August 18. 1997
Dr. Sandra Morgen, Director
Center for the Study of Women in Society
430 Hendricks Hall
University of Oregon
Dear Dr. Morgen:
I am writing to record a note on the securing of William B. Harris’s munificent endowment that supports many of the Center’s programs and research projects. It is a bit of history that I believe will be of interest and importance to you, your colleagues, and successors. Four years ago, at a gala and very happy occasion, the Center celebrated its founding 20 years earlier. I observed, with some surprise, that the person most responsible for identifying the donor and taking the initial steps to solicit the gift was not present. He had not been invited.
In conversation with Joan Acker, a leading person in founding the Center, and one who had aided in securing the gift, I learned that she and her colleagues were but vaguely sure that the person of whom I write was involved, and not at all aware of the key role he played. I can only blame myself for failure to make clear to them the course of events that led to the grant. The central figure in the little drama was Edward C. Kemp, Acquisitions Librarian. Without his interest in women’s studies, his knowledge, his alertness, diplomacy, and plan of action there would have been no endowment in the name of Jane Grant. Recently Brodie Remington, while he was still Vice President for Development and Public Affairs at the University, told me one morning over a cup of coffee, that prior to the current campaign which has produced two major gifts, one of $10 million, the other of $8 million dollars, that the Harris gift was the largest the University had received. Let me tell you what I know of the story.
Sometime in 1972-3 the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Harry Alpert, brought to me a proposal to establish, in the department of Sociology, a Center for the Study of Women in Society. The idea had been proposed by Professor Joan Acker, and some of her associates, and presented to the several departments of the College of Liberal Arts. Only Sociology was interested. I approved the proposal. The role of women in the university had been a concern of mine since the days when I was dean of the College, and the years when I served San Jose State College. The Chancellor and the Board approved the University’s request to establish the Center. Aaron Novick, Dean of the Graduate School, found a modest sum to assist in the Center’s initial projects.
Meanwhile, Martin Schmitt, director, and Edward Kemp, for the Special Collections Division of the Library, had selected, as one of the categories in which they were interested in collecting manuscripts, the role of women in our society—women leaders, writers, artists. They did not limit their search to Oregon, or Northwest women. Having been successful in soliciting manuscripts from conservative writers and political leaders from all over the nation, they followed that pattern in their search for manuscripts of women leaders.
One of Ed Kemp’s strategies in seeking manuscripts was to read the obituary columns of the New York Times. One day, in the early seventies, he encountered the name Jane Grant. She had been, with her first husband, Harold Ross, the co-founder of the New Yorker magazine. She had been not only a noted figure in the world of letters, but she fitted precisely the new category in which the library was interested—the role of women in our society. Jane Grant at her death was the wife of William B. Harris, an associate editor of Fortune Magazine. Together they had developed the White Flower Farm in Connecticut.
Where were her papers? Would they be available for deposit in the University of Oregon’s Special Collection? Ed wrote to Mr. Harris, a tentative note of inquiry. Would Mr. Harris be willing to talk with him when he was next in New York? Yes, Mr. Harris replied. They met, had a very pleasant conversation, and agreed to meet again. Ed saw him several times in the next few months. He learned that Jane Grant had left but few papers, but he learned also that Mr. Harris was interested in establishing a university endowment in her honor. He had talked with an eastern university and had made a preliminary gift. Officials at that university were vague about their intentions, non-committal about their interest in women’s studies.
At some point in their discussions Ed told Mr. Harris that the University of Oregon had established a center in the Department of Sociology for the study of women in society. Would Mr. Harris be interested in talking with the president of the University the next time he was in New York? Again, Mr. Harris said yes. That was in the late winter or early spring of 1975.
As I remember, I saw Mr. Harris twice in New York, as his guest for lunch, first at his elegant apartment on Park Avenue, and then at the University Club. The conversation was lively and pleasant. He said to me, as he had to Ed Kemp, that he was interested in honoring his wife, the late Jane Grant, by supporting a University program for the study of women in society. I told him about our program at Oregon, already established, and approved, not by the University alone, but by the Chancellor and the governing board. There was no question about our interest in the subject or about our commitment. I told him about the scholars, women on our faculty, who had designed the program and who were devoting much of their energies to its development. I told him, too, about the Department of Sociology and its support of the program, and the enthusiasm of the department head, Richard Hill, in his advocacy of the center. I had come to know these people, not only to respect but to applaud them.
If I remember correctly, I went to the luncheon with no tactic in mind, with no planned strategy for the next step. But as I talked about our program, and the people responsible for it, and noted his favorable response, I was moved to invite him to come to the University, to meet the faculty, and to see for himself what we were trying to do. He liked the idea. That was spring term, the last quarter before my retirement in June. I was anxious for him to come as soon as possible, certainly while I was still in office.
He came a short time later for two days, as a guest in the president’s home. He was a wonderfully friendly man, full of good talk, and with a curious mind. My wife, who was a gifted flower gardener, and I walked him about the lovely grounds of the University house. He was delighted with my wife’s choice of flowers and her gift in gardening. Knowing that we were about to move into our own home, purchased for our retirement, he later sent her one hundred iris bulbs from his White Flower Farm. He was not so much impressed with my interest in wild flowers—they didn’t compare in beauty to the cultivated and hybrid varieties. But he did respond to my interest in trees, and was pleased to have me identify species unfamiliar to him, in our yard and on the campus.
For dinner we had invited three of the woman scholars at the University who were instrumental in the development of the Women’s Study Center, and the head of the Department of Sociology: Joan Acker and Miriam (Mimi) Johnson, Sociology, Marilyn Farwell, English, and Richard Hill, head of Sociology. The conversation was lively, bright, sometimes sophisticated, full of good humor, and ranged widely from women’s studies, contemporary culture, student revolts, literature, the New Yorker, even to a few sly remarks about politics. We moved from the dinner table to the living room. I could see that Mr. Harris was much interested. I sat there, now and then tossing in a comment, but for the most part full of pride at the quality of the faculty members who exchanged ideas and sometimes sparred with Mr. Harris. Either beforehand, or during the evening, he made it clear that he was seriously considering making a gift to the University. “What would you like us to do with a bequest?” Joan Acker asked him. “You are the experts,” he replied; “do with it what you think best for your program.” Joan has never forgotten the sense of exhilaration she felt with that expression of confidence. He was, as I had thought he would be, persuaded by the quality of people with whom he talked, and by the ideas they voiced, that he had found the University where he could honor his beloved Jane Grant. After they were gone, he told me how favorably he had been impressed by them. The bequest he had in mind, he said, would be in the range of $500,000 to $1 million dollars.
The next morning Ed Kemp drove him to Portland to catch his plane. Ed started early enough to take him by some of the famous iris farms and flower gardens in the Willamette Valley: to the supplier of his iris bulbs, Bob Shreiner, at Brooks, and to his lily grower, a Mr. Strickler, at the Oregon Bulb Farms, east of Gresham.
After Mr. Harris’s death in 1981, when his estate was settled, having been well managed by his executor, his bequest to the University amounted to slightly more than $3 million. That was augmented by additional and substantial gifts. Again through careful management, this time by the Board of Trustees of the University Foundation, the endowment has grown substantially. A rich bounty for the University, it is productive of many projects, conferences, research studies, and intellectual enrichment for faculty and students. It has become, as Mr. Harris had hoped—indeed far beyond his hope—an enduring tribute to Jane Grant, and, although he had not asked it, a tribute, too, to William Harris.
Very truly yours,