29. March 2007

Stanford History Myth and actual fact

A friend of mine ,after reading this entry suggested me that this story is just a myth and sent me the actual story which i have updated

A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a
homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked
timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University
President’s outer office.

The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country
hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to
be in Cambridge.

“We’d like to see the president,” the man said softly.
He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.

We’ll wait,” the lady replied.

For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would
finally become discouraged and go away.

They didn’t, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to
disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted.

“Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she said to

He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance
obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, and he detested
gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.
The lady told him, “We had a son who attended Harvard for one year.

He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was
accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial
to him, somewhere on campus.”

The president wasn’t touched. He was shocked.

Madam,” he said, gruffly, “we can’t put up a statue for every person
who attended Harvard and died.. If we did, this place would look like
a cemetery.”

Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don’t want to erect a statue.
We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.”

The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and
homespun suit, and then exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any
earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half
million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard.”

For a moment the lady was silent.

The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now.

The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it
costs to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own?”

Her husband nodded.

The president’s face wilted in confusion and

Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to
Palo Alto, California where they established the university that
bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that
Harvard no longer cared about.

You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those
who they think can do nothing for them.

The Actual Fact –

Leland Stanford Junior was just short of his 16th birthday when he died of typhoid fever in Florence, Italy on March 13, 1884. He had not spent a year at Harvard before his death, nor was he “accidentally killed.” Following Leland Junior’s death, the Stanfords determined to found an institution in his name that would serve the “children of California.”

Detained on the East Coast following their return from Europe, the Stanfords visited a number of universities and consulted with the presidents of each. The account of their visit with Charles W. Eliot at Harvard is actually recounted by Eliot himself in a letter sent to David Starr Jordan (Stanford’s first president) in 1919. At the point the Stanfords met with Eliot, they apparently had not yet decided about whether to establish a university, a technical school or a museum. Eliot recommended a university and told them the endowment should be $5 million. Accepted accounts indicate that Jane and Leland looked at each other and agreed they could manage that amount.

The thought of Leland and Jane, by this time quite wealthy, arriving at Harvard in a faded gingham dress and homespun threadbare suit is quite entertaining. And, as a former governor of California and well-known railroad baron, they likely were not knowingly kept waiting for too long outside Eliot’s office. The Stanfords also visited Cornell, MIT and Johns Hopkins.

The Stanfords established two institutions in Leland Junior’s name — the University and the Museum, which was originally planned for San Francisco, but moved to adjoin the university.


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