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If you turned an estate worth half a million dollars into a fortune of over two million dollars you would be prosperous. If you were the director of the board of a national bank for twenty-five years you would be a leader. If you donated a city park and endowed a private college, and if you gave money and land to many community projects, you would be a great philanthropist. If you accomplished all of this as a woman, you would be astonishing, and, if you achieved all of this as a woman between the years of 1816 and 1908, you would be Lydia Moss Bradley.
Born in Vevay, Indiana July 31, 1816, Lydia Moss Bradley grew up on the family farm alongside the Ohio river. Her father, Zeally Moss, was born March 6, in Loudoun County, Virginia in 1755, and her mother, Jennett Glasscock Moss, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia in 1766. Prior to their marriage, Zeally Moss was a non-commissioned officer during the Revolutionary War. He was also previously married in 1786 to Elizabeth Barry, and fathered a daughter. Elizabeth Barry died in childbirth, but the daughter survived. (Davis 43)
Before Lydia Moss Bradley's birth, Zeally Moss owned a plantation in Kentucky. In spite of the prevalence of slavery in the south, Zeally Moss found that he could not accept its terms and determined that slavery was not how he wished to make a living. He reportedly, "gave the place rent free to his Negroes to work out their own living, while he crossed over into free territory to make his home and rear his family." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 121)
Her father's distaste for slavery made an impact on Lydia Moss Bradley. In slavery, "she saw . . . only harm for both white and black, with the advantage, if any, in favor of the blacks." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 121) It has been reported, but never confirmed, that she may have even had some part in the Underground Railroad through Peoria. What is confirmed by several accounts is that her feelings were strong enough to win out over her husband's, who felt that there were more opportunities for them in Kentucky. Lydia Moss Bradley chose for their new home, a non-slave state, Illinois.
In addition to her strong views regarding slavery, Lydia Moss Bradley developed deep convictions on work, skill, thrift, and economy. Although her father had an impressive business sense, which Lydia would inherit, and the family became quite prosperous in land holdings, every member of the family worked on the farm. Even in her later years as one of the wealthiest citizens in the Peoria area, business managed W. W. Hammond reported:
"Mrs. Bradley never forgot how to work, and till within a short time of her death still made her own butter, raised her own eggs, salted down her own meat and tried out her own lard. She would not have considered herself a good housekeeper had she not done so. The housewife of those times was expected to stock the larder with meats and fruits, to spin the yarn, make the clothing, bedding and carpets, and to prepare food in plenty for all who chanced to be present when meal time came round. All these things Mrs. Bradley did." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 121)
Lydia Moss Bradley believed that industriousness was required of all able-bodied members of a community. This view, coupled with her limited schooling, reportedly in a neighbor's kitchen with no heat, few books, and hand-made quill pens, would eventually be the impetus to found a school. Lydia Moss Bradley wanted to give young people educational opportunities which she never had; she wanted to give them "the most practical assistance at the best time of their lives to make them independent, self-supporting, useful men and women." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 124)
Hammond reported another aspect of Lydia Moss Bradley's youth which foretold her business days to come, was a transaction involving a colt. Her father gave a young colt, which had lost its mother, to his daughter to raise. After raising enough money for a saddle and bridle, and certainly enjoying the horse as the only access to social life in those days, she sold it in exchange for 40 acres of forested land. By clearing this land and selling the timber, Lydia was developing the business sense which would serve her so well in later years.
Through the clearing of her newly acquired land, Lydia met her future husband. Tobias Bradley was running the saw mill where the lumber was processed. Lydia and Tobias were married May 11, 1837, and initially lived with her parents in Vevay.
