The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Miller Watkins
A Pioneering Philanthropist
Sales Date: May 5, 2023
240 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: May 2023
- Published: May 2023
Few women have had a more significant impact on the development and growth of Lawrence, Kansas, and the University of Kansas than Elizabeth Miller Watkins.
Elizabeth Josephine Miller was born in Ohio in 1861 and moved with her family to Lawrence when she was a child. She attended the University of Kansas’s preparatory school in the 1870s but could not complete her education when a family financial crisis forced her to seek employment. She started working at the J. B. Watkins Land and Mortgage Company in 1887 as a secretary and in 1909 she married the company’s founder and owner, Jabez Watkins. Together the Watkinses dedicated themselves to philanthropy and were committed to giving all their wealth, as Elizabeth said, “for the good of humanity, chiefly here in Lawrence.” Jabez died in 1921, leaving Elizabeth to manage the family fortune alone.
Elizabeth wished to give women the opportunity for higher education that she herself had never received. In 1925, the Kansas Board of Regents approved her request to have a women’s scholarship hall built at KU. Watkins Hall, named in memory of her late husband, was constructed close to Elizabeth’s home—now the chancellor’s residence—and was followed a decade later by the construction of Miller Hall in 1936. As two of the twelve scholarship halls at the University of Kansas today, Watkins and Miller Halls are home to a vibrant cohort of young female scholars and an active alumnae community who continue the philanthropic vision of Elizabeth Miller Watkins.
In 1929, Elizabeth donated $200,000 for the new Lawrence Memorial Hospital to be built at 3rd and Maine, where it remains today. She also established the first on-campus healthcare provider, Watkins Memorial Hospital, at the University of Kansas (now Twente Hall) in 1931.
In this charming biography, Mary Dresser Burchill and Norma Decker Hoagland’s extensive research successfully paints a portrait of a remarkable woman whose generosity endures at KU and in Lawrence and brings to light the astonishing legacy of one of the city’s leading philanthropists.
“The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Miller Watkins portrays a successful woman entrepreneur and the obstacles she faced at a time when few women were ever given a chance to develop a career in business. This is a Kansas story that gives readers an insight into the development of the University of Kansas and the City of Lawrence through the lasting impact of the Watkins legacy. It is a well-documented and well-written page-turner that explores human foibles with stories of intrigue as Elizabeth tries to carry the Watkins mission of philanthropy.”—Raquel Ramsey, author of Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story
“Far more personal and entertaining than one would expect from a biography based extensively on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century business correspondence, The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Miller Watkins links Elizabeth’s life, that of her husband, J. B. Watkins, and the history of Lawrence, Kansas, to a broader story of the rise of American business. Add in business feuds, family intrigue, and Elizabeth’s emergence as the community’s most important early philanthropist, and this biography becomes a compelling and delightful read.”—Steve Nowak, executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society and the Watkins Museum of History
“Her name has become well known to almost one hundred women a year; women who, for nearly a century, have benefited from the scholarship halls Elizabeth Miller Watkins conceived, designed, and endowed for the University of Kansas. This book offers important insights into Watkins’s life as a modern woman living in Kansas at the turn of the twentieth century who married late and was greatly responsible for earning the money that made her wealthy. Influenced by the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, who funded fifty-nine libraries in Kansas, Elizabeth Miller Watkins built KU’s library, hospital, chancellor’s residence, and chapel. This is part of Kansas history that has not been told and spotlights an important woman who has been under-recognized for her enormous contributions.”—Romalyn Tilghman, author of To the Stars Through Difficulties
1. Early Years
2. Coming to Lawrence
3. Working for JB
4. The Partnership Begins
5. The Watkins Bank
6. In Sickness and in Health
7. Mr. and Mrs. Watkins
8. Settling the Estate
9. Elizabeth’s Dream Come True
10. Building the City of Lawrence
11. Building the University of Kansas
12. Her Dream Come True, Part Two
13. The Real Mrs. Watkins: A Closer Look at Elizabeth
14. The Lasting Watkins Legacy