Ellen Mayo Hill: The Independent Institute

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Ellen Mayo Hill
Member of the Board of Directors

Ellen Mayo Hill (1916-2015) was a founding Member of the Board of Directors of the Independent Institute. She was born in 1916 in Brooklyn, NY, to Elizabeth (Puryear) and Henry Wise Mayo from Richmond, VA. She attended Public Schools 152 and 193, and then skipped three grades. She did well enough at Packer to get a scholarship to Smith College, from which she graduated in 1937. Her dreams were to write and to fly, so she found a variety of jobs in publishing and used any extra money to get flying instruction. In 1940 she found a better-paying job with Air Associates at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, a firm involved in airplane sales, service and repair, distribution of aviation supplies, and manufacturing of aircraft hardware and accessories. There she earned her pilot’s license, which she used in 1940 to fly the company’s files from Roosevelt Field to Bendix Field, NJ, when the company moved to New Jersey. Her last, self-propelled, air adventure was when she jumped from a plane in a parachute to celebrate her 75th year.

At Air Associates Ellen Mayo met the president, Frank Leroy Hill, and they were married (his second marriage). During Mr. Hill’s tenure at Air Associates and refusal to sign a C.I.O. union contract at the Bendix company plant, Franklin D. Roosevelt seized all company plants on October 30, 1941. Shortly afterward, Mr. Hill left Air Associates and the United States entered World War II. The family moved to Rockford, Illinois, where Mr. Hill established various small companies that supplied aviation parts to the U.S. government, including hose-clamps for the popular P-51 Mustang Fighter. In 1943, his 18-year-old daughter, Beverly, joined the household, and five more daughters were born over the next ten years. During those early years in Rockford, Ms. Hill worked at Aero-Screw and Aircraft Standard Parts, companies her husband had formed.

The collection of Mr. Hill’s papers is located at Wichita State University and contains a wide range of materials relating to the aviation industry and labor organization of the 1930s and 1940s, and his life is chronicled in the biography, So Many Worlds: Invention, Management, Philosophy, and Risk in the Life of Leroy Hill, by H. Craig Miner. His overall business interests were widespread and included participation in aviation, pharmaceuticals, oil, engineering design, machinery, and a variety of other industries. A majority of the companies have materials in the collection with the bulk of business materials relating to Hill-Rockford Co. (previously named Hill Machine Co.), that started as a tool, die, and contract shop, and then expanded to include the manufacturing of specialized machinery.

Ms. Hill later assisted her husband in his work and shared his interests in economics and travel. She encouraged the enjoyment of reading for many young people, and as a young mother in the 1940’s, she read books to groups of children after school. She and a friend started The Bookfinders, which she ran from her home office, with books stored in the basement. She specialized not only in finding out-of-print books by request, but also the current and newly-published. She had a knack for picking out books suited to each person, and as a result, customized book buying for many of her customers was a hallmark of her business. She did the same for her friends and their children.

Ms. Hill was active in many community and economic education groups (Emmanuel Guild, the League of Women Voters, Rockford Chamber of Commerce Board, The Monday Club, Midway Village Museum, The Mont Pelerin Society, Independent Institute, and many others). In 1943, she and Mr. Hill began to spend summers at their property on Pleasant Pond in Francestown, NH, where she enjoyed the beauty and freedom of living in the country. She was instrumental in the growth of a vibrant tennis community throughout the town and supported the arts and numerous town projects.

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