The Bradley's first child, Rebecca, was born January 20, 1839. That same year, Zeally Moss died leaving Lydia the family farm. The Bradleys stayed on in Vevay where their second child, Clarissa, was born October, 26, 1843, but the family's history of loss would begin with Rebecca's death September 2, 1845. In 1847, Lydia, along with Tobias, Clarissa, and Lydia's mother, moved to Peoria to join her brother William Moss, who had already moved to Peoria. In Peoria the Bradleys purchased a large tract of land with the proceeds from the sale of their land holdings in Vevay. Peoria, in its early development, became an excellent place for Tobias Bradley and William Moss to prosper in business ventures.
In the early days in Peoria, Lydia was the housewife and mother, while her husband ran the business affairs. Unfortunately, the Bradleys were far more fortunate in business than as parents, and the rest of their family life was saddened by the death of all six of their children. Both Clarissa and her brother Tobias Moss, who was born April 28, 1847, died during the year the family moved to Peoria. Laura was born April 24, 1849 and lived longer than any of the other children. She died in 1864 at the age of fourteen. Mary died April 25, 1852 living less than a year, and William died August 25, 1855 at the age of two.
Despite the great tragedies suffered by the Bradleys, they reportedly remained hopeful, and were very attached to their daughter, Laura, their only child to reach adolescence. During these same difficult years, Tobias Bradley and William Moss joined forces in several business ventures. In business dealings the Bradleys were charmed and soon became quite wealthy. In early days Tobias Bradley ran another saw mill, and captained the steamboat Avalanche owned by William Moss. Tobias Bradley also joined William Moss's distilling business, and Moss, Bradley & Co. existed as a successful Peoria business for many years. The growing city was a perfect place to be successful in business. Tobias Bradley continued to purchase land, and bought stock in new companies. Before his death, he and Lydia began their philanthropic work, which she would continue vigorously on her own.
Shortly before Tobias Bradley's untimely death in a carriage accident, the couple began looking into ways in which they could construct a monument to their deceased children. They discussed the idea of an orphanage, but Lydia Moss Bradley later decided that such institutions were often ill-equipped to help young people acquire skills which they required to become independent. When she was unexpectedly left on her own, she determined that a place of learning was her wish as a lasting memorial to her entire family.
Tobias Bradley died without a will and without plans for his wife in the event of such an accident. The estate left her was valued at approximately $500,000. She hired a bookkeeper and took over the financial aspects of their estate.
At the time of his death, Tobias Bradley was the president of the First National Bank of Peoria. Lydia Moss Bradley inherited the stock which he owned in the bank, and became a member of the board of directors. For twenty-five of the nearly thirty-four years as a board member, she held the position of Director. Local papers reported that she was the only woman in the state to serve as director of a national bank. Although it is difficult to determine how many, if any other women in the country held similar positions, it was certainly an uncommon accomplishment for a woman in the late eighteen hundreds.
Two years after her husband's death, Lydia Moss Bradley remarried. The reason for the marriage is unclear, but speculation exists that she hoped to gain some business or financial guidance. She was savvy enough be careful with her wealth, however, and was unwilling to place herself in a position of vulnerability. Lydia Moss Bradley had a legal prenuptial agreement drawn up declaring that in the event of a divorce each would retain their individual holdings. Lydia Moss Bradley and Edward Clark divorced in 1873.
Without a husband or children, Lydia Moss Bradley occupied herself with industriousness. She hired a business manager, W. W. Hammond, and set about her task of researching and funding a fitting memorial to her family. She chose wisely in her decision to hire Hammond; he was not only astute in business matters but was also a lawyer and was subsequently able to protect her transactions. When Hammond was hired, Mrs. Bradley's wealth had already grown from $500,000 to about $1,000,000. Mr. Hammond maintained that he met with Mrs. Bradley nearly every day from the time he was employed until her death, and she always insisted on being informed and consenting to any and all transactions. She signed all of her own checks until her final illness left her bedridden.
