University Park

Campaign revives tradition of women in philanthropy

Louise Carnegie, Lucretia Simmons, Julia Gregg Brill -- distant figures in Penn State's history, perhaps, but each helped to establish a tradition of philanthropy to the University. The Grand Destiny campaign, a seven-year fund-raising effort that officially will conclude June 30, has revived that tradition by creating new opportunities for women to help shape Penn State's future.

"To truly appreciate the achievements of women who have played leadership roles in the Grand Destiny campaign, we need to see their work in the larger context of the role of women and philanthropy since the University's founding," President Graham B. Spanier told a recent meeting of the campaign executive committee. "Historically, women philanthropists have not always received the recognition that they have deserved."

Penn State began admitting female undergraduates in 1871, only 12 years after the institution had opened its doors. It thus became one of only a handful of colleges in the East that were co-educational.

The eight women initially admitted resided under the watchful eye of the lady principal on the top floor of Old Main, which also housed most of the male students. By 1878, 49 women were enrolled, accounting for nearly one-third of the student body. Many of them banded together that year to sponsor an "Exhibition of Mrs. Jarley's Wax Work," a display of wax sculptures, to raise money for a Ladies' Reading Room in Old Main. This was the first recorded philanthropic effort by women at Penn State.

In 1904, Louise Carnegie, wife of steel magnate and Penn State Trustee Andrew Carnegie, gave $25,000 to endow the University's second-oldest scholarship fund. The Louise Carnegie Scholarship Endowment still supports students.

In 1922 Penn State embarked on an Emergency Building Fund campaign, under President John Martin Thomas. The campaign aimed to raise $2 million in private support for new facilities. At that time, hundreds of qualified prospective students were being turned away each year because of the lack of space. Serving with Thomas on the seven-member executive committee that provided leadership for the campaign was Lucretia Van Tuyl Simmons, head of the German Department and longtime mentor for female students. The Emergency Building Fund campaign helped to raise funds for Grange Hall -- a much-needed residence hall for women -- Rec Hall, Old Main and other landmark structures.

At that time, Penn State enrolled about 350 female undergraduates. According to the Penn State Collegian, as a fund-raiser, many of these women set up "tonsorial, manicure and bootblack parlors" to serve the student body. They then directed their profits to the campaign. It was also in the 1920s that Dean of Women Charlotte Ray expressed the need to start a fund to assist female students who had limited financial means. Many women rallied around this cause and took part-time jobs specifically to donate to this fund.

Another much-beloved faculty member of that era was Professor of English Literature Julia Gregg Brill, who also was active in the Penn State Alumni Association. She was so widely admired that in 1952, she became the first woman named to the board of directors of the Penn State Foundation, the University's first permanent fund-raising arm, established under President Milton Eisenhower.

Meanwhile, Milton Eisenhower's wife, Helen Eakin Eisenhower, played a highly visible role at the University, including serving as a confidante and an inspiration to many female students. In 1955, Mortar Board, a society of female student leaders, established the Helen Eakin Eisenhower Scholarship Fund to support women who have financial need and show capacity for leadership.

These early developments were important in setting the stage for the emergence in recent years of individual women as philanthropists. In 1993, for example -- three years before the launch of the Grand Destiny campaign -- the Mateer Building was completed as the new home of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management. The facility is named for its primary benefactor, A. Laura Mateer, and her husband, longtime State College restaurateur "Matty" Mateer. Both were longtime advocates of Penn State's pioneer hospitality program; after Matty's passing in 1971, Laura also supported the performing arts in the College of Arts and Architecture.

A few years later, a gift from Penn State alumna Edna Bennett Pierce made possible the construction of the Bennett Family Center on the University Park campus. In addition, she created an endowment for teaching, research and outreach programs in the College of Health and Human Development to promote the well-being of children and youth.

Many leaders of the annual Senior Class Gift project have been women. For instance, Erica Schneider led the successful effort to raise nearly $140,000 in gifts from members of the class of 2002 to fund the installation of campus clocks. The Class of 2003, led by gift chair Colleen Hyland, chose to commission an historical mural in the HUB-Robeson Cultural center as its gift to the University.

"Women students assuming leadership roles in class gift projects and similar activities is a trend that bodes well for philanthropy not only to the University but to other worthy causes in our society," said Amber Krieg, assistant director of annual giving and adviser to the senior class gift campaign.

Twelve women serve on the executive committee that provides volunteer leadership for the Grand Destiny campaign, according to Eloise Stuhr, executive director of leadership gifts in the Office of University Development. In addition, a committee on women and philanthropy was formed during the campaign, led first by honorary Penn State alumna Barbara Palmer and later by Helen Hintz, a graduate of the class of 1960.

The committee developed a special version of the Penn State Today program especially for women. The program typically invites selected alumni and friends back to the University for a total, 24-hour immersion in campus life. This special program helps to identify areas and issues most likely to engage and motivate women in making a difference at Penn State through their philanthropy. The committee also reached out to alumnae through initiatives in the arts and in professional networking, especially in the New York, Philadelphia and Washington metropolitan areas.

"The fact is that women control a great deal of this nation's wealth and must be taken seriously as philanthropists," said Stuhr. "When we look back through Penn State's history, we can see we've made a lot of progress, but we hope to do still more in future years."

Michael Bezilla can be reached at

Last Updated March 19, 2009