Helen Culver

Thomas W. Goodspeed

Helen Culver was born in Little Valley, Cattaraugus County, New York, March 23, 1832. Next to Chautauqua, Cattaraugus is the southwesternmost county of the Empire State. At the time of Miss Culver's birth it had hardly ceased to be a part of the western frontier. It was still very largely a wilderness into which new settlers were moving and where the pioneers were hewing out of the woods homes for their families and transforming the forests into farms.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century Robert Morris, superintendent of finances during the Revolution, had bought and later sold to a number of merchants of Holland, the whole of western New York, including more than seven counties and aggregating more than 3,000,000 acres of land. This is now one of the fairest, richest, and most populous regions on the continent. It was then an immense wilderness inhabited by possibly 3,000 wandering Indians of various tribes who were supposed to own this great region they neither occupied nor improved. Mr. Morris purchased the lands from them, paying them $100,000 for their title and setting apart for them several reservations which were more than ample for the few hundred Indian families.

This entire tract has passed into history as the Holland Purchase. After a careful survey it was opened for settlement about 1800 and offices were established for the sale of the lands. Some of these old office buildings of a hundred or more years ago are still standing quite unused, but preserved by the prosperous towns in which they stand, silent memorials of a vanished past. In that early day my own grandfather set out from Glens Falls on the Hudson River to make his way to the Holland Purchase, which was a kind of land of promise, and locate a home for his young family, and somewhere in the intervening wilderness perished.

For some years after 1800, settlers entered this remote wilderness very slowly. There was no way to reach it save by the most primitive modes of travel through the forests of central New York over the most wretched roads, or the old Indian trails. There was no way of transporting anything the settlers produced to eastern markets. The Erie Canal had hardly been suggested. That great waterway did not reach western New York and fully open the Holland Purchase to settlement and commerce until a quarter of a century had passed.


Yet settlers came, bringing a few cattle and sheep, each man making a little opening in the forest, building a log cabin and barn, raising enough of the simplest necessities of life to subsist on, but every year clearing a little more land and gradually improving his condition. Here and there very small villages began to appear with mechanics and merchants and the emergence of trade. Missionaries penetrated the wilderness, and scattered churches and primitive schools were established. With the passing of the years settlement became more rapid and the country began to be inhabited.

But suddenly the current of settlement was dammed and began to flow backward. The War of 1812 came on and in a little while the whole territory of the Holland Purchase was filled with apprehension. The British crossed the Niagara River, burned Buffalο, then an insignificant hamlet, and threatened an invasion of the state. Such was the panic in many parts of the Purchase that settlers abandoned their homes and fled eastward, some of them never to return. It was not till the war was over that the tide of settlement again set in, but it then rose higher than before.

It was very soon after the close of the war that Noah Culver, the grandfather of Helen Culver, brought his family from Wallingford, Vermont, and bought one of the abandoned farms in the town of Little Valley, Cattaraugus County.

The American ancestor of the family, Edward Culver, came to New England with John Winthrop, Jr., governor of Connecticut, in 1635. Landing in Massachusetts he first settled in Dedham, a few miles from Boston, later going to Connecticut where he became one of the 124 original settlers and landowners of the town of Wallingford. Toward the close of the eighteenth century, 135 years after Edward Culver helped to found Wallingford, Connecticut, some of his descendants broke away from the old home and traveling 150 miles north, together with a few neighbors, founded a new Wallingford in the wilderness of Vermont.

The war of the Revolution soon came on, and one of the volunteers from the new settlement in the struggle for freedom was James Culver. It was a stalwart race in some members of which the pioneer strain long persisted. One of them was Noah Culver, a son of the patriot James, who a generation after the Revolution took his family, and making his way 350 miles westward, established a new home in the Holland Purchase. Cattaraugus County, in which he settled, lies south and southeast of Buffalo. It surface has been described as resembling a piece of rumpled calico. Two north and south valleys divide it, Great Valley on the

(79) east and Little Valley on the west. In Little Valley, Noah Culver found one of those abandoned clearings from which the owner had fled in the War of 1812. The loghouse in the middle of the clearing had been the lair of beasts of the forest during four or five years after its owner had fled from it, but, renovated, it now became the home of the Culver family. The claim, and indeed the whole country, was covered with a thick growth of pine and hemlock and many varieties of deciduous trees, maple, oak, elm, and others. The center of the county east and west was a series of high hills, rising 2,000 feet above the sea. Cattaraugus Creek, on the north of this ridge of hills emptied its waters into Lake Erie and the North Atlantic. The waters of the streams to the south found their way through the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Culvers found one treasure in their new home—a loom, left behind by the first occupants. It was a veritable godsend, and on it the weaving of the family was done for many years. The head of the family was a big man of great strength and endurance and of equally pronounced independence and self-reliance. On that western frontier he needed money badly, and money being due him from a neighbor in his old home which seemed uncollectible by mail, he went all the way back to Vermont to collect it in person. But the debtor could not or would not pay, and Mr. Culver, his stock of cash reduced to a pittance, was compelled to walk all the way back. His money did not hold out and, too proud to ask for bread which would have been given him freely, he walked the last three days without food. He would himself have cheerfully given a meal to a hungry passer-by, but he would not receive one from strangers.

His three sons, Lyman, Eliphalet, and Henry, were like him, all of them 6 feet or more in height, men of hardihood and courage. These four, father and sons, were deemed worthy at general training "to hold one side against the assault of the town." The father's qualities were well illustrated by Lyman, the oldest son, who, at fourteen years of age, was sent to Vermont to bring back to the farm a small flock of sheep. Perhaps these sheep constituted the payment of the debt the father had failed to collect. The boy made the journey of nearly 800 miles, much of it through the primeval forest, on foot, on his return driving the sheep before him. This boy, some sixteen years later, became the father of Helen Culver.


