Jane Elizabeth Lathrop Stanford (August 25, 1828 – February 28, 1905) was an American philanthropist and co-founder of Stanford University in 1885 (opened 1891), along with her husband, Leland Stanford, in memory of their only child, Leland Stanford Jr., who died of typhoid fever at age 15 in 1884. After her husband's death in 1893, she funded and operated the university almost single-handedly until her unsolved murder by strychnine poisoning in 1905.

Jane Stanford
Jane Elizabeth Lathrop

(1828-08-25)August 25, 1828
DiedFebruary 28, 1905(1905-02-28) (aged 76)
Resting placeStanford Mausoleum, Stanford, California
Occupation(s)Social entrepreneur, philanthropist
Known forCo-founder of Stanford University
(m. 1850; died 1893)
ChildrenLeland Stanford Jr.
8th First Lady of California
In office
January 10, 1862 – December 10, 1863
Preceded byMaria Downey
Succeeded byMollie Low

She was the eighth First Lady of California during her husband's term of office as governor from January 10, 1862 to December 10, 1863.

Early life Edit

Portrait of Leland and Jane Stanford in 1850

Born Jane Elizabeth Lathrop in Albany, New York, she was the daughter of shopkeeper Dyer Lathrop and Jane Anne (Shields) Lathrop.[1][2]: 502  She attended The Albany Academy for Girls, the longest-running girls' day school in the country. She was the second or third of six or seven siblings:

  • Daniel Shields Lathrop (1825–1883)
  • Ariel (1830–1908)
  • Anna Maria Lathrop (9/3/1832 – 8/3/1892) (married David Hewes)
  • Henry Clay Lathrop (5/20/1844 – 4/3/1899)
  • Charles Gardner Lathrop (5/11/1849 – 5/24/1914)

Marriage Edit

She married Leland Stanford on September 30, 1850.

The Stanfords lived in Port Washington, Wisconsin until 1852, when Leland Stanford's law library and other property were lost to fire; they then returned to Albany, New York. Leland Stanford went to California to join his brothers in mercantile businesses related to the California Gold Rush, and Jane remained in Albany with her family. He returned in 1855, and the following year, they moved to San Francisco, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits on a large scale. Leland Stanford was a co-founder of the Central Pacific Railroad and served as its president from 1861 until his death in 1893. Leland Stanford was president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, served as governor of California from 1862 to 1863, and was a United States senator from California from 1885 until his death in 1893.

On May 14, 1868, Jane Stanford gave birth to a son, Leland Stanford, Jr., at age 39. He died at age 15 on March 13, 1884, of typhoid fever while the family was in Florence, Italy.[1]

Stanford University Edit

Following their son's death, Jane and Leland Stanford sought ways to memorialize him. Before they left Europe in April, 1884 with his remains, they changed their wills to give everything to a proposed institution at Palo Alto.[3] In November 1885, they created foundational plans for the Leland Stanford Junior University, which opened on October 1, 1891.[4] After her husband's death on June 21, 1893, Jane Stanford effectively took control of the university. The university struggled financially in this period and the trustees advocated a temporary closure of the university until tax and legal issues could be resolved.[citation needed] From 1893 to 1898, she collected $10,000 per month from the university, as its co-founder. The estate left probate in 1898.[1] As the remaining founder, she wielded a great deal of legal control over the university until her death.[1]

It was at her direction that Stanford University gained an early focus on the arts. She also advocated for the admission of women; the university had been co-educational since its founding.[5][6][2]: 504  She took a strong position on the issue of academic freedom when she sought and ultimately succeeded in having Stanford University economist Edward A. Ross fired. Ross had made speeches favoring the Democrat William Jennings Bryan, had collectivist economic teachings, favored racism against Chinese American "coolies," and outlined eugenics policies directed against Chinese people and other racial groups.[a]

She traveled to London in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, in hopes of selling her rubies and other jewels to raise funds for the university, but was disappointed in the prices offered and returned home with most of her jewelry intact.[7] In 1905, Jane Stanford directed the university trustees to sell her jewels after her death and use the funds as a permanent endowment "to be used exclusively for the purchase of books and other publications."[8] The board of trustees confirmed that arrangement, and the Jewel Fund continues to add to the university's library collections. The endowment, originally $500,000, is now worth about $20 million.[9] Items purchased through the Jewel Fund display a distinctive bookplate that depicts a romanticized Jane Stanford offering her jewels to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.[10] Since 2007, benefactors who provide endowments for library acquisitions are referred to as members of the Jewel Society.[11]

