policy, and McGaw's concern that he might personally feel the impact of the Watergate scandal by virtue of his involvement with party finances. McGaw's diligent efforts to influence college presidents on issues he deemed important are documented in many letters.

Also noteworthy in the correspondence are the voluminous exchanges (1939-1972) between McGaw and one of his salesmen, Mel Roberts (Box 38, Folders 2-3). In the early days of AHSC McGaw maintained an active correspondence with his salesmen, which illustrated his characteristic attention to human relations that was the bedrock of the company's success. The tenor of his concern, and the bracing effect it might have had on his employees, may be judged from the letters to Roberts, of which there are hundreds.

The Philanthropic Records reflect McGaw's enduring preoccupation with disbursing his assets to deserving recipients. A variety of donatees benefited from his largesse, ranging from individuals and local organizations to major universities and the Republican party. The Philanthropic Records are arranged in four categories corresponding to the means by which McGaw distributed funds: McGaw Foundation files; Charitable Funds files; Personal Contributions; and General Philanthropies. The first two were legal entities and the third and fourth were established as informal categories. These four modes of disbursement gave McGaw the flexibility to dispose of his funds most effectively in different contexts. Included are financial records; correspondence between McGaw and those institutions and organizations to which he donated; and other items such as clippings and brochures concerned with his philanthropic activities. There is a substantial overlap of materials among the categories in the Philanthropic Records--some records in General Philanthropies, for example, are duplicated in Personal Contributions. The Philanthropic Records are arranged alphabetically by organization or institution and chronologically within folders.

Foster McGaw's personal financial affairs, as well as those of his second wife, Mary Wettling McGaw, are documented in the Financial Records. The Financial Records are divided into four categories. The first two are Active Trusts and Inactive Trusts. The third, Financial Donation records, affords a compact summary of the McGaws' financial affairs. The Financial Subject files, comprising the most extensive of the financial records, contain detailed records of McGaw's income taxes, property holdings (both personal property and real estate holdings), banking and insurance records, stock holdings, and medical and legal expenses. The arrangement of files is alphabetical by subject (e.g. banks, property, etc.); and thereunder alphabetical by individual institution or subtopic. Several oversized financial ledgers are filed at the end of the series (Boxes 93-95).

One dropfront box of oversize photographs has been added to the series as Box 96. The photographs, dating from 1908 to 1986, include formal portraits of Foster G. McGaw, views of some Northwestern University buildings connected with McGaw (McGaw Memorial Hall and Alice Millar Chapel), and shots of a few other institutions or from events with associations to McGaw's work and philanthropy.

The travel diary of Alice S. Millar, mother of Foster G. McGaw, has been added to the series at Box 14, Folder 3. The diary includes entries which date between July 13, 1885 and May 16, 1886 and detail Millar's voyage to Europe and her visits to selected destinations in Scotland, England, and Germany. While in Germany Millar spent considerable time taking lessons in both music and language. The diary contains a list of names and addresses of Millar's acquaintances.


  • 1885-1986


Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 1-91 of this collection are stored off-site and require 48 hours advance notice for retrieval. Please contact us at or 847-491-3635 to schedule an appointment to view the collection.\\n\\nFinancial records in Boxes 72-74 may be consulted only with the permission of the University Archivist.


96.00 Boxes


The papers of Foster McGaw (the founder and guiding force behind the American Hospital Supply Corporation) document his life between 1908 and 1986 and fill 95 boxes. They are divided into three subseries: Personal Files, Philanthropic Records, and Financial Records. The papers illuminate both McGaw's personal concerns and, to a lesser extent, his business affairs, although these areas sometimes overlap.


The papers are divided into three subseries: Personal Files, Philanthropic Records, and Financial Records. McGaw's original arrangement of his papers, alphabetical by subject folder and chronological within folders, has been retained in most cases.

Method of Acquisition

The Foster G. McGaw Papers were donated to the University Archives by James D. Vail III on February 22, 1988 as Accession 88-52

Related Materials

Related materials concerning Foster McGaw and the American Hospital Supply Corporation have been arranged and described as separate series: publications and catalogs issued by AHSC and its subsidiaries form Series 55/28/1; corporate records of AHSC, 1923-1963, make up Series 55/28/2; Foster McGaw's personal papers relating to the American Hospital Supply Corporation--corporate records oriented more specifically to his personal concerns--form Series 55/28/3; multi-volume scrapbooks presented by business associates to McGaw on the occasion of his 75th birthday (AHSC's 50th anniversary) constitute Series 55/28/4; and the corporate records of Baxter Travenol, which absorbed AHSC in 1985, are arranged as 55/28/5.

Separated Materials

Four cubic feet of duplicate and extraneous material were discarded. All photographs were separated and transferred to the University Archives Photo Collection.

Processing Information

Allen Streicker, April, 1998.
Guide to the Foster G. McGaw (1897-1986) Papers
Allen Streicker
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Repository Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US