As Lyman Culver grew to manhood a village was started near the farm and took the name of the township, Little Valley. Mr. Culver

was a man of energy and enterprise. He had good business qualities. When his first farm was cleared and brought under cultivation he rented or sold it and began straightway to clear another. He was a reading and thinking man of strong convictions and independent action. Although he was the only man in the township to do so, he regularly voted the abolition ticket. He knew it did not have the slightest chance of success, but, rain or shine, he was always at the polls, and quietly, without controversy, deposited the single abolition ballot of the town. He was a trustee of the Free Will Baptist Church of Little Valley and had the confidence and respect of his own community and of the neighboring townships.

About 1825 Mr. Culver married Emeliza Hull, sister of the father of Charles J. Hull. Charles, a very small boy at that time, was living a few miles away in Castile, Wyoming County, with his grandparents. Mr. Culver, clearing his first farm in the wilderness, soon had a little family growing up about him, two daughters, Susan and Aurelia, and a son, Robert.

From the mother's side of the family there have come more than a few interesting personalities since Rev. Joseph Hull led his flock across the sea to Massachusetts in 1635 in search of religious liberty. Among them was the last woman martyr for conscience' sake, Elizabeth Dyer. As a result of the persecution of the Quakers many of the Hulls joined that faith, and not without significance, as showing persistent family traits, were the words of that martyr when offered her life if she would leave the colony: "The Lord hath brought me hither and here will I abide."

Helen was the fourth of Lyman Culver's children and it is a curious fact that on the day of her birth, her cousin, C. J. Hull, with whom she was to be so long and intimately associated in after-life, was visiting the family. He was a boy of twelve, and their acquaintance and friendship of fifty-seven years began that day. The frontier had moved farther west in 1832 when her life began, but some of the conditions of the old wilderness life still continued.

In her early childhood, in 1835-36, there occurred a widespread revolt of the settlers of the Holland Purchase against paying for their lands. At Mayville, in Chautauqua County, a few miles from her home, a mob burned the land office, expecting in this way to destroy the records of their indebtedness. William H. Seward, then a young lawyer, afterward a very famous figure in American history, was called in and by his consideration, tact, and wisdom quieted the disturbance in Chautauqua,

(81) made friends of the malcontents, collected the debts, and completed the sale of the lands. In an automobile trip through Chautauqua County with my family in June, 1922, I visited with interest the old land office Mr. Seward built in Westfield in 1836, a one-story brick building, now unused, but left standing to commemorate the residence in the town of a great man. Lyman Culver was not one of those who defaulted their payments, but paid for and cleared one farm only to sell or rent it and buy and improve another.

The old loom appears to have descended to her father and was still in use during Miss Culver's girlhood. She unhappily lost her mother when only five years old. She was a delicate child with quiet and rather shy ways. The older sister, Aurelia, remembered that her mother, seeing her own end drawing near, said to her, "You must be good to your little sister when I am gone for I think you will not have her long." But the delicate little girl outlived all her youthful contemporaries. As she became older and stronger and her sisters left home to teach school, the old loom fell to her and gave her occupation, and she spent much time alone, spinning and weaving, for there was also a spinning wheel, these things being her special part of the work. It was a family in which industry was the law of life to which all submitted as a matter of course.

But it was also a highly intelligent family, the older sisters early preparing themselves for teaching. Books were, indeed, still rare in the Cattaraugus woods, but such as she could come at Helen eagerly devoured, and early developed an extraordinary love of reading. The father was an intelligent man and encouraged this love for books. Even after the hard day's toil on the farm he shared the studies of his children. In clearing his lands he had occasion to float his logs down the Allegheny to market. On these trips he was always on the lookout for books. Perhaps the first he brought back for his daughter Helen was a copy of Shakespeare which has remained a precious possession throughout her long life.

After the death of her mother one and another of her father's sisters cared for the family till a second mother came. As the years went on a second family was reared. The voices of children again filled the house. To secure quiet for reading, the studious sisters, Aurelia and Helen, in . winter used to retire to the unarmed room of the house and, wrapped in one great shawl, revel in the pages of Paradise Lost or some other English classic. Helen kept a book on the head of the spinning wheel where as she came and went she could catch a few words on nearing the wheel. She went through the district school and early exhausted its

(82) resources of instruction. She was eager to go on, but there were no schools at hand to carry her farther. Her father advised her to consult an intelligent neighbor as to what she could profitably take up. Rhetoric was suggested. A textbook was found and, there being no teacher available, the lessons were faithfully studied and recited to someone who held the book and followed the recitation in the text.

I am not informed about the amusements or recreations of Miss Culver's youth. It is evident that her studies and reading were recreation. But her love of nature must have given her delight in the hills and valleys, the forests and streams that gave variety and beauty to the scenes about her. In an old book describing the Holland Purchase, I find this story of Little Valley:

On lot 77 the summit of the hills is comparatively level and covered by a peculiar rock formation which has not inaptly been termed the Rock City. This city of stones covers an area of nearly 100 acres, elevated about 2,000 feet above tidewater and several hundred feet above the level of the valley and is truly a natural curiosity. The rocks are arranged in large masses resembling elevated squares, or stand upright in rows, with large fissures between them, like streets and alleys in a city. Very often these streets cross each other at right angles. These huge masses are composed of white pebbles conglutinated together and the passage ways have been caused by the disintegrating agencies of time which have wasted away the softer parts of the rocks.

In the crevices of the rocks trees have sprung up and shaded the streets of the city. To this place of wonder the young people of the vicinity have long been accustomed to resort for picnics and it was well known to Helen Culver in her youth.

She early developed qualities of initiative, self-reliance, and courage, prosecuted her independent studies and reading with ardor, and when she was fourteen was ready to take up teaching. She applied for a country school, and with some trepidation appeared for examination. The committee began by asking if she was one of Lyman Culver's daughters. And such was the reputation of Mr. Culver and his older daughters that she was quickly assured that she could have the position. She was very young, but her evident mastery of the subjects to be taught, her interest in the work, her serenity, self-possession, and air of quiet authority not only made her first school successful, but confirmed her in her purpose to get a better preparation for the work of teaching.

