Shirley Farr was born in 1851, and received a Ph.B in 1904 from the University of Chicago. While a student, Farr lived in Beecher Hall and was a member of the Women Students Christian League. After graduation, Farr served as an associate professor of history and French at Ripon College, where upon her father’s death in 1913 she succeeded him as a member of the Board of Trustees. Farr served as an assistant in History (1914-1917), a part-time Instructor in History (1929-1934), and a departmental counselor (1929-1934) at the University of Chicago.
She traveled to Paris at the end of World War I to work with wounded American soldiers at a base hospital in Hiers. In addition to her hospital duties, she worked as a researcher in the Paris Archives. For a time, Farr also lived in Washington DC and held an editorial position for the “American Historical Review”. She resided at the club house of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and later served as its vice-president and a valued committee member.
Farr was greatly admired for her philanthropy and monetary generosity, having made it possible for many students to receive an education at several institutions through the gifts of scholarships. She also contributed a gift of $1,000 annually for five years for the purchase of manuscripts for the Library beginning in 1924. In 1929, Farr donated gifts amounting to $14,500 to establish an endowment for the Cleo Hearon Fellowship in History. 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 a variety of other donations in support of the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library Fund, the Medical School, the Quadrangle Club, the Institute of Sacred Literature, the School of Social Service Administration, and the Law School, where she contributed to the James Parker Hall Professorship endowment. By 1939, when the Board of Trustees took special note of her cumulative contributions, she had already donated more than $62,000 to the University of Chicago. Shirley Farr spent her life helping others achieve their educational goals whilst lobbying for the greater recognition of the University of Chicago's female donors until her death in 1957.
The Shirley Farr Papers may be viewed online or in the Special Collections Research Center in the University of Chicago Library.