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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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Dr. Samuel F. Mather

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Dr. SamueI F. Mather, whose benefactions made possible the Kansas City University, was born at Woodstock, Vermont, in the year 1811. His father was of Puritan stock, and only three generations later, directly in line of descent, and related to the last eminent Puritan divine and sermon writer, Cotton Mather, who following his father, Increase, and with his grandfather,, Richard, the pilgrim, form an illustrious trio in early American history. This fact is recorded in an old epitaph written for its founder:

"Under this stone lies Richard Mather, Who had a son greater than his father, And eke a grandson greater than either."

Samuel Mather was one of seven brothers and sisters. His father, for some years, operated a woolen factory at Woodstock. The childhood and youth of Samuel was spent upon a farm and in the factory, and attending school and academy at Woodstock, until, when about thirteen or fourteen years of age, he left home and parents, going to Berkshire in the northern part of his native state, and joined himself to an apothecary. At the age of twenty, having gained a thorough knowledge of the drug business and medicine, he formed a partnership with the oldest physician in the place in the practice of medicine. After three years, desiring to enter a larger field of operation, he removed to Troy, New York, and there engaged in the dry-goods business - at first, for a time, as a salesman. It was during this time that he married Miss Mary A. Reed, a very estimable young lady of Chester, Massachusetts. Soon going into business for himself, he continued at Troy in the wholesale and retail dry-goods business for about fourteen years, extending his trade as far west as the Mississippi river, during which time the financial depression of 1836 and 1837, with careful management, was safely weathered.

In 1848 he packed his stock of goods and started for Chicago. Being late in the season, upon reaching the end of the railroad then at Marshall, Michigan, and the lake freezing up, he was compelled to stop. So he opened up his stock of goods and engaged in business, remaining in Marshall until 1858. In that year he removed to Wyandotte, now Kansas City, Kansas. Again he engaged in the drug business, continuing thus to October, 1888, practicing medicine only in connection with his drug business.

During the thirty years of his business life in Kansas City Dr. Mather kept investing his savings in real estate. The development of and care of the same made it necessary for him to retire from business in 1888, and he afterwards devoted his time to his property interests.

Before leaving New York state Dr. Mather's wife became an invalid, and for many of the later years was helpless. All that could be done was done for her comfort, but she finally died in 1889, leaving no children behind to comfort home and husband. It was this phase of Dr. Mather's domestic life that first suggested to him the idea of founding an educational institution. The difficulty of getting good domestic help and housekeepers led him to determine, if possible, to be the means of furnishing to some of the young American women the means of procuring an education in practical domestic home-life.

In after years, through frugal management coming into possession of valuable lands adjoining the growing city, he proposed to parties interested with him that the best of the lands should be occupied by and dedicated to an institution of learning. One pleasant day in the autumn of 1887 the most prominent outlook on the land was selected; and, looking down upon the two cities near by, at the junction of the two rivers - the Kansas and Missouri - the exclamation was made, "Here is the spot that shall be used for this purpose." So earnest were they that, kneeling down upon the hilltop, they lifted their voices and hearts to God in prayer that the ground should be consecrated to the one purpose in view. That ground is the present site of the Kansas City University.

The Kansas City University, located in the western suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas, is an institution that had its origin in the philanthropic purpose of Dr. Samuel F. Mather. Doctor Mather was for many years a practicing physician of that city. He was a descendant of Cotton Mather, the famous New England divine.

In a letter to Dr. D. S. Stephens, now chancellor of the Kansas City University written from Kansas City, Kansas, December 15, 1894, Doctor Mather said: "Many years ago, before leaving Troy, New York, for Chicago, I resolved, if ever able to do so, to establish or endow an institution of learning, to educate young women for the duties and responsibilities of domestic life - renewed it when I left Michigan for Kansas, and again after I came here. No step was taken to carry out this purpose (which was resolved upon about 1845) until some time in 1887. The plan then decided upon by Doctor Mather, who had associated with himself Mr. S. N. Simpson and Mr. Chester Bullock, both of Kansas City, Kansas, was to dispose of real estate which Doctor Mather owned and of which they had secured control and from the proceeds build and endow an institution of learning. It was intended that all of the proceeds from the sale of Doctor Mather's lands should be devoted to this purpose. Two-thirds of the amount received from the sale of lands upon which the syndicate held an option and owned, were to be devoted to the same purpose. At that time Kansas City, Kansas, was growing with phenomenal rapidity. There appeared to be no difficulty in the way of realizing the plan proposed. Two or three years were required to mature the plan and get control of the property necessary to carry it out. Before matters had reached the point where they were ready to market the property, a great financial depression swept over the country. The two Kansas Cities had been over-developed and demand for property suddenly ceased. Values of real estate diminished, and no purchasers for property at any figure were to be found. As a consequence the original plan for establishing this institution of learning collapsed.

Doctor Mather, however, was not disposed to change his life-long purpose. He sought, therefore, to find some other way by which to establish an educational enterprise. In the meantime he had become acquainted with Dr. D. S. Stephens, who was then editor of the Methodist Recorder, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He was acquainted with the fact that Doctor Stephens was a member of a board of commissioners of trustees that had been appointed by the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant church in 1892, to establish an institution of learning in some city of the west. In 1894 Doctor Mather wrote to Doctor Stephens that he would like to have this board co-operate with him in the realization of his purpose. He made a proposition to contribute toward the establishment of such an institution several tracts of land, aggregating one hundred and twenty-two acres, located in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas, provided that at least $25,000 should be expended in buildings within two years.

DOCTOR MATHER'S OFFER ACCEPTED: This board, of which Mr. H. J. Heinz, the great food products manufacturer of Pittsburg, was president, met in Kansas City in October, 1894, to consider Doctor Mather's offer. It was decided to accept his offer, in case funds sufficient could be secured to erect a building. In order to ascertain what support the denomination would give to this enterprise, the Board of Trustees asked for six months' time to canvass the church. A contract was entered into between the board and Dr. Mather, extending to May 1, 1895, the time for final decision on this proposition.

The board again assembled two or three days prior to that date, pledges and funds having been secured for building purposes amounting to more than $50,000. After a careful consideration of all the interests involved in the enterprise, the board, by unanimous vote, decided to accept Doctor Mather's offer, and undertake the work of building and conducting the institution. This final vote was taken late on the evening of April 30, 1895, the temporary contract which had been entered into expiring on that date. Doctor Mather was not present at the meeting of the board when this action was passed as he was not in very good health. Next morning, the committee, for the board, notified him that it had accepted his offer and had determined to go on with the enterprise. Doctor Mather expressed himself as greatly gratified with the course taken by the board, adding that his advanced years and feeble health made it an unwelcome thought for him to contemplate starting out anew to negotiate with some other organization, to help him realize his purpose. He was then in his eighty-fourth year.

DEATH OF THE FOUNDER: Not more than one or two hours after his interview with this committee, strange to say, Doctor Mather passed away in death. No one anticipated that his illness was of such a serious character. It is difficult to account for the event on any other supposition than that the reaction, following relief from the strain and anxiety due to suspense while awaiting the decision of the board, was too much for his enfeebled condition. It would seem as though Providence permitted him to remain on earth just long enough to know that his life purpose was about to be realized, and then took him away.

Much concern existed in the minds of members of the board as to whether the contract which had been made would be valid under existing conditions. It was decided, however, to go on with the work just the same as though Doctor Mather had lived. Some days after Doctor Mather's funeral, his will was opened. It was found that he had made provision that this board of trustees should inherit the residue of his property, provided they should decide to go on with the enterprise, as contemplated in the contract. The property conveyed to the board by will was about as much as the property that had previously been covered by contract. Perhaps, altogether, the value of this property at that time would have been something near $150,000.

Doctor Mather had no children and his wife had died some years previous to his own death. Nevertheless the Board of Trustees thought it possible that they might not be able to come into undisputed possession of the property, as indicated by the will, but Doctor Mather had carefully considered this contingency. He left small legacies to all his heirs, the most of whom were nephews and nieces and more distant relatives. He prepared a form of receipt which each relative should sign, in case the legacy was accepted. This receipt bound the signer under no circumstance to contest the will. When the estate was settled, all of the heirs thus remembered accepted these legacies and signed the receipts which Dr. Mather had prepared. But some months after the legacies had been distributed some of the heirs conceived the idea that they had not been sufficiently remembered and sought to break the will. When the case was called before the court, the attorney for the estate arose and read the receipts which had been signed by the parties who sought to break the will. Upon being assured that these documents were genuine, the court at once dismissed the case. This was the only effort made to prevent the university from coming into the possession of the property left by Doctor Mather. "

("History of Wyandotte County Kansas and its people" ed. and comp. by Perl W. Morgan, Chicago, The Lewis publishing company, 1911. )

In Dec, 2002, the Kansas City University (located at 3301 Parallel Parkway) still stands - St. Augustinian Theological Seminary.

By 2006, the property had been purchased by the 7th Day Adventists.

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 23-Apr-2014

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