About this time a school of higher grade, the Chamberlain Institute, was established at Randolph, only ten miles from Little Valley. Meanwhile her father had begun to clear a new farm still nearer to Randolph, and it became easy for her to enter the new school. Appreciating her hunger for an education her father assured her that she should continue

(83) her studies as long as she wished. She went on happily in the Academy for two or three years. She lived in Randolph, carrying supplies from home, returning for week-end visits or when her larder needed to be replenished.

The cost of living and securing an education at that time—seventy years ago—seems incredibly low. The annual tuition charge of the Academy was $12.00 and the price of a room and board in the village $1.50 a week. The four Culver children, Susan, Aurelia, Helen, and Robert, were students in the first years of the school. Helen was in her last year in 1851.

And then, all at once, her world seemed to come to an end. Her big, vigorous father, who had hardly known a sick day, and never spent a day in bed, was taken sick, and within a few days died. He was serving on the grand jury when he and his fellow-jurymen were stricken with typhoid fever and eleven of the panel died! Ignorance of sanitary laws and crude treatment were responsible. For Helen, the foundations of the earth had suddenly given away. Her father was a young man, only forty-eight years old. He had been energetic and resourceful, and had accumulated an estate not inconsiderable in those days and in that region for a man of his age. He left a widow and young children, and in a spirit of unusual self-sacrifice Miss Culver, her sisters, and brother surrendered all claim to the estate, deciding that they were old enough to fend for themselves. Helen's sole inheritance was her father's watch and the privilege of finishing her course in the Academy which she did, graduating with the first class in 1852. Her father had died in 1851 only a few months before her graduation.

She was now twenty years of age and, by her own choice, dependent upon her own exertions for a living. There were few openings in 1852 for women who had their own way to make. Outside the home, teaching was one of the very few callings open to them. Happily Miss Culver had teaching gifts and had already decided to be a teacher. But she was not content to remain in the environment in which she was born.

In 1852 our country was at the beginning of a new era. It was in that year that the eastern railroads reached Chicago. Access to the great new world of the West was for the first time made easy and its settlement entered on a new stage. Rumors of the way the West was attracting hundreds of thousands from every quarter and of the opportunities it presented for a career filled the older states and drew other multitudes to the valley of the Mississippi. Among these were Helen Culver and her brother Robert. Their grandfather Noah, in whose veins the blood

(84) of the pioneer ran strong, had again sought the western frontier and found it in DeKalb County, about 60 miles northwest of Chicago.

The brother and sister joined the great westward migration in 1853 and naturally made their first stopping-place with or near their grandfather. The nearest village was Sycamore, and there Miss Culver opened a "select school" in a disused schoolhouse. It was so successful that very soon an evening session was demanded which was attended by young people who were so employed that they could not be present in the daytime. In this most successful enterprise she associated with herself a Miss Kennicott of the family of Robert Kennicott, the first director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

Her brother Robert had gone to Chicago, and her cousin Charles J. Hull and his family had permanently settled in that city. The day and evening work combined had become too strenuous in Sycamore, and in 1854 Miss Culver went to Chicago to seek a position in the schools of the young city. She found there only six public schools. Readily passing the examinations she was appointed principal of the primary department of "School Number 6" though she was only twenty-two years old. It is apparent from what I have already said that she was a young woman of uncommon abilities and a superior teacher. This became quickly evident to the school authorities and in a few months she was promoted to be assistant to the principal of "Grammar School No. 3." In this position she remained between two and three years when her unusual ability led to her promotion to the new high school which stood on Madison Street, a little west of the river. She had won her way by sheer ability from a country school to a position of dignity in the high school of a city of nearly 100,000 people. She continued in this service for about three years. Then came a change which gave a wholly new direction to her life.

During these first six years in Chicago, Mrs. Hull, the wife of her cousin Charles J. Hull, conceived for her a warm affection. She regarded her with so much confidence that when Mrs. Hull's health failed and she saw death approaching and reflected that her two children, Charles and Fredrika, would soon be left without a mother, she entreated Miss Culver to give up her teaching and assume the care of the children. The home was a spacious house in what was then a pleasant residence district on South Halsted Street made famous since that day as the central building of the Hull-House Social Settlement, presided over for more than thirty years by Miss Jane Addams. The promise made to Mrs. Hull was kept, and as soon as she could secure release from her high-school work Miss Culver took charge of the Hull home.


This was the beginning of a new life. The remarkable thing about it is that Miss Culver was quite as successful in the care of a family and as a housekeeper as she had been as a teacher. The characters of the son and daughter developed, under her gentle and inspiring influence, in a way that greatly gratified their father. The son was prepared for college and, entering the old University of Chicago, graduated in 1866. The brother and sister were both eager in their school work in which "Cousin Helen" gave her intelligent and sympathetic aid.

No one will understand Miss Culver who does not keep constantly in mind that she has always been a student, in love with books, passionately devoted throughout her long life to reading and study. Her love of books and her teaching gifts made her an ideal companion, adviser, and helper to the two young people left in her charge during a most important period in their education. During this time she began the study of Latin and resumed the study of French. In those days Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, Tennyson, and Browning were writing, and she reveled in the new literature then appearing as well as in the old. And she never dropped the habit of study even in her busiest years. She acquired a good reading knowledge of the German, French, Italian, and Spanish languages and literatures, taking up the study of Italian when over seventy years of age.

