John William Sterling

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John William Sterling
Born (1844-05-12)May 12, 1844
Died July 5, 1918(1918-07-05) (aged 74)
Causapscal, Quebec, Canada
Resting place
Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City, New York
40°53′20″N 73°52′24″W / 40.889°N 73.8734°W / 40.889; -73.8734
Alma mater Yale University, Columbia Law School
Occupation Lawyer
Known for Co-founder of Shearman & Sterling; bequest of $18 million to Yale University

John William Sterling (May 12, 1844 – July 5, 1918) was a corporate attorney and major benefactor to Yale University.

The Hall of Graduate Studies at Yale, whose construction was funded by Sterling.


John William Sterling was born in Stratford, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in 1864 and was a member of Skull and Bones and president of Brothers in Unity during his senior year.[1] He graduated from Columbia Law School as the valedictorian of the class of 1867 and was admitted to the bar in that year.[2][3] He obtained an M.A. degree in 1874. He became a corporate lawyer in New York, and helped found the law firm of Shearman & Sterling in 1871, a firm that represented Jay Gould, Henry Ford, the Rockefeller family, and Standard Oil.[3]

On his death in 1918, Sterling left a residuary estate of $15 million to Yale,[4] at the time the "largest sum of money ever donated to an institution of higher learning in history"—equivalent to about $200 million in 2011 dollars.[3] After the estate appraisal was complete a year later, the Yale bequest was "about $18 million."[5] He required Yale to fund "at least one enduring, useful and architecturally beautiful building, which will constitute a fitting Memorial of my gratitude to and affection for my alma mater" and "the foundation of Scholarships, Fellowships or Lectureships, the endowment of new professorships and the establishment of special funds for prizes"—these mandates led to the construction of the Sterling Memorial Library, Sterling Law Building, the Hall of Graduate Studies, and the Sterling Hall of Medicine, and the endowment of the Sterling Professorships.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Sterling died July 5, 1918 while staying at the fishing lodge of Lord Mount Stephen in Causapscal, Quebec;[4] he is entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Sterling's sister Cordelia donated the Sterling House and its surrounding estate —part of the Sterling Homestead—to Stratford, Connecticut.


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