Biography and History

Ivy L. Lee was born in Cedartown, Georgia on July 16, 1877 of Emma Eufaula Ledbetter Lee and the Reverend Dr. James Wideman Lee, a well known Methodist clergyman in the South. Ivy Lee's childhood was spent in Atlanta, Georgia except for his senior year in high school spent in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Emory College in Atlanta for two years and then transferred to Princeton University from which he graduated in 1898. While at Princeton Lee was active on the college newspaper and won the Lynde debate prize.

Lee did post-graduate work at Harvard and Columbia Universities but due to lack of funds entered newspaper work. He was a journalist at the New York American, the New York Times, and the New York World. He preferred to write about business and financial affairs. His first work in public relations came in 1903 as publicity manager for the Citizens' Union. He authored the textbook ( The Best Administration New York City Ever Had) used in Seth Low's unsuccessful mayoral campaign. Lee then took a press job with the Democratic National Committee.

Lee and George Parker, press agent for the Democratic National Committee, opened the pioneering public relations firm of Parker and Lee in 1905. Parker provided the connections and Lee the creativity in this venture. In this era of muckraking journalism, Lee saw the benefit public relations work could have for big business, believing if people were presented with all the facts on both sides of an issue they would not come down so harshly on business interests. Lee saw his role as interpreting the public to the industrialists and the industrialist to the people. To achieve this end Lee believed in supplying the newspapers with as much information as possible. His “Declaration of Principles,” drafted during the anthracite coal strike in the spring of 1906, explained his guiding precepts of public relations theory. The main points of the Declaration were, to guarantee the accuracy of his facts and leave to the discretion of the newspaper editor whether an item was worth printing as news. The aim was to provide news not advertising.

Another opportunity to practice these principles came with work for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1906. The railroad had a policy of refusing reporters access to all accident sites or granting interviews. This policy led to reporters' mistrust of the railroad and in turn mistrust on the part of the general public. Lee immediately opened the lines of communication with frequent updates and arranged for reporters to travel to accident sites. In 1908 Lee joined the Pennsylvania Railroad full time, in charge of their publicity bureau.

In 1910 Lee and his young family sailed to Europe where he arranged to open European offices for the investment firm of Harris, Winthrop, and Company. While in London, Lee delivered a series of lectures at the London School of Economics on railroads. On December 1, 1912 he became executive assistant to the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This position gave Lee the opportunity to help influence policy, not just react to incidents at the railroad. Much of Lee's energy was spent in fighting the public clamor to lower freight rates. In 1914 the president of the railroad lent Lee to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to help counter negative press during strikes at the Colorado Fuel and Oil Company mines.

Lee's work for Rockefeller led to the acceptance of a position on the personal advisory staff of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. beginning January 1, 1915. About a year later, he ended his employ with the Rockefellers determined to open an independent publicity firm (see next page). During World War I, Lee served as publicity director and later as Assistant to the Chairman of the American Red Cross.

As the firm prospered with T. J. Ross taking on more duties as day to day manager during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Lee turned his attention to many international concerns. He turned his lifelong interest in Russia into a one-man campaign for recognition of the Soviet Union, believing that commerce and a free flow of ideas with the United States would “kill bolshevism.” In 1926 he wrote a letter to the President of the United States Chamber of Commerce arguing for recognition of the Soviet Union, which eventually made front page headlines. Lee continued through the 1920s to push for United States recognition of the Soviet Union leading to many false accusations that Lee was in the employ of the Soviet government as a propagandist. Present Day Russia (1928) outlined his observations of the Soviet Union made during a trip in 1927. At the time of Lee's death he was again embroiled in controversy surrounding his consulting work for I. G. Farben Industries of Germany. Many individuals claimed he was in the employ of the Nazi government. No proof was ever found that this allegation was correct.

Lee married Cornelia Bartlett Bigelow in 1901. The couple had three children: Alice Lee (Cudlipp) in 1902, James Wideman Lee II in 1906, and Ivy Lee, Jr. in 1909. Ivy Lee died of a brain tumor on November 9, 1934; he was 57 years old.

Organizational History of Ivy Lee & Associates

The firm was opened on April 1, 1916 by Ivy Lee. Partners in the firm included W. W. Harris, a newspaper man, and James W. Lee, Jr, his brother who had also done publicity work for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The firm was originally known as Lee, Harris and Lee. Later the name was changed to Ivy Lee and Associates. The firm took on many prominent clients, among them the Pennsylvania Railroad, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and Jr., various investment houses, industrial organizations, and philanthropic institutions. T. J. Ross joined the firm in 1919. In 1933 the name of the firm was changed to Ivy L. Lee and T. J. Ross. T. J. Ross became a senior partner and the other members of the staff junior partners. The junior partners in 1933 were Burnham Carter, Harcourt Parrish, Joseph Ripley, James W. Lee II, and Ivy L. Lee, Jr. At Ivy Lee's death the name continued with T J. Ross becoming the senior partner. In 1944 Ivy Lee, Jr. withdrew from the firm and opened his own office in San Francisco. In 1961 at James W. Lee II's retirement from the firm the name was changed to T. J. Ross and Associates, Inc.

Source: From the finding aid for MC085

  • Scrapbook Collection. 1843-1954 (inclusive), 1860-1920 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC026

    This collection contains scrapbooks created by Princeton students which document their social and academic activities while undergraduates.

  • Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers. 1881-2003 (inclusive), 1915-1946 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC085"

    The Ivy L. Lee Papers consist of personal papers and material from the public relations firm of Ivy Lee and Associates documenting his public relations theories and practice. Included are correspondence, diaries, articles, writings, public relations material, newsreels, and photographs reflecting his interest in public relations, transportation (especially railroads), financial markets, and foreign relations, among others. The Papers also contain documents relating to other Lee family members including Reverend James W. Lee (father), Emma Eufaula Lee (mother), Cornelia Bartlett Bigelow Lee (wife), Alice Lee Cudlipp (daughter), James W. Lee II (son), and Ivy L. Lee, Jr. (son).

  • Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers. 1881-2003 (inclusive), 1915-1946 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC085"

    The Ivy L. Lee Papers consist of personal papers and material from the public relations firm of Ivy Lee and Associates documenting his public relations theories and practice. Included are correspondence, diaries, articles, writings, public relations material, newsreels, and photographs reflecting his interest in public relations, transportation (especially railroads), financial markets, and foreign relations, among others. The Papers also contain documents relating to other Lee family members including Reverend James W. Lee (father), Emma Eufaula Lee (mother), Cornelia Bartlett Bigelow Lee (wife), Alice Lee Cudlipp (daughter), James W. Lee II (son), and Ivy L. Lee, Jr. (son).