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Eliza Garrett 1805 ~ 1855


The name of Eliza Garrett will ever be remembered with gratitude by Biblical students and the Methodist Church throughout the world. Her original name was Eliza Clark, and she was born near Newburg, New York, March 5, 1805. In 1825 she married Augustus Garrett. Their early married life was filled with frequent change, their having made their home in New York City, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Mississippi While on their voyage down the Mississippi River they lost a daughter with cholera; later, they lost a son, their only surviving child.

In 1834 Mr. Garrett moved to Chicago, and became one of the prominent men and early pioneers of that city. After Chicago became a city Mr. Garrett was elected mayor. In December, 1848, his death occurred. Mrs. Garrett became possessed of one-half the entire estate. Of a strong religious faith, her influence was always exerted for a Christian life and Christian principles. She was always benevolent, and now decided to carry out her desires to aid in some educational enterprise. She believed the future of the church and country demanded a thorough intellectual training for the young under the auspices of Christianity.

She realized that ministerial education was by no means receiving a corresponding share of attention, and that for various reasons it was not likely soon to be provided for in the ordinary way. To this, therefore, she directed her thoughts. She saw in her own church (Methodist) a growing denomination of Christians, then numbering seven hundred thousand communicants, and requiring for its ordinary pastoral care not less than five thousand ministers, while the claims made upon it for missionaries throughout the United States and distant lands were unlimited.

Besides, it was lamentably true that many who were engaged in ministerial work left it prematurely, unable, with an imperfect preparation, to bear up under its weighty responsibilities. The want of an institution which should provide for ministerial students ample libraries and all appropriate apparatus of thorough and extended study, in which teachers of ability and experience would be ever ready to welcome, guide and instruct those desiring to profit for such opportunities, was badly felt. After due reflection and investigation, Mrs. Garrett decided to found such an institution. Her will, executed December, 1853, gave, after some personal legacies, more than one-third of her estate, "all the rest and residue, that is to say, the rents, issues, profits and proceeds thereof," to the erection, furnishing and endowment of a "theological institution for the Methodist Episcopal Church, to be called the Garrett Biblical Institute." Said institution was to be located in or near Chicago, and was to be perpetually under the guardianship of the church.

This will, also, with a wise reference to the distant future, contained this proviso: "In case at any time the said trust property, the rents, issues and proceeds thereof, shall exceed the amount necessary to build, fit, furnish, endow and support said Biblical institute as aforesaid, I direct and devote the surplus to accumulate, or otherwise to be invested for accumulation, for the erection within the city of Chicago, or its vicinity, of a female college, as soon as my said executors, the survivors or survivor of them, or the trustees of said trust property, as herein provided, shall deem the same adequate therefor ; the said female college to be under the same control and government, and the trustees to be elected in the same man-ner, and to possess the same qualifications as are provided for said Biblical institute."

At the time when Mrs. Garrett's will was executed, it was not supposed by herself or her friends that the benevolent designs she contemplated could be accomplished from the avails of her estate for some years to come. Her property had been rendered, by fires, mostly unproductive, while it was to some extent encumbered with debts. At this point a fact should be stated most honorable to her name and highly illustrative of her Christian self-denial. So anxious was Mrs. Garrett to disencumber her estate of its liabilities at the earliest possible period and make it available to carry out her pious and benevolent designs that, for several years, she would only accept four hundred dollars per annum for her support, and nearly half of that she devoted to religious uses. There are probably few who would have been as self-denying under such circumstances. The providence of God did not allow designs so wise and so essential to the welfare of His Church to remain long undeveloped.

The friends of the Church became interested to have the measure proposed carried into operation at the earliest moment possible. A beautiful site had just been selected for the Northwestern University on the shore of Lake Michigan, twelve miles north of Chicago, and it was resolved to erect at the same place a temporary building for the Biblical institute. Through the agency of the Rev. P. Judson, the building was promptly constructed; so that in January, 1855, a temporary organization of the institute was effected, under charge of the Rev. Dr. Dempster. It was arranged that this organization should be supported independent of the estate for a period of five years. Meantime, a charter for the permanent institution was secured from the legislature of the state in full accordance with Mrs. Garrett's wishes.

In the autumn of 1855, from a state of perfect health, Mrs. Garrett was stricken down with mortal disease, and after a few days of suffering was called to her reward on high. On Sunday evening, the 18th of November, she was in her place at church, and on Thursday, the 22d, she died.

"Only a few years have passed away since the death of Mrs. Garrett, and already the seed planted by her hand is producing fruit, an earnest of a glorious and endless harvest The institution which her liberality endowed, and which, it was feared, might have to struggle for a time with opposition and prejudice, was only a few months after her decease formally accepted and sanctioned by the general conference, the highest judicatory of the Church. The Bishops, the highest officers of the Church, were appointed a board of council for the institution, and under their advice it has been permanently organized. It is now in efficient operation, and has already given the earnest of widespread and continued usefulness in the Church."

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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