KS History – Group D

blogs about KS history

Lady Bountiful October 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — melon19 @ 6:04 pm

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.

eliza picture 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.

KUWatkinsScholHallMarch2006With 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.

–Madeline Johnson

Text Sources:

“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).

Photograph Sources:

“Elizabeth Miller Watkins.” Photo. Elizabeth Miller Watkins 21 Oct. 2009. <groups.ku.edu/~miller/website/eliza.htm>.

“Watkins Scholarship Hall.” Photo. Watkins ScholHall March 2006 21 Oct. 2009. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KUWatkinsScholHallMarch2006.jpg>

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7 Responses to “Lady Bountiful”

  1. Rachel Moler Says:

    Thank you for informing me about a woman who was and still is very important to KU. It is inspirational to learn about women who played such critical roles to KU’s success and I think it should be spoken about more often. Many of the buildings on campus are named after people but for what reason is not heard of often. I found it interesting that not only did she contribute to the building of one scholarship hall, but two! And to the campanille bells and other projects. She seems like a lady who was dedicated to the accessibility of education and giving other women the opportunities she was unable to receive.

  2. tfern24 Says:

    Wow, this an extremely informative post. So many things that I never knew as a KU student, having lived here for 4 1/2 years now. For the longest time, I wondered about the history behind the chancellors house, and it is nice to know the basis of how it became that. For there to be 3 buildings with her name on it, is an extreme accomplishment, and I agree that some debt is to be owed to Elizabeth Watkins. I have never been to Watkins Museum downtown, do they usually hold exhibits or is it a museum of the place itself?
    -Tracy Fernandez

    • melon19 Says:

      It’s actually a pretty nice museum. If you do your own walking tour throughout the building it will just be an exhibit tour. They have a section on KU basketball (Naismith, Phog Allen), currently one on the underground railroad, and different important Kansas peoples.

      If, however, you have a tour guide, it will be quite different. If you request a tour more about Jabez and Elizabeth they will point out different details in the building, where they would have worked. They will give you a history of both of them and sometimes will take you upstairs to the restricted part of the building. In the restricted part is the apartment where Jabez would sometimes stay if he was working long hours. There are also artifacts up there. When I went, we were allowed to kind of rummage through them. It was very interesting.

      It’s free so I think it is worth checking out!
      -Madeline

  3. Zach White Says:

    GREAT post! I always walk by the Watkins Home on the way to this class and I was always interested about the history behind it and thanks to this post I am now informed. Mrs. Watkins was obviously extremely generous and I woud definitely agree that all past, present, and future KU students owe her a a huge thank you. Do you know what any of the 25,000 acres of land she donated is used for? Farmland? Parts of the campus itself? Also, I am actually planning on going to the Watkins Museum this weekend with my family so thanks for the information about that as well.

    • melon19 Says:

      Yeah, the Watkins Home was actually the residence of the nurses who worked at the Watkins Health Center. That way, if there were any emergencies they could just walk up the flight of stairs.

      My understanding (from a conversation with my roommate) is that the majority of the land is used as farmland. From the crops, KU is able to make money. However, I haven’t found any documents about it. I’ll have to ask her where she read about it.

  4. jpotts11 Says:

    I loved your post! Last year I did a report over the Chancellor’s house or “the Outlook” so I definitely spent a lot of time researching Elizabeth Watkins and the contributions she made to KU. I didn’t know that that her contributions bought the chimes of the campanile though! Thats awesome! This summer I spent some time volunteering at Watkins Museum and was absolutely amazed with how beautiful the building was! Jabez Watkins actually lived on the very top floor of the building for a while so if you go upstairs to the very top level you can see some of the original furnishings like his bathtub and a beautiful vault!!
    -jordan potts

  5. Brittany Ross Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! It was interesting to read about the background information, and how we came to have one of our scholarship halls here on campus. It is amazing that Elizabeth with such a kind, giving heart donated so much of her money and gave it away to help others with school because of her struggles with growing up in poverty. I think it was awesome that she donated enough money to let the girls live and eat for free. It really helps to exclude some expenses like room and board when trying to afford an education. Another great point that was made is that not only did she open one hall, but she was able to open another because of the success with Watkins. Although, these scholarship halls were opened in 1929, I think it is neat how they are still open today and bringing in money to the University.
    -Brittany Ross


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