Miss Culver's care of the Hull home was interrupted for a time by the call of the country for service during the Civil War of 1861-65. She had always had a deep interest in public affairs and the great war for the preservation of the Union stirred her profoundly. On the last day of 1862 and the first days of 1863 the desperate battle of Stone River in central Tennessee was fought. It might well have been called the battle of Murfreesboro, as it occurred in and around that town. In retreating from the field General Bragg left 2,500 of his wounded behind. The wounded of the Union army aggregated 7,245. The wounded were for the most part sent to the permanent and well-equipped hospitals back of the lines. But as the army of General Rosecrans made its headquarters at Murfreesboro for more than five months and conflicts continued to occur in the neighborhood, hospitals were necessarily maintained in that place. Not being permanent establishments, they were not well equipped, but for the period of their existence were an essential factor in the campaign which resulted in the recovery of Tennessee for the Union. For the care of this work the United States Sanitary Commission assumed, in part at least, responsibility. It called for helpers from Chicago. Miss Culver responded with two other women, went to Murfreesboro and, showing administrative qualities, was put in charge

(86) of the nursing in one of the hospitals. There were about forty beds close together in one large room. The nurses lived in the hospital. They kept the hospital and the beds sanitary, kept the wounded clean and comfortable, prepared their food and administered their medicines, wrote letters for them, and rendered them all sorts of services.

Miss Culver continued this work as long as Murfreesboro remained the headquarters of the Army of the Cumberland, a period of several months. In June and July the campaign began which culminated in the battle of Chickamauga and the occupation of Chattanooga. The hospitals at Murfreesboro were broken up and Miss Culver returned to her home duties in Chicago, her interest in the great conflict for the preservation of the national life intensified by the part she had taken in it, and her mind enlightened by the near view she had had of its horrors.

Her life now went on quietly and uneventfully till 1866. Then came a tragedy in four lives. Mr. Hull's son Charles graduated from the old University of Chicago in June, 1866, and with the opening of the Autumn Quarter of that year entered the Law School. At the same time Miss Culver took the daughter Fredrika to Oberlin which she had chosen for the girl's college course. A few weeks later, in October, in a sudden return of the cholera which had visited Chicago, but was supposed to have spent itself, the brother Charles was attacked and died after an illness of only eleven hours. He was only nineteen years old, a most promising young man, tall and strong, gay and genial, looking out on life with high purpose. Miss Culver went to Oberlin to carry the word in person to the sister and be with her through the first days of her sorrow. She found that Fredrika had begun a friendship with a classmate—Martha Ellen French. The friendship continued through the life of Miss Hull and brought Miss French and Miss Culver together in a close bond which was only broken by the death of Miss French more than fifty years later. After the graduation of the two younger women from Oberlin they went abroad together and spent perhaps two years, when Fredrika returned home hoping that she might be useful to her father by entering his office.

I am indebted to notes made by Miss French for many of the facts related in this sketch. She gives the following picture of Miss Culver as she looked at their first meeting in Oberlin in 1866. "She was of medium height and figure, with large gray eyes, blooming complexion, loosely curling bronze hair, and seemed enveloped in calm serenity in spite of her tragic mission." She was then thirty-four years old. After teaching sixteen years in various high schools and colleges, Miss French

(87) accepted an invitation to make her home with Miss Culver, as a companion and assistant, particularly in her philanthropic work. During the last thirty years of Miss French's life the two made their home together.

With the son gone and the daughter at Oberlin, the big house began to seem lonely and in 1868 it was given up. Miss Culver saw that Mr. Hull needed her in his business. He had been under a tremendous strain for ten years recovering from the financial crash of 1857. She had become fully acquainted with his affairs, and Mr. Hull soon discovered that she had business qualities of a high order. She herself awoke to the discovery that she possessed business gifts hitherto unsuspected. It was therefore inevitable that Mr. Hull should begin to advise with her, that she entered the business office as an assistant and adviser and that her influence, activities, and responsibilities continually increased. Her connection with Mr. Hull in the business continued to the end of his life, about twenty-one years. From being an assistant in the office she came to be an associate in the business and in the end its mainstay. Mr. Hull was accustomed to give frequent expression to his appreciation of the invaluable service she had rendered to the business. They were engaged in a great real estate enterprise, with headquarters in Chicago, but extending to Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Nebraska, and other parts of the country. The object in view was to encourage and assist the working classes in owning their own homes.

This took Mr. Hull away from Chicago much of the time especially in the winter, looking after the business in Baltimore, Savannah, and other cities. Miss Culver for the most part remained in charge of the Chicago office. Not all the time, however. In the early seventies they bought tracts of land in the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia, and encouraged and aided colored men to buy lots and build their own homes. In connection with this Savannah business they opened in their office a night school for the colored people. The school was wonderfully successful. There were more than 300 names enrolled, "and a clamor for new admissions." This was in the winter of 1871-72. The success of the school was not to be wondered at, for Miss Culver had that winter left the Chicago office and was conducting the Savannah school.

Mr. C. P. Treat, now of Stamford, Connecticut, who was then in the Savannah office and taught with Miss Culver, writes me: "Every night but Sunday the place was packed with pupils of all ages, most learning to read and write, one man to study navigation. Never were more

(88) eager students, and never was there a more patient or successful teacher than Miss Culver." The business in Savannah was as successful as the school. The time came when one of the city papers stated that a larger proportion of blacks than whites owned their homes in Savannah and a larger proportion than anywhere else in the South. I cannot leave this Savannah episode without calling attention to the extraordinary picture of this cultivated woman toiling all day in the business of helping these poor and ignorant black men to acquire homes of their own and giving her evenings to teaching them and their children. I know few stories like this.

For the most part, however, Miss Culver confined her personal activities to the headquarters in Chicago and the care of the great real estate business in that city. This main office controlled all transactions in other cities so that she came to have an oversight of all the operations of the widely extended business. For convenience she became a notary public, the first woman, it is said, to be so commissioned in Illinois. I do not know whether she was the first office woman in Chicago or not. She herself knew of no other when she entered the office. But I think it quite certain that she was the first business woman in charge of very large affairs. But she went her way so unconsciously bent upon her business as to attract little attention and to feel no embarrassment herself. Her entire business career was pursued, indeed, with the quiet unobtrustiveness so characteristic of her, and she seldom left her office except to make necessary visits at the banks, courthouse, or city hall. For many years during Mr. Hull's life, she gave herself to the business with absolute devotion, hardly taking a single vacation. As in Savannah so in Chicago she often gave her evenings, after working all day, to teaching in the office where a school for newsboys was sometimes maintained.

