Jennie McGraw

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Jennie McGraw-Fiske
McGraw's sarcophagus in Sage Chapel.

Jennie McGraw (September 14, 1840 in Dryden, NY[1] – September 30, 1881 in Ithaca, New York) was the daughter of John McGraw, millionaire philanthropist to Cornell. After her father's death in 1877, McGraw inherited his large fortune. She spent some of the money to build a new house, which was purchased by the Chi Psi fraternity, although a massive fire destroyed the mansion in 1906.

In Berlin in 1880, she married Daniel Willard Fiske, Cornell University's first librarian and renowned scholar. A lifelong sufferer of ill health, McGraw was suffering from tuberculosis and died shortly after their wedding. She was interred in Sage Chapel.


In her will, she gave away $300,000 ($7,330,000 in today dollars) to her husband, $550,000 to her brother Joseph and his children, $200,000 to Cornell for a library, $50,000 for construction of McGraw Hall, $40,000 for a student hospital, and the remainder to the University for whatever use it saw fit. Due to University by-laws, Cornell could not accept the full amount of McGraw's gift. When Fiske realized that the University had failed to inform him of this restriction, he launched a legal assault to reacquire the money, known as The Great Will Case.

Today, McGraw's name graces numerous places and things on Cornell's campus. She gave Cornell its set of chimes which have been rung daily since the University's opening ceremony in 1868. Every morning concert includes a playing of the "Jennie McGraw Rag", also known as "Cornell Changes". The central tower in McGraw Hall was constructed in order to house the chimes;[2] they now reside in McGraw Tower next to Uris Library.[3]



  1. ^ Williams, R. J. (1949). Jennie McGraw Fiske: Her influence upon Cornell University. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  2. ^ The Quad on the Hill: An Account of the First Buildings at Cornell by Kermit C Parsons Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol 22 Num 4 pp. 214 (Dec 1963)
  3. ^

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