KU has been lucky to receive gifts of money and land since its early days. To date, no donation can match the one from Elizabeth Miller Watkins.
Elizabeth was born in the year Kansas became a state. She moved to Lawrence when she was eleven. Though she dreamed of being able to attend classes in Old Fraser Hall, this did not happen. Her father grew ill and at age 15 she dropped out of school to work at Watkins Bank (now the Watkins Museum on 11th and Mass). There she met, and eventually wed, Jabez Watkins. Jabez was considered one of the wealthiest men in the West.
Twelve years after being married, Jabez passed away and Elizabeth inherited an estate around $2.4 million. She deeply believed in the education of women. Since she herself had been denied the opportunity due to poverty, she decided to help others. In 1926 Watkins Scholarship Hall opened. In the beginning it was a place where forty-nine women could live and eat for free. Elizabeth’s desire for the women who lived there was that they would never need to pay more than a few dollars per month. To help ensure this, a trust fund was set up. Today it totals well over $3 million.
With Watkins Hall so successful, Elizabeth decided to open Miller Hall in 1936. The two halls were for the women who “walk up the hill.” In addition, Elizabeth also funded the building of the Watkins Health Center (now Twente Hall). She left a trust fund for its upkeep as well.
When she passed away in 1939, she left the majority of her remaining possessions to KU. Her home, known as the Outlook, was donated and is currently used as the Chancellor’s residence. To the Endowment Association, Elizabeth left 25,000 acres of land that even today is bringing money in for the University.
It is incredible to sit back and reflect on everything that Elizabeth has given all KU students. Her gifts doubled the size of the Lawrence and Kansas City campuses, provided the chimes in the campanille, built Danforth Chapel, funded research grants and much more.
I do not believe it is too big of a statement to say that we are all in at least some debt to Elizabeth Miller Watkins. I, for one, am very grateful.
“History of Watkins Memorial Health Center,” Student Health, http://www.studenthealth.ku.edu/information/history_wmhc.shtml (accessed October 21, 2009).
“Elizabeth Miller Watkins Memorial Scholarship,” Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, http://www.gkccf.org/…/NEW_EMWScholAppOcto8for2009AppFnl.pdf (accessed October 21, 2009).
“Watkins Scholarship Hall.” Photo. Watkins ScholHall March 2006 21 Oct. 2009. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KUWatkinsScholHallMarch2006.jpg>