It will be recalled that the family home had been given up in 1868. There were hopes that it might be re-established on the return of Mr. Hull's daughter, Fredrika, from her period of European study and travel. Her own hope was that she might enter her father's office, while Miss Culver again made the home. It was a vain hope on every account. Fredrika's health gave way. She had to be taken South, where every effort was made to nurse her back to strength. She died, however, in July, 1874. She foresaw her end and anxiety for her father prevailed over every personal consideration. She was not satisfied till she had secured from Miss Culver a renewed promise that she would remain with him.

But aside from this, Miss Culver's connection with the business had

(89) become indispensable. There was no more thought of re-establishing a home for ten years. Miss Culver lived in a hotel, and Mr. Hull was much of the time absent from Chicago caring for the business in distant cities. But when in 1884 the insidious disease, which finally ended his life, appeared and it became apparent that he needed the comforts and care of a home, a house was built on Ashland Avenue, facing Union Park, and the family life re-established. Miss French came to be a member of the household and never thereafter left Miss Culver.

Mr. Hull died on a business visit to Houston, Texas, in 1889. He left no family to inherit his wealth. Miss Culver had been associated with him in business for more than twenty years. He felt that she had had so much to do with accumulating his fortune that it belonged to her as much as to himself. She was his cousin. They had often conferred together as to the ultimate disposition of the estate. She was fully acquainted with his views and in entire sympathy with them. And, to sum it all up, she commanded his unbounded confidence. It was only natural, therefore, that the great estate passed into her possession without conditions or limitations upon its use or disposal except such as she imposed upon herself, because of her knowledge of, and sympathy with, the desire of Mr. Hull that a considerable portion of it should ultimately be devoted in some manner approved by her to the public welfare.

In the real estate office on West Lake Street, the widely extended business went on just as usual. Now its sole head, she was in her office early and late. In addition to the Chicago business, active real estate operations were being carried on in Baltimore, Savannah, and Houston, with local agents in those cities. Complete duplicate records of all their transactions were kept in the Chicago office from which Miss Culver supervised and controlled all the various operations. In Jacksonville, Florida, and Lincoln, Nebraska, and other places, minor activities were carried on by her directly without local agents.

Mr. W. W. Grinstead, then a Chicago lawyer, now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was Miss Culver's attorney and business assistant and adviser from 1891 to 1904, has written me illuminatingly of her as a business woman. She had all the operations of the extended business well in hand. She had a thorough knowledge of the general situation and of the different properties in the distant cities, and she decided promptly any questions which arose in the handling of different subdivisions and directed the operations of all her agents. In Chicago there were many improved pieces of real estate with numerous tenants,

(90) and many unimproved. "There were rents to be collected, leases to be made, repairs to be looked after, improvements to be decided upon, sales to be negotiated, taxes to be paid, loans and investments to be made, and the many other details incident to the handling of large real estate holdings." To these and all the multiplied interests of the business Miss Culver gave her personal attention. She knew and understood and directed every branch of her business. For many years after the death of Mr. Hull she continued the management of the business with the same ability that had had so large a share in accumulating the estate. In concluding this review of Miss Culver's business life I cannot refrain from quoting Mr. Grinstead's statement of the characteristics which particularly impressed him in her business dealings. He says:

In the first place she was absolutely fair in a business transaction. In the early days of our acquaintance she made a remark which I have never forgotten. It was to the effect that it had never seemed to her to be necessary that a business transaction should be profitable to only one of the parties concerned: that business intercourse of the right sort was a mutual thing and that it was by no means to be assumed that only one of the parties could be benefited. Her dealings with all classes of people were founded upon this truth, and her business success is proof of its soundness. The man of small business capacity was as safe in his negotiations with her as the man of wide business experience, and soon realized that she was considering his side of the proposition as well as her own and seeking an arrangement which would result in benefit to him as well as to herself.

Another notable characteristic was her placid, even temperament. She approached a proposition without bias and with calm deliberation, never allowing herself to be hurried or disturbed and made her decisions only after careful study of the whole question from every angle. When they were made, they were not easily changed and were pretty certain to be for the best interests of all parties concerned.

She was gifted with a wonderful memory and an unusual capacity for mastering details. She made good use of these gifts to have at all times a thorough knowledge of her business. It was not often necessary for her to go to the records to acquaint herself with the situation, for she usually had the information at her fingers' ends.

She was firm, but not aggressive in business, a leader rather than a driver. She was thorough and painstaking herself and expected the same qualities in those surrounding her, but she developed them in others by example and not by hard and fixed rules. In her relations with her employes and with those with whom she came in contact in business she was always courteous, considerate, and easy to approach, carrying into her business life the same gentle and amiable qualities which have called forth the admiration of those who have had the good fortune to be counted among her friends.

In 1896 Charles Hull Ewing, Miss Culver's nephew, the son of her sister Aurelia, entered the office and displayed such ability that she very soon began to transfer the burdens of the office to his younger shoulders. As the years passed this was done more and more fully. For several

(91) years Mr. Ewing was a member of her family and gradually took over the care of the office, until as Miss Culver's years increased, he succeeded to the business, remaining, however, in the closest association with her.

Laying aside the burdens of business she sought a place where she could, after so many years, once more enjoy the rural delights of her youth. This she found in the early years of this century at the suburb of Lake Forest on the shores of Lake Michigan, 35 miles north of Chicago. Before any other city dwellers realized the charm of the second ridge of land west of Lake Forest, she bought on it a neglected farm and there built her summer home, which she called "Rockwoods." There she found pleasure in the outdoor life, and as long as she was able personally directed the improvement of the farm.

Later she found a winter home at Sarasota on the west coast of Florida. West of Sarasota on one of the keys that fringe the entire coast she built a second home where she spends about half the year.

