Building for a
The University of Chicago and Its Donors, 1889-1930
"Giving [to the University] without blowing a trumpet [is] an injustice to the other alumnae of the University," University of Chicago alumna Shirley Farr wrote to Ernest DeWitt Burton in November, 1923. Upset that some men at the University sought to keep women off "important committee[s]," she regarded official silence about her own donations as a missed opportunity to show the community at large the valuable roles that women could and did play in supporting the University: "A good majority of the women and a considerable number of the men," Farr continued, "do know what a university is for, and with proper encouragement and leadership could be of real service to the University." But there still were those, especially "most of the men who attended the meetings of the Endowment Fund Committee or the Alumni Council," who "had very little idea of the purpose of any educational institution, or of the particular qualities of our own University." To increase the understanding of such donors in the future, the University would have to broaden the range of contributors (including more women) and educate them more effectively about the real needs and purposes of the University.
Shirley Farr (1851-1957) had several strong and mutually reinforcing connections to the University—she was an alumna (Ph.B., 1904), a faculty instructor, and also a member of a prominent Chicago family. Her father, Albert Farr, was a native Vermonter whose lucrative business partnership with Norman Wait Harris, the founder of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago, provided Shirley Farr with a comfortable and independent lifestyle. Following her graduation from college, Farr served as an associate professor of history and French at Ripon College, where she later accepted a position on the board of trustees and became a major donor. Returning to the University of Chicago, she held a position as Assistant in History from 1914 to 1917 and a half-time appointment as Instructor in History and departmental counselor from 1929 to 1934.
Shirley Farr's philanthropy was guided by the thematic emphasis on University programs prominently featured in President Burton's campaign. In 1924, she provided a gift of $1,000 annually for five years for the purchase of manuscripts for the Library under the direction of a faculty committee composed of English professor John Matthews Manly, Romance languages scholar William A. Nitze, and medieval historian James Westfall Thompson. By 1929, Farr's manuscript fund, which was established in honor of her father, had purchased twenty-five such manuscripts, including the illuminated fourteenth-century La jeu de echecs moralises of Jacques de Cessoles, two beautiful fifteenth-century manuscripts of Boccaccio, Elegia di Madonna Fiametta and Teseida, and a fourteenth-century manuscript of Guido delle Colonne's Le livre du gouvernement des rois et des princes.
Shirley Farr made other gifts reflecting her broad and thoughtful interest in programmatic support for the University. Beginning in 1929, Farr contributed gifts amounting to $14,500 to establish an endowment for the Cleo Hearon Fellowship in History, which was named after a fellow University alumna (Ph.B., 1903; Ph.M., 1909; Ph.D., 1913) and professor of history at Agnes Scott College in Georgia. In the same year, Farr provided the first of many gifts that would total $25,000 in support of the University's general development fund. She made other donations in support of causes as diverse as the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library Fund, the Medical School, the Quadrangle Club, the Institute of Sacred Literature, the School of Social Service the Board of Trustees took special note of her cumulative contributions, she had donated more than $62,000 to the University of Chicago.
Shirley Farr's gifts were not only committed to the academic units of the University. She also proved to be a loyal alumna for the University at large, serving as a member of the Board of Alumni Relations and contributing regularly to the alumni gift fund. From the time of her return to the campus just before World War I, she also became involved with the University of Chicago Settlement League, a voluntary association supporting the work of the University of Chicago Settlement in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. In 1923, Shirley Farr provided $3,000 for the purchase of land for what became Camp Farr, the League's fresh-air children's summer camp near Chesterton, Indiana. Later known as Camp Brueckner-Farr, this benefaction was a fitting expression of Farr's lifelong concern for the welfare of the University and the community of which it was a part.
Shirley Farr, photograph by Norm Porter, n.d.
Archival Photographic Files.
Honoré de Balzac. Le secret des Ruggieri, 1835. MS 537.
Gift of Shirley Farr. Codex Manuscript Collection.