Amid her other philanthropic gestures, such as Bradley Park and Peoria's Home for Aged Women, Lydia Moss Bradley began investigating schools as models for the one she planned to endow through her will. She visited Rose Polytechnic Institute in 1877 in her effort to determine the shape of her own school. Throop Polytechnic, Armour Institute, and Lewis Institute were all assessed in order to learn how each was preparing students to meet the needs of the future. Throughout her investigations she was always interested in starting an institute for both young men and young women. She looked into polytechnic schools because she felt that practical skills were tremendously important in helping people to be successful and industrious. Her wish was to start a school which offered the sciences and literature, as well as technical training. Whether students chose a professional career or a career in industry, she felt the well rounded education would serve them either way.
During her research into polytechnic schools and institutes, Lydia Moss Bradley learned that the cost of such schools was far greater that that of liberal arts institutions. The figures were greater than the value of her estate, and so she decided to continue her business efforts in order to fully endow a school of the highest standards.
Thrift was always a virtue in Lydia Moss Bradley's eyes, but she never skimped on the necessities of keeping what she considered an appropriately appointed home. Mrs. Hammond was quoted in the Peoria Journal Transcript as saying:
"There has been a tendency on the part of later historians to picture Mrs. Bradley as a penurious woman, who denied herself all the luxuries and many of the comforts of life in order to amass her fortune for the institute. . . . They make her a recluse and a penny pinching eccentric . . . . Such a picture is entirely untrue." (Barger 3)
Mrs. Hammond says that Mrs. Bradley was always warm and generous. She says Lydia was one whose home was "handsomely furnished, whose clothes were of the finest materials, who set an excellent table, maintained a house full of choice flowers, had several servants and kept an excellent carriage, and bestowed costly gifts." (Barger 3) Mr. Hammond explained that between the years of 1885 and 1897, Lydia Moss Bradley increased her net worth by one million dollars. Certainly not all of this was through thrift.
One of the ways in which she made such a substantial increase in her wealth had been her ability to improve the quality of land. She owned 680 acres of Manito Marsh. The land was drained, and Lydia Moss Bradley built farm buildings, fences, and began cultivating the land for farming, but the crops did poorly. When the crops failed to improve over time, she sent samples of the soil to Champaign for analysis. The soil was very rich, but it lacked potash. By amending the soil, Lydia Moss Bradley's farms became successful. The farmers working her land benefited, the land became useful, neighboring farmers followed suit and improved their own crops, and the value of the land was increased dramatically. Lydia Moss Bradley purchased this marsh land for $10 per acre, and when the crops became successful, the lots sold for up to $140 per acre. (Wyckoff, The First Decade 38-39)
Hammond said of Lydia Moss Bradley:
"What she knew, she knew, and would not be cheated out of it by sophistry or persuasion. What she did not know, she never pretended to know, and was willing to have settled by those who did know." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 126)
Her willingness to seek out experts to aid her in her decision making is one of the great keys to Lydia Moss Bradley's success. Despite her own lack of education, like any good leader, she surrounded herself with experts in each and every field where she needed more information. In this way she made informed decisions on subjects about which she would otherwise have no knowledge.
One of the best pieces of advice Lydia Moss Bradley received came from William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago. When he heard of Lydia Moss Bradley's plans, he came to visit her in Peoria. He suggested that she begin the school right away instead of leaving the provisions in her will. He looked over her finances, and "he assured her she had sufficient funds, and tendered her the unlimited co-operation and advice of the University and its scope of educators." (Hammond 318) In retrospect, Dr. Harper's advice was far more valuable than anyone could have imagined at the time.
Following Dr. Harper's suggestion gave Lydia Moss Bradley enormous emotional satisfaction. She was able to see the creation brought about by her efforts. All records indicate that in Bradley's early days, Lydia Moss Bradley rarely missed special events at the Institute. She is said to have entertained students in her kitchen and garden some afternoons, and she is almost always reported to have been an honored guest on founder's days and graduations. In many speeches and especially in the memorial addresses after her death, those who knew her felt that the Institute had a profound effect on Lydia Moss Bradley's happiness in those last years. Students, faculty, and trustees also felt glad that they had had the opportunity to express their appreciation to their school's founder while she lived. It isn't difficult to speculate that without the hope and satisfaction she gained through her efforts to bring Bradley into existence, Lydia Moss Bradley would have had far less reason to live such a long and active life.