It has given her happiness in her later years to renew the early family ties which distance and business tended to loosen on both sides. Brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, have been much about her and "Aunt Helen's" home has been a center of family life. One and another have been with her for years, and then the little ones of the next generation have come to brighten her life. One by one the brothers and sisters have passed away till she is left the last of her own generation.

The sorest penalty of advancing years that Miss Culver has been compelled to suffer has been the gradual failure of her sight. When with her usual serenity of spirit she recognized the approach of blindness she did a characteristic thing. She began to prepare for the evil day by committing to memory favorite poems. Among them are "Rabbi Ben Ezra," Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality," William Vaughan Moody's "Gloucester Moors," Bryant's "Thanatopsis," many of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems, and innumerable shorter ones from many other poets.

The passion for reading and study she conceived in early life characterized her in her mature years, and, if possible, increased in her old age. Blindness did not dim the flame, but rather brightened it. No longer able to read herself, others read to her. It takes more than one reader to meet her needs. Books she declares are the "breath of life" to her. Her companions are frequently at a loss to find new books for the current reading table, so rapidly does her eager and tireless mind devour biographies, histories, books of letters and travel. She smilingly rejects modern fiction. Listening to good books and listening every

(92) day and all day is her business in her old age. With a keen sense of humor, constantly bubbling up in original expressions or in merry laughter over the sallies of others in speech or in books, the classic humorists have a beloved shelf in her catholic library.

I do not know how Miss Culver's personality could be better summed up than it was by Dr. Robert Collyer, her old pastor, when he said to her during a call she made on him in his last days: "Miss Culver, ye mind me o' my mother. If she had been on a ship in mid-ocean with the captain and the crew smitten down and it had been said to her: We'll have to bring this ship into port,' she'd a done it."

The various publications which present very brief biographical statements of prominent Americans begin their articles on Miss Culver as follows: "Helen Culver. Philanthropist." This is their interpretation of her life. It is a proud title and she has well deserved it. The public welfare and how she could promote it have been her life-study and particularly so during the past forty years. The will of Mr. Hull leaving his entire estate to her was made in 1881, eight years before his death. They had considered together beneficent uses to be made of a considerable part of the estate, and he had committed the whole matter to her with perfect assurance that she would carry out the altruistic purposes they cherished in common.

In the very year in which Mr. Hull died, Miss Jane Addams, casting about for a place in which to begin the social settlement which was the dream of her youth, happened on the house on South Halsted Street which had been the home of the Hull family twenty-five years before. It appealed to her as the place she wanted. When she approached the owner it occurred to Miss Culver that Miss Addams was offering her the opportunity of beginning a work of true philanthropy. The Hull-House Social Settlement resulted. The conviction of its usefulness grew on Miss Culver. Her interest in it increased from year to year. Largely through her bounty the house and the entire block became the property of the Settlement. She gave $50.000 for the erection of a building for boys, and has for years made a considerable monthly contribution to the work among the boys. These are only a few of the things she has done for Hull-House. Recent large, unannounced gifts to the sustentation fund have been made to relieve Miss Addams from the burden of the annual effort to raise by personal solicitation the funds to meet the current expenses. And to great gifts of property and money she has added during the past thirty-three years her personal friendship and sympathy and support for Miss Addams, not always agreeing with

(93) her, as Miss Addams assures me, but according her freedom and generous support. She has been one of the seven trustees of the Hull-House Association, Charles L. Hutchinson, Mrs. Joseph T. Bowen, Julius Rosenwald, Allen B. Pond, Jane Addams, and Mary R. Smith being the other members of the board. Miss Culver continued to serve actively as a trustee till 1920 when, the infirmities of age compelling her to withdraw, she was elected honorary president for life and her nephew Charles Hull Ewing took her place in the list of active trustees.

Miss Culver has always taken a deep interest in good government. As indicated by her service in the Murfreesboro hospital in 1863 she has been an ardent patriot. During the Great War she invested very largely in the Liberty Bonds, and finding that, in spite of her blindness she could still knit, she turned in more stockings for the soldiers than any other member of the group of women war workers at Lake Forest.

Her interest in good government is well illustrated by the following incident. During a violent sickness when her hearing was for a time almost gone and her sight entirely so, though this was before her permanent blindness came on, and while her life hung in the balance, an important city election took place, in which there seemed a chance for better administration. When the doctor came in, the morning after the election, he asked sympathetically: "Miss Culver, is there anything you want ?" To his amazement her voice rang out suddenly clear and strong: "Yes, I want to know how the election went."

In 1905 the City Club of Chicago undertook an inquiry into the municipal revenues of the city. This was financed by Miss Culver to the extent of several thousand dollars, The investigation was turned over to Professor Charles E. Merriam, of the University of Chicago, and with the aid of a number of assistants he worked out a somewhat elaborate report published later in 1905 and 1906 under the title of The Municipal Revenues of Chicago.

Because of the attention attracted by this work, Professor Merriam was appointed a member of the charter convention by Governor Deneen and made chairman of the committee on revenue and expenditures. He was also appointed a member of the State Tax Commission by the governor. On entering the Council he undertook, 1909—11, a comprehensive inquiry into the expenditures of the city of Chicago, largely as a result of the interest and experience gained during the investigation for the City Club. As he and his associates neared the close of their City Hall investigation they concluded that it would be very important to set up a private agency to cover not only the city but other local governments

(94) in and around Chicago. Mr. Walter Fisher, Mr. Julius Rosenwald, and Mr. Merriam were most active in organizing this bureau.

As another outgrowth of the work of the City Hall investigation there was established under the direction of the Civil Service Committee an Efficiency Division which for a number of years did extremely valuable work. In 1915 under the Thompson administration the employees of this division were dismissed, but the staff was taken over by the finance committee and is used for budget-making and inspection purposes through the year.

All these important results were largely due to the work begun by the City Club in 1905—work made possible by the interest and generosity of Miss Culver.