Death Edit

In 1905, she died in Hawaii, where she had traveled after a failed poisoning attempt in San Francisco. The verdict in Hawaii was that she had died of strychnine poisoning. However, David Starr Jordan, the then-president of Stanford, immediately went to Hawaii, where he suppressed the report of poisoning and insisted that she had died of natural causes. His coverup was accepted as the truth for decades.[7]

On January 14, 1905, at her Nob Hill mansion in San Francisco, Stanford consumed mineral water that tasted bitter. She quickly forced herself to vomit the water with prompting from and assistance by her maid, and when both the maid and her secretary agreed that the bottled water tasted strange, she sent it to a pharmacy to be analyzed. The findings, returned a few weeks later, showed that the water had been poisoned with a lethal dose of strychnine.[b] Stanford moved out of her mansion[13] and vowed never to return.[14] Elizabeth Richmond, the maid, fell under suspicion and was dismissed.[15] (Richmond had worked in Britain and had reportedly regaled Stanford's domestic staff with tales of English aristocrats being poisoned by their servants.[13])

The Harry Morse Detective and Patrol Agency[16] was retained for a discreet investigation of the incident. Its detectives put Richmond under surveillance[13] and scoured records of Bay Area pharmacies for possibly-suspicious purchases of strychnine but found none.[13] The agency learned that the mansion was a hothouse of petty staff jealousies, graft, and intrigue,[14] but it could not come up with evidence pointing to a culprit or a motive for an attempted murder.[13] Depressed by the conviction that an unknown party had tried to kill her and suffering from a cold, Stanford soon decided to sail to Hawaii,[17] with plans to continue on to Japan.[13] The Stanford party left San Francisco for Honolulu on February 15, 1905.

At the Moana Hotel on the island of Oahu on the evening of February 28, Stanford asked for bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach while in her room.[c] Her personal secretary, Bertha Berner (a trusted employee of 20 years' standing and the only other person present who had also been at the scene of the previous incident), prepared the solution, which Stanford drank.[13][d] At 11:15 p.m., Stanford cried out for her servants and hotel staff to call for a physician, declared that she had lost control of her body, and believed that she had been poisoned again.[17] This time, attempts to induce vomiting were unsuccessful.[13] Robert Cutler, a retired Stanford neurologist, recounted in The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford[13] what took place upon the arrival of Francis Howard Humphris, the hotel physician:

As Humphris tried to administer a solution of bromine and chloral hydrate,[e] Mrs. Stanford, now in anguish, exclaimed, 'My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die.' Whereupon she was seized by a tetanic spasm that progressed relentlessly to a state of severe rigidity: her jaws clamped shut, her thighs opened widely, her feet twisted inwards, her fingers and thumbs clenched into tight fists, and her head drew back. Finally, her respiration ceased. Stanford was dead from strychnine poisoning.

Headline of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin on 1 March 1905, reporting Stanford's death.

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin trumpeted the news with the March 1 headline "Mrs. Stanford Dies, Poisoned."[13][19] Forensic chemical analysis revealed the presence of a pure form of strychnine in samples from the bicarbonate she had taken,[f] as well as traces of the poison in her tissues.[13][15][g] After hearing three days of testimony, the coroner's jury concluded in less than two minutes that she had died of strychnine "introduced into a bottle of bicarbonate of soda with felonious intent by some person or persons to this jury unknown."[15] The testimony revealed that the bottle in question had been purchased in California (after Richmond had been let go), had been accessible to anyone in Stanford's residence during the period when her party was packing, and had not been used until the night of her death.[13][h]

The jury's quick verdict was to prove controversial. A March 11, 1905, dispatch in The New York Times stated that the verdict was "written out with the knowledge and assistance of Deputy High Sheriff Rawlins" and implied that the jurors had been coached on the conclusion to reach.[27] The controversy was largely stoked by Stanford University President David Starr Jordan, who had sailed to Hawaii himself and hired a local doctor, Ernest Coniston Waterhouse, to dispute poisoning as the cause of death. He then reported to the press that Stanford had in fact died of heart failure,[17][i] a "medically preposterous" diagnosis given the dramatic and highly distinctive symptoms of strychnine poisoning that she had displayed.[19][j][k]

In his book, Cutler concluded, "There is ample evidence that Mrs. Stanford was poisoned, that she was given good care, and that Jordan went over there to hush it up."[13] Stanford had long had a difficult relationship with Jordan.[15][28] At the time of her death, she was president of the university's board of trustees and was reportedly planning to remove him from his position.[17]