The creation of Bradley Polytechnic Institute was a cause for excitement in Peoria and especially for those involved in its development. There were, however, a few episodes from the early days of Bradley's creation which have caused controversy. Most of the controversy comes from disagreement about the nature of the connection between the University of Chicago and Bradley Polytechnic Institute. It was reported in the Peoria Transcript from November 17, 1896:
"Some months ago President William R. Harper, of the University of Chicago, was interested in the project, and it was soon arranged that the school should be affiliated with the University of Chicago, and that he should have charge of the course of study and general plan of the institution." (6)
Most of the confusion arises from the word "affiliated." Those who took the work to mean that Bradley would be a branch of the University of Chicago were certainly mistaken. There was a connection, but the funding and the control of Bradley Polytechnic was to remain in the hands of Peorians. Charles Wyckoff explains:
"Bradley Institute was formed . . . with Dr. Harper as president of the faculty, a position he filled til his death in 1906. The local management was in the hands of a director . . . . It is not strange that, through the connection of Dr. Harper with the founding of the institute, some should have regarded it as a part of the University [of Chicago] Indeed, the Chicago Inter-Ocean, speaking of Lyman J. Gage, says he spent October 8 'In Peoria . . . on the occasion of the dedication of a branch of the Chicago University'. This . . . was at once corrected. It was shown that Dr. Harper's position as president of the Bradley faculty was honorary and advisory only and in no way encroached on the independent status of the new institution." (Wyckoff, Four Decades 13-14)
Illustrating the point, the Peoria Herald reported:
"An impression has gone abroad that it [Bradley Polytechnic] is a part of the Chicago University, and that the Chicago institution has aided in its establishment and that it in turn expects to derive benefit from the Peoria educational school. This . . . is entirely incorrect and the fact that such an idea has been regarded as the truth much displeases Mrs. Lydia Bradley who founded the school and has provided for its maintenance. . . . the local board is anxious that it be known all over the country that the Bradley Institute is a Peoria concern and independent of any college, university or school in Chicago or any other place." (Peoria Herald 9)
These controversies present difficulty today because it is hard to know exactly how outspoken Lydia Moss Bradley was regarding ideas which she held dear. There is evidence, however, that those in charge of the institution's direction were very keenly aware of Mrs. Bradley's wishes and hoped to satisfy their benefactress through their actions. Lydia Moss Bradley also seems to have had a great respect for those entrusted with the development of Bradley and typically felt that her wishes were in safe hands. T. C. Burgess said that when he asked for her advice, Lydia Moss Bradley usually replied:
"I have placed the management of the Institute in the hands of the Trustees and Faculty. Let them use their own judgment. I have no knowledge of such matters. I have full confidence in them. Whatever they decide will please me." (Wyckoff, The First Decade 35)
In one other somewhat controversial incident, there was again confusion as to how much control the University of Chicago would exert upon Bradley Polytechnic Institute. In this instance the confusion was regarding plans to segregate the sexes at the University of Chicago. This incidence clearly indicates that despite an enormous respect and reverence for Dr. Harper and the University of Chicago, Bradley would make decisions independent of that institution. It was reported in the Peoria Journal of October 7, 1902 that although Dr. Harper was in the process of advocating segregation of the sexes at the University of Chicago, Bradley would not follow suit. The article stated:
" [In response to]. . . . the rumor that President Harper, of the University of Chicago, intended to carry out to its logical issue in the Bradley Institute his ideas on the segregation of the sexes . . . Hon. O. J. Bailey, president of the board of directors of [Bradley] . . . said this morning: 'There has been . . . . no discussion of this matter . . . .at any board meeting. The board was . . . a unit on the matter of co-education and the matter has received no subsequent discussion. . . . I recognize the force with which Dr. Harper has presented his views . . . as applied to a great institution like the University of Chicago. These arguments, however, do not, in my opinion, apply with the same force to such an institution as Bradley. And it may safely be asserted in view of the charter power and requirements that Bradley Institute will always remain co-educational in its original sense.'" (115)
Although the above quote is not attributed to Lydia Moss Bradley herself, there is every reason to believe that President Bailey was acting according to her wishes. He also mentions the fact that these items were written into the original charter of the school. Lydia Moss Bradley knew that to safeguard her initial plans for the Bradley Institute, she could not leave many issues open to interpretation. She purposely placed a majority of Peorians on the board and had the ratio of resident Peorians written into the charter to make certain that Bradley always served the community it was intended to. A relative of hers, Zealy Moss Holmes, was one such Peorian, not involved in education, whom she asked to sit on the board.
