William Greenleaf Eliot

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For other people named William Eliot, see William Eliot (disambiguation).
William Greenleaf Eliot
WGEliot.jpg
Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis
Term 1870 – 1887
Predecessor Abram Litton
Successor Marshall Snow
Born (1811-08-05)August 5, 1811
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Died January 23, 1887(1887-01-23) (aged 75)
Pass Christian, Mississippi

William Greenleaf Eliot (August 5, 1811[1] – January 23, 1887[2]) was an American educator, Unitarian minister, and civic leader in Missouri. He is most notable for founding Washington University in St. Louis, but also contributed to the founding of numerous other civic institutions, such as the St. Louis Art Museum, public school system, and charitable institutions.

Early life and education[edit]

Eliot was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After attending the Friends Academy in New Bedford, Eliot attended Columbian College (now the George Washington University) in Washington, D.C., and graduated in 1831. Eliot did graduate work at Harvard Divinity School and graduated in 1834. He was ordained a minister of the Unitarian church on August 17, 1834.

Career[edit]

After his ordination, Eliot moved to St. Louis, where he lived for the rest of his life, until 1887. There he founded the Church of the Messiah, the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi River. Today it is called the First Unitarian Church of Saint Louis. He led the congregation from 1834 to 1870, through a period of rapid expansion of the city.

Eliot was active in civic life, and instrumental in founding many civic institutions, including the St. Louis Public Schools, the St. Louis Art Museum, Mission Free School, South Side Day Nursery, and the Western Sanitary Commission to provide medical care and supplies during the Civil War. In 1861 he was part of a small group of men who helped Generals Nathaniel Lyon and Francis P. Blair to retain Missouri in the Union. He contributed to the development of the Colored Orphans' Home, Soldiers' Orphans' Home, Memorial Home, Blind Girls' Home, Women's Christian Home, and other charitable institutions. When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited St. Louis, he had met Eliot and called him "the Saint of the West."[3]

Eliot had a strong interest in developing educational opportunities in St. Louis. He co-founded Washington University in St. Louis (initially called Eliot Seminary - much to his chagrin) in 1853. He donated funds to its construction and served as its chancellor from 1870 to 1887. In 1859 he founded Mary Institute, a school for girls which he named after his daughter, who died young. It is now part of the co-educational Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School.

Eliot was also a writer, publishing Doctrines of Christianity; Lectures to Young Men; Lectures to Young Women (re-printed as Home and Influence); Discipline of Sorrow; and The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom. These ranged from works of theology in the Unitarian tradition to specific moral advice to young people. He advocated individual responsibility. In public policy he supported women's suffrage and prohibition of alcohol.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Eliot was honored for his civic contributions with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[4]
  • Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, Missouri, is named for W. G. Eliot.

Family[edit]

William Greenleaf Eliot's wife, Abigail Adams Cranch, was the daughter of William Cranch, a nephew of Abigail Adams. William G. Eliot's father, mother, and wife were first cousins of each other. Their mothers were siblings, as well as sisters of Rebecca Greenleaf (she married Noah Webster.) The Eliots had 14 children but not all survived to adulthood. Among their children were Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot, Regent and Trustee of Reed College, and Henry Ware Eliot, businessman. W.G. Eliot was the grandfather of poet T. S. Eliot and Martha May Eliot, a pediatrician and expert in public health. He was the brother of Thomas Dawes Eliot, U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  • Eliot, Charlotte, C. 1904. William Greenleaf Eliot. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., The Riverside Press. Cambridge, MA.
  • Holt, Earl K. III. 1985. William Greenleaf Eliot—Conservative Radical. published by First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.
  • William Greenleaf Eliot at Eliot Family Genealogy
  • Scott, Henry Eliot. 1988. The Family of William Greenleaf Eliot and Abby Adams Eliot, as Chronicled by their Descendants, to 1988