Jordan's motives for involvement in the case are uncertain, but he had written to the new president of Stanford's board of trustees, offered several alternate explanations for Jane Stanford's death, and suggested to select whichever would be most suitable.[15] The university leadership may have believed that avoiding the appearance of scandal was of overriding importance.[15][l] The coverup succeeded so well that the likelihood that she was murdered was largely overlooked by historians and commentators until the 1980s.[13][m] In 2022, Stanford University historian Richard White concluded that Stanford was likely poisoned by her employee Bertha Berner, who was the only person present at both poisonings. White concludes that the first poisoning may have been intended to be non fatal and that Jordan and the San Francisco Police likely suspected Berner but covered up the murder to suit their own interests.[33]

The source of the strychnine was never identified. Stanford was buried alongside her husband, Leland, and their son at the Stanford family mausoleum on the Stanford campus.[33]

Recognition Edit

Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in the Palo Alto Unified School District was named after her in 1985.[34] The town of Lathrop, California in San Joaquin County was developed by her husband's railroad company in the late 1860s and named after Jane and her brother Charles Lathrop.[35]

Footnotes Edit

  1. ^ This case resulted in the American Association of University Professors' "Report on Academic Freedom and Tenure" of 1915, by Arthur Oncken Lovejoy and Edwin R.A. Seligman, and in the AAUP 1915 Declaration of Principles.
  2. ^ The assay measured 0.8 grains (52 mg) per glass-full (a fatal human dose for an adult can be as little as 30 mg[12]). The water also contained the alkaloid brucine and other substances, suggesting that the source was a rodent poison derived from the tree Strychnos nux-vomica.[13]: 22 It was incorrectly reported in the press at the time that the amount of strychnine in a glass of the Poland Spring water was far in excess of a fatal dose.[13]: 30
  3. ^ The room in which she stayed, number 120, no longer exists since it has been incorporated into an expansion of the lobby.
  4. ^ Stanford also took a cascara capsule, an herbal laxative preparation.[18]
  5. ^ Anticonvulsants
  6. ^ Seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica contain brucine and strychnine in a ratio of about 1 to 2,[20] and the former is about twice as bitter as the latter[21][22][23] but only one fortieth as toxic[24] and so a dangerous level of strychnine would taste about half as bitter in pure form than as a component of the seed. In addition, it has been reported that sodium ion suppresses perception of bitter tastes.[25][26] Thus, the method employed in the second poisoning attempt would have made it more difficult to detect the bitter taste that had foiled the first attempt.
  7. ^ A small, nonlethal, amount of strychnine was also detected in the cascara capsules, which contained a mixture of Rhamnus purshiana and Strychnos nux-vomica; however, strychnine is a natural component of the latter.[13]: 46
  8. ^ Berner was quickly dismissed as a suspect at the time based on her longstanding and apparently good relationship with Stanford. However, her testimony and repeatedly shifting accounts of the incident, which seem to be designed to cast doubt on poisoning as the cause of death, have aroused suspicion.[18]
  9. ^ Jordan also publicly disparaged the view that the poisoned Poland Spring water incident represented a murder attempt.[18][13]: 25
  10. ^ Jordan was well aware of at least some of strychnine's properties.[13]: 104
  11. ^ The only other common medical condition that produces similar symptoms, tetanus, has a much more gradual onset and can usually be linked to an observable wound or infection.
  12. ^ Jordan also expressed concern that the press accounts of Stanford's death were unfairly damaging Berner's reputation.[13]: 106
  13. ^ Both Jordan and Berner later wrote glowing accounts of Stanford that attributed her death to coronary disease and either failed to mention[29] or made light of[30][31][32] the strychnine poisoning incidents.