Although we don't have her own words through letters or a journal, it is still possible to get a sense of how Mrs. Bradley's mind worked. In a time when women could not vote, Lydia Moss Bradley's power had to be acquired and utilized carefully. She was a strong, independent woman in a time when women were expected to be tractable. If she had acquired so much wealth and influence for her own glorification she might have been viewed very differently, but she established the respect of those close to her through her character and her generosity.
In the end, Peoria got Bradley Polytechnic Institute, which developed into Bradley University. Lydia Moss Bradley lived to see the initial years and first graduates of the institution which was her tribute to the memory of her deceased family. The Chicago Times Herald reported on the occasion of the dedication, Oct. 9, 1892:
"but in the few sentences she uttered were compressed the ideals she had cherished for half a century. She said she hoped the institute would be a real benefit to mankind; that it would be the means of making better men and women; that boys and girls would find in the new institution of learning an incentive to intellectual life was her ardent wish." (14)
Bradley Family Bible. Special Collection Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Barger, Marilee. "Personal Anecdotes of Lydia" Peoria Journal Transcript 29 April 1934: Sec. 4, pg. 3. Included in the Peoria Historial Society's Vertical File. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Chicago Times Herald 9 October 1897. Newspaper clipping included in Bradley Polytechnic Scrapbook, Photocopied Edition, Vol. 1, pg. 14. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Davis, Olive. From the Ohio to the San Joaquin: A Biography of William Moss 1798-1883. Stockton: Heritage West Books, 1991.
The First Decade: 1897-1907. Ed. Charles Truman Wyckoff. Peoria: B Press, 1908.
Genealogical Information compiled by Nanette Meals. Included in the Lydia Moss Bradley Vertical File, Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria Illinios.
Hammond, W. W. "Park Board's Action in Favor of Bradley Memorial Recalls Peoria's Foremost Woman." Peoria Journal 25 May 1913: 114. Newspaper clipping included in Bradley Polytechnic Scrapbook, Photocopied Edition, Vol. 2, pg. 318. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Peoria Herald 19 September 1897. Newspaper clipping included in Bradley Polytechnic Scrapbook, Photocopied Edition, Vol. 1, pg. 9. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Peoria Journal 17 November 1896. Newspaper clipping included in Bradley Polytechnic Scrapbook, Photocopied Edition, Vol. 1, pg. 6. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Photographs, Drawings, Historical Items, available in both Peoria Historical Society Collection Vertical Files, and Bradley University Library Collection Vertical Files. Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library, Peoria Illinios.
Upton, Allen A. Forgotten Angel. United States of America: n.p., 1988.
Wyckoff, Charles Truman. Four Decades ts. Unpublished History, 1937. Special Collections, Bradley University Library, Peoria, Illinios.
Yates, Louis A. R. A Proud Heritage: Bradley's History 1897-1972. n.p. : Observer Press, 1974.
Cullom-Davis Library, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois