Jonas Gilman Clark

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Jonas Gilman Clark
Born(1815-02-01)February 1, 1815
DiedMay 23, 1900(1900-05-23) (aged 85)
Known forfounding Clark University in 1887

Jonas Gilman Clark (February 1, 1815 – May 23, 1900) was an American businessman, and the founder of Clark University. He started his business career in Massachusetts, before moving to California in the 1850s. He had a successful entrepreneurial career. He moved to Worcester in 1878, and founded Clark University in that city in 1887.


Early life[edit]

Clark was born in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. He was a son of a farmer, and received a common school education. He became a carriage-maker at the age of sixteen, and opened his own carriage shop after five years. He extended his business to the manufacturing and marketing of chairs. He entered the tinware industry after discovering the greater profitability in this business around 1845. He was also a manager of retail stores in Hubbardston, Milford and Lowell.[1]

Clark married Susan Wright (1816–1904) in 1836; Susan was his childhood friend and neighbor. The couple were active supporters of the anti-slavery movement.[1]

Life in California, New York City, and Worcester[edit]

Clark sold his hardware business to his brothers, and moved his capital to business in California. His first business venture in California was not successful because he lost his money because of the ineptitude of his partner. He formed a second partnership, and in 1853 went to San Francisco to run his business. He achieved success in the furniture business.[1]

In 1860 Clark liquidated his businesses because of the medical reasons. He reinvested his fortunes in the San Francisco area, particularly in real estate.[1]

When the American Civil War began, Clark supported the Union cause; he was active in multiple Union causes.[1]

In 1868 he purchased a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City. He started collecting rare books and art works, and also invested in securities and real estate.[1]

He made trips to Europe. He developed a deep interest in higher education; he visited and collected information about the universities in Europe.[1]

Clark and his wife, Susan, shifted to Worcester in 1878. He started to liquidate his California and New York area holdings in the early 1880s. He started collecting a compact plot of land in the growing South End of Worcester in 1881. He had acquired most of a block that bordered Main Street by the fall of 1885.[1]

Clark University[edit]

Front entrance to Clark University's Jonas Clark Hall, the main academic facility for undergraduate students.

Clark founded Clark University in 1887.[2] He was probably inspired by his friend Leland Stanford to establish his own university.[3] In January 1887, Clark secured from the Legislature, for himself and his associates of his choice, an act of incorporation under the name of Clark University.[4] On March 31, the legislation was passed and signed. On May 4, at the first regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, Clark disclosed his educational and financial plans for the new university. Clark University was to incorporate the best features of the continental European and American universities such as Cornell University and Johns Hopkins University.[1] Clark started the university with a million dollars, and later added another million dollars to the university fund because he feared the university may face lack of fund someday.[2]

G. Stanley Hall became the first president of Clark University; he was hired by Clark, and other trustees. Hall wanted to start the graduate school and library first, and he persuaded Clark and other trustees that the undergraduate college would be started after few years. The university was opened on October 2, 1889 as the first all-graduate university in the United States.[1] It opened with graduate departments in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and psychology.[3]

Hall made multiple promises to the faculty of Clark University, but was unable to fulfill them. He blamed Jonas Clark or the trustees for his unfulfilled promises, and also misled Clark about the financial aspects of Clark University. Jonas Clark wanted the undergraduate college, but Hall didn't want it. As a result of these conflicts, Clark didn't trust Hall.[1]

Clark University suffered from financial problems. Jonas Clark expressed his disappointment towards the affluent trustees, and to some extent towards the Worcester community, for not coming forward to support the university to Hall and the trustees, before leaving for Europe in 1891; he warned to reduce expenses if the public didn't give more support to the university. He resigned as treasurer, but remained president of the board of trustees. From this point forward, Clark talked with Hall and the board particularly through letter; he also didn't spent much time in Worcester.[1]

The trustees didn't build the undergraduate college, something that Clark wanted, but they continued to appeal to him to financially support the university.[1]

In 1892 Clark and multiple trustees held various discussions on how to salvage the remaining assets of Clark University. Clark wanted an undergraduate college, but Hall rejected his wish.[1] Clark wanted the university to be a traditional undergraduate institution, while Hall wanted it to be a graduate institution.[5] Hall and the trustees wanted to keep Clark happy until his death; after Clark's death they could use his money according to their wishes.[1]

Clark gave money to the university for the academic year 1892–93, but gave no more financial support to the university from this point forward. He realized that Hall and the trustees would not start the undergraduate college. His will, drafted in New York City, was kept secret from Hall and the trustees.[1]

Clark died on May 23, 1900 at his home in Worcester. After his death, when the conditions of his will became known, the trustees discovered that they would have to establish an undergraduate college or else they would lose the remainder of Clark's fortune. The college was established, and it merged with the university in 1920 after Hall's retirement.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Jonas Clark Biography". Clark University. Archived from the original on 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
  2. ^ a b "Death list of a day: Jonas Gilman Clark". The New York Times. May 24, 1900.
  3. ^ a b James, Ioan Mackenzie (2002). Remarkable mathematicians: from Euler to von Neumann. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 335. ISBN 0-521-52094-0.
  4. ^ "Johas Clark's gift; work begun on the new university at Worcester". The New York Times. October 23, 1887.
  5. ^ Rüegg, Walter (2004). Universities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1800-1945). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 170–171. ISBN 0-521-36107-9.