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d "Jane Stanford: The woman behind Stanford University". Stanford University. Archived from the original on May 21, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. XVII. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1935.
  3. ^ Clark, George T (January 1, 1931). Leland Stanford (First ed.). Stanford University: Stanford University Press. p. 385.
  4. ^ Stanford, ©Copyright Stanford University; California 94305. "A History of Stanford". Stanford University. Retrieved June 26, 2021.
  5. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. II (Reprint ed.). New York, NY: James T. White & Company. 1899 [1891]. p. 129.
  6. ^ Amory, Cleveland (1960). Who Killed Society?. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers. pp. 432–433.
  7. ^ a b De Wolk, Roland (2019). American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520383234.
  8. ^ Stam, David H. (2001). International Dictionary of Library Histories. Vol. 2. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. pp. 707–708. ISBN 9781579582449.
  9. ^ "Pearls for Wisdom". Stanford Magazine. July–August 2008.
  10. ^ "Jane L. Stanford - Timeline". Stanford University. Archived from the original on October 4, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  11. ^ "The Jewel Society" (PDF). Stanford University. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 13, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  12. ^ Gossel, T.A.; Bricker, J.D. (June 30, 1994). Principles of Clinical Toxicology (Third ed.). CRC Press. p. 351. ISBN 978-0781701259.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Cutler, Robert W.P. (August 1, 2003). The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-4793-6. OCLC 52159960. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  14. ^ a b Morrall, June (1999). "Summer Reading: The Story of Jane Lathrop Stanford". Half Moon Bay Memories & El Granada Observer. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Romney, Lee (October 10, 2003). "The Alma Mater Mystery". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  16. ^ Boessenecker, John (1998). Lawman: The life and times of Harry Morse, 1835-1912. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3011-8. OCLC 00563654.
  17. ^ a b c d Wolfe, Susan (September–October 2003). "Who killed Jane Stanford?". Stanford Magazine. Stanford University. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  18. ^ a b c Dowd, Katie (January 14, 2018). "In 1905, someone murdered the founder of Stanford University. They've never been caught". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 23, 2018. (The claim that the amount of strychnine in a glass of the poisoned Poland Spring water was greatly in excess of a lethal human dose is incorrect.)
  19. ^ a b Morris, A.D. (2004). "The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford" (PDF). Hawaiian Journal of History. Book Review. Hawaiian Historical Society. 38: 195–197. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  20. ^ Han, Q.-B.; Li, S.-L.; Qiao, C.-F.; Song, J.-Z.; Cai, Z.-W.; Pui-Hay But, P.; Shaw, P.-C.; Xu, H.-X. (2008). "A simple method to identify the unprocessed Strychnos seeds used in herbal medicinal products". Planta Medica. 74 (4): 458–463. doi:10.1055/s-2008-1034359. PMID 18484543.
  21. ^ Wiener, A.; Shudler, M.; Levit, A.; Niv, M.Y. (2012). "BitterDB: a database of bitter compounds". Nucleic Acids Research. 40 (D1): D413–D419. doi:10.1093/nar/gkr755. PMC 3245057. PMID 21940398.
  22. ^ "Brucine". BitterDB. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  23. ^ "Strychnine". BitterDB. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  24. ^ Malone, M.H.; St. John-Allan, K.M.; Bejar, E. (1992). "Brucine lethality in mice". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 35 (3): 295–297. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(92)90028-P. PMID 1347799.
  25. ^ Breslin, P.A.S.; Beauchamp, G.K. (1995). "Suppression of bitterness by sodium: Variation among bitter taste stimuli". Chemical Senses. 20 (6): 609–623. doi:10.1093/chemse/20.6.609. PMID 8788095.
  26. ^ Keast, R. S. J.; Breslin, P. A. S.; Beauchamp, G. K. (2001). "Suppression of Bitterness Using Sodium Salts". CHIMIA. 55 (5): 441–447. doi:10.2533/chimia.2001.441. S2CID 45749487.
  27. ^ "Quick Stanford verdict; Coroner's jury reached its conclusions in less than two minutes". The New York Times. March 11, 1905. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  28. ^ Carnochan, W.B. (Summer 2003). "The Case of Julius Goebel: Stanford, 1905". American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa. 72 (3): 95–108. JSTOR 41221161.
  29. ^ Jordan, David Starr (1912). The Story of a Good Woman: Jane Lathrop Stanford. Boston, MA: American Unitarian Association. OCLC 19954121.
  30. ^ Jordan, David Starr (1922). The Days of a Man: Being memories of a naturalist, teacher, and minor prophet of democracy. Vol. 2. World Book Company. p. 156. OCLC 98392080.
  31. ^ Berner, Bertha (1934). Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Leland Stanford. Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers. OCLC 23322688. (full text). Edwards brothers. 1934.
  32. ^ Berner, Bertha (1935). Mrs. Leland Stanford: An intimate account. Stanford University Press. OCLC 569774785.
  33. ^ a b White, Richard (2022). Who Killed Jane Stanford? A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits, and the Birth of a University. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-1-324-00433-2.
  34. ^ "History". Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. Retrieved July 3, 2023.
  35. ^ Lee, Ralph; Kennedy, Christi (December 17, 2005). "Lathrop founded by Stanford to bypass Stockton". Lodi News-Sentinel. Retrieved July 2, 2023.

External links Edit