A number of years ago Professor W. I. Thomas began a study of immigrant groups which it was hoped might not only be of scientific interest, but also enlightening as to the best measures to be taken relating to them after they reached our country. The results of the study were to be published in five large volumes. Experts racially connected with the several groups have assisted in the work. This important piece of work has also been made possible by the liberality of Miss Culver.

These are illustrations of her interest and liberality in movements that promised benefit to the public. But they are only illustrations of the many channels through which the current of her bounty has run in a continuous stream. Ten days ago one who was just going abroad in the interest of world-reconstruction casually said to me, "Miss Culver has just sent me a check for $1,000." She gave $2,000 for the library building which was erected as a memorial of President William R. Harper.

The story of the greatest of Miss Culver's public benefactions forms a very important chapter in her life and also in the history of the University of Chicago. In its educational plan the biological sciences cover a wide field, including zοδlοgy, anatomy, physiology, botany, pathology, hygiene, and bacteriology. The University began its work in 1892 with no provision whatever for housing these important departments. Six months before the opening, the board of trustees declared their intention "to appropriate the first $150,000. available for such purposes, to the construction and furnishing of a biological laboratory." The need of such a laboratory increasingly burdened President Harper's mind. At the Summer Convocation in 1894 he declared that this was the greatest need of the University, that the biological departments, although they required the most carefully adjusted accommodations,

(95) were compelled to occupy rooms, some in one laboratory, some in another, scattered about on different floors, without unity of plan or adequate facilities and that it was literally impossible for the work to continue in the quarters then available. He concluded by saying, "The laboratory can be erected for $100,000. Who will build it?" At every succeeding Convocation he urged this need, enlarging on it in December, 1894, reiterating it in June, 1895, when he added this despairing cry, "The situation, in a word, is so serious that we shall be compelled to give up a portion of the work already undertaken unless help comes most speedily."

And help did come speedily. Those were interesting years in the University. Something new, unexpected, surprising, was always happening. It was so in this crisis. On December 19, 1895, a letter was submitted to the board of trustees from Miss Culver in which she said:

It has long been my purpose to set aside a portion of my estate to be used in perpetuity for the benefit of humanity. The most serious hindrance to the immediate fulfilment of the purpose was the difficulty of selecting an agency to which I could intrust the execution of my wishes. After careful consideration I concluded that the strongest guaranties of permanent and efficient administration would be assured if the property were intrusted to the University of Chicago. Having reached this decision without consulting the University authorities, I communicated it to President Harper with the request that he would call on me to confer concerning the details of my plan. After further consideration I now wish to present to the University of Chicago property valued at $1,000,000, an inventory of which is herewith transmitted. The whole gift shall be devoted to the increase and spread of knowledge within the field of the biological sciences.

By this I mean to provide: (1) That the gift shall develop the work now represented in the several biological departments of the University of Chicago by the expansion of their present resources. (2) That it shall be applied in part to an inland experimental station and to a marine biological laboratory. (3) That a portion of the instruction supported by this gift shall take the form of University Extension Lectures on the West Side of Chicago. These lectures shall communicate in form as free from technicalities as possible the results of biological research. One purpose of these lectures shall be to make public the advances of science in sanitation and hygiene.

To secure the above ends a portion, not to exceed one half of the capital sum thus given, may be used for the purchase of land, for equipment, and for the erection of buildings.

The remainder, or not less than one half the capital sum shall be invested and the income therefrom shall constitute a fund for the support of research, instruction, and publication.

Among the motives prompting the gift is the desire to carry out the ideas and to honor the memory of Mr. Charles J. Hull who was for a considerable time a member of the board of trustees of the old University of Chicago. I think it appropriate therefore to add the condition that, wherever it is suitable, the name of Mr. Hull shall be used in designation of the buildings erected and of endowments set apart in accordance with the terms of this gift.

Yours very truly,


The relief and satisfaction this great, unsolicited benefaction gave to President Harper, the trustees, the staff of the biological departments, and to the entire University can hardly be described.

The property conveyed to the University by Miss Culver consisted of a large number of pieces of Chicago real estate, some of it vacant, but much of it improved with dwellings or with buildings used for business purposes.

A very little consideration of the building problem made it plain that something more was needed than a "biological laboratory" to cost $100.000. Miss Culver consenting that $300.000 should be used for buildings, four laboratories were erected. They formed a quadrangle, Ζoölogy on the northeast corner, Anatomy on the northwest, Physiology on the southwest, and Botany on the southeast. A cloister connected Botany with Zoology, and Physiology with Anatomy. A covered gateway leading into the quadrangle from Fifty-seventh Street connected Ζοölogy and Anatomy. The four laboratories were thus in effect under a single roof. .On the south between Botany and Physiology was a high iron fence with an ornamental gateway, opposite the imposing northern gateway. The space thus inclosed by the laboratories and fence was called Hull Court and the group of buildings is known as the Hull Biological Laboratories.

It was found that this extensive group could not be built for the sum set apart for it, and in 1896 Miss Culver made a new contribution of $25,000 which made the building fund sufficient, and in 1897 she gave $15,000 more to complete the laboratory equipment. Owing to a serious depreciation in values the real estate did not realize the prices hoped for, and in 1898 Miss Culver added $143,000 to her gifts. In 1899 she made an additional donation of $10.000 and once more in 1902 of $60.000. The total fund including the cost of the laboratories exceeds $1,100.000.

The cornerstones of the four laboratories were laid July 3, 1896, in connection with the University's Quinquennial Celebration. It was a great occasion. Professor Whitman, head of the Department of Ζοolοgy, said:

The Culver gift to Biology came to us all as a grand surprise. Our earliest days in the University were spent in the garrets and kitchens of a tenement house. We were then tenderly transferred to the unused corners of Kent Chemical Laboratory where .... we struggled for three years for bare existence Just as our hopes had cooled to near the freezing point came .... the story, told in all the brevity and gravity that befit great deeds: "A gift of a million to Biology."

The laboratories were finished and occupied in the spring of 1897 and dedicated July 2 in connection with the Nineteenth Convocation.

( 97) Professor William H. Welch, of Johns Hopkins University, delivered a dedicatory address in Hull Court on "Biology and Medicine" and Miss Culver presented the buildings to the University in the following most happily expressed statement:

In some strenuous natures, anxiety regarding a happy personal hereafter is largely replaced by a passionate desire to accomplish some real work here—"to produce," as Carlyle puts it. To them it is not enough to add somewhat, daily, to the sum-total of well-being. They long to preserve the life-force from total dissipation at the close—to leave in concrete form a definite resultant, and give it such direction that it may move on as a continuation of personal effort. The son it is hoped may be heir to his father's spirit and purpose, or by some other means, power may be transmitted to succeeding generations and an immortality of beneficent influence be secured. It was in obedience to such a driving power that provision for these buildings was made. Since it has fallen to me to conclude the work of another, you will not think it intrusive if I refer briefly to the character and alms of the real donor. During a lifetime of close association with Mr. Hull, I have known him as a man of tenacious purpose and inextinguishable enthusiasm, and above all things, dominated by a desire to help his kind. Much of his time for fifty years was spent in close contact with those most needing inspiration and help. He had also profound convictions regarding the best basis for social development in this country, and these directed the entire energies of his life. Looking toward the cessation of activity, it was for many years his unchanging desire that a part of his estate should be administered directly for the public benefit. Many plans were discussed between us. And when he was called away before he could see the work begun, I am glad to know that he did not doubt that some part of his purpose would be carried out. He would have shared our joy could he have foreseen the early creation of this great University, and it would have been a greater pleasure added could he have known the wide diffusion of its benefits sought by its management. I have indicated that, apart from my own interest in the matter, I have looked upon myself as the guardian of a trust, only the more sacred because unexpressed. That burden, Mr. President, and members of the board of trustees, I have laid upon you—and upon all those who are to work within these Halls—instructors and students. To you, and to them, I pass the name, which no son or daughter is left to wear, with the material inheritance and the advantages and duties thereto attaching.

I have believed that I should not do better than to choose as his heirs and representatives those lovers of the light, who in all generations, and from all ranks, give their lives to the search for truth, and especially those forms of inquiry, which explore the Creator's will, as expressed in the laws of life, and the means of making lives more sound and wholesome. I have believed that moral evils would grow less as knowledge of their relation to physical life prevails—and that science, which is knowing—knowing the truth—is a foundation of pure religion.

I shall attempt no further statement of the lines along which I have hoped good would flow from this foundation. Those possibilities would be better measured by some worker in the field of biological research. Mr. President and gentlemen, I leave the buildings and my responsibility with you.

In receiving the buildings President Harper spoke with deep feeling. Briefly he told again the story of how the great donation had been made for the equipment and endowment of a school of the biological sciences

(98) and expressed the gratitude of the University to the modest lady who, in honor of another, had done this unspeakable service to the institution and to education.

No one can estimate, much less measure, the greatness of this service. Great men have labored in the laboratories. Investigations which have resulted in inestimable benefits to mankind have there been prosecuted. Scholars have been sent out from the several departments who have already become eminent in the scientific world. The classrooms have been crowded, more than a thousand students now being enrolled every year, nearly half of whom are graduate students from many colleges and universities receiving their training as investigators who will devote their lives to the advancement of science. In these laboratories more than 300 men and women have earned the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Two of these have become presidents of institutions of higher learning. About forty have become deans, directors, and heads of departments in colleges and universities. More than 160 have reached professorial rank in universities in all parts of the world. Others are curators of collections, physicians, and investigators in institutions of research. It was the presentation of some of the fruits of her beneficence in the single Department of Botany, made to her by Professor C. J. Chamberlain, and his assurance that it would greatly gratify all the departments, that finally overcame Miss Culver's dislike of publicity and induced her to consent to the preparation of this sketch.

But these results of those great gifts of Miss Culver do not complete the story. The University has continued to build on the foundation she laid. The work grew continually until the four laboratories became inadequate. In 1915 the University out of its own funds built a laboratory for Pathology costing $60.000 to relieve conditions, and in 1922-23 erected another for Bacteriology and Hygiene which cost almost as much more. Both of these structures bear the name of Dr. Howard T. Ricketts, a former member of the Department of Pathology who died, a martyr to science, in the City of Mexico near the end of an epoch-making investigation into the cause and cure of typhus fever, one of the worst scourges that has afflicted humanity. He discovered the cause, the bite of the body louse, and isolated the germ that occasioned the fever, when he was himself bitten in the hospitals where he was investigating the dread disease and became himself one of its victims. His work which will prove of incalculable value to the world was one of the direct results of Miss Culver's beneficence. And this is only one of many achievements which it would require volumes to present.

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The present expenditures of the six biological departments aggregate nearly or quite $300.000 every yeas. Perhaps 40 per cent of this amount is provided by the fees of students. The, balance, $180.000. comes out of the income from the University's endowments.

Such have been the fruits and developments of the first quarter-century following the great contribution of Miss Culver for the "increase and spread of knowledge within the field of the biological sciences."

The donor is still living as this is written. Her thirst for information, her desire to increase her knowledge, her love of good reading, continue as great as ever. Essentially optimistic in nature, her instinct has always impelled her strongly toward faith in immortality, and she has even expressed an eagerness to enter upon the new life. But she retains all her interest in life and in the world about her. She continues an inspiration to her friends. Her outlook and sympathies are as wide and her judgment remains as sound as ever. Service to the world has been the ruling motive of her long and useful life. This could not be more happily expressed than in her own words at the dedication of the Hull Biological Laboratories: "I have believed that I should not do better than to choose as his heirs and representatives those lovers of the light, who, in all generations and from all ranks, give their lives to the search for truth, especially those forms of inquiry which explore the Creator's will as expressed in the laws of life and the means of making lives more sound and wholesome."


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