In recognition of the role that William H. (Bill) Danforth, Life Trustee and chancellor emeritus, his family and the Danforth Foundation have played in the evolution of the University, the Hilltop Campus will be renamed the Danforth Campus, according to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
An official recognition ceremony will be held Sept. 17, when the new name takes effect.
“The name has been chosen to honor the 13th chancellor of the University, Dr. William H. Danforth, his family and the Danforth Foundation for the role they have played in the transformation of Washington University,” Wrighton said.
“Bill Danforth has been one of the most respected leaders in higher education. To many alumni he will always be dearly remembered simply as ‘Chan Dan,’ or as ‘Uncle Bill.’ To all members of the WUSTL community over the past half-century, he will be remembered as the man who, together with his late wife, Elizabeth, loved the University and loved working hand-in-hand with faculty, staff, students and alumni to increase its strength and the contributions that only a university can make to modern society.
“Having been a member of the Washington University family since 1951 when he joined the Medical School faculty as an instructor, he personifies Washington University.”
After joining the School of Medicine, Danforth rose to become a professor of internal medicine. In 1965, he was named vice chancellor for medical affairs and president of the Washington University Medical Center at age 39.
Danforth was named chancellor when Thomas Eliot retired in 1971.
Bill Danforth: A guiding force
Born in St. Louis on April 10, 1926, William H. (Bill) Danforth was just 12 when his grandfather instructed him to literally cut the word “impossible” out of his dictionary.
The lesson stuck. Danforth graduated from St. Louis Country Day School and spent a brief time at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., before transferring to Princeton and graduating in 1947.
He earned a medical degree from Harvard University, and after completing his internship in medicine at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, he served in the Korean War with the U.S. Navy from 1952-54. He returned to St. Louis to continue his medical training at Barnes Hospital and at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Danforth joined the Washington University Medical School faculty in 1951. Danforth was named vice chancellor for medical affairs at age 39 in 1965 and worked with Dean M. Kenton King to achieve the academic priorities of the school, helping to position it for the great advances in the ’70s and ’80s. He re-established the critical working partnership between the teaching hospitals and the School of Medicine.
What he did in just six years to strengthen the medical center was merely a foreshadowing of what he was to accomplish as chancellor of Washington University during his 24-year tenure. As vice chancellor, Danforth stood beside Chancellor Thomas Eliot and gave counsel to him during the student unrest of the 1960s.
Danforth was the universal choice in 1971 for 13th chancellor when Eliot retired, and he served until his retirement on June 30, 1995.
Known as “Uncle Bill” and “Chan Dan” by students, Danforth and his late wife, Elizabeth, or “Ibby,” knew many students by name because of the countless campus events they attended and supported. The Danforth years reinvigorated student life on campus.
In a speech delivered on Founders Day in 1972, just his second year as chancellor, Danforth said: “My guess is that in the future, the United States will probably afford about 30 to 35 first-rate universities. Washington University certainly will be and must be one of these.”
He envisioned a world-class future for Washington University; he set about attracting and retaining outstanding people; and he worked tirelessly to secure the resources that have made the difference between where the University was and where it is now.
In a 1977 letter to alumni he wrote: “From time to time, I try to figure out how our predecessors did it. … They shared a grand dream that knowledge was better than ignorance, that humankind could be bettered by education.
“They did not feel that they were building for themselves but for their fellow humans and those who would come after. They believed that they could influence the future. And they did.”
Danforth had laid the groundwork, and in the 2005 U.S. News rankings WUSTL ranked No. 11 in overall undergraduate programs among the nation’s best 248 national universities. The School of Medicine, which he worked so hard to bring to national prominence, was ranked No. 3 nationally.
By the time Danforth retired from WUSTL in 1995 and was elected chairman of the board, his accomplishments were recognized nationally. He had set the course for the future of the University and completed its transition from a local college to a national research university, recruiting talented students and faculty from around the world.
Among his many awards, he was named “Man of the Year” in 1977 by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and, like his predecessor Ethan A.H. Shepley, was given the Alexander Meiklejohn Award by the American Association of University Professors for his unflinching support of academic freedom. He has a great devotion to the University and its founders, especially William Greenleaf Eliot and Robert S. Brookings.
During his 24 years as chancellor, Danforth oversaw the establishment of 70 new faculty professorships, built a $1.72 billion endowment, tripled the number of scholarships for students and completed the most successful fund-raising campaign in U.S. higher education — the ALLIANCE FOR WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY.
Nearly 60,000 students graduated during his chancellorship and retention of undergraduate students and the recruitment of minority students increased significantly. He became one of the longest-serving university chancellors or presidents in the country.
In addition to the Danforth family, the University is grateful to the trustees of the Danforth Foundation, which included Bill, Don, and Jack, and their father and grandparents, for important financial support.
“Our thanks go to Bill Danforth and the trustees and staff of the Danforth Foundation for helping to build in St. Louis ‘a world-class university’ that continues to grow in strength, reputation, and — most of all — in service to its students and to the world,” Wrighton said.
“The drive for excellence continues, and the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis will help to remember a man who, with his wife and thousands of colleagues and friends, worked to keep alive the dream of a great university located in the Midwest, to build upon the accomplishments of their predecessors, and to hand on to us, their successors, both the dream and a healthy edifice on which to build.
“The Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis will be a tribute to a man, a family and a foundation — all of whom envisioned a world-class future for this institution and worked to make it happen,” Wrighton added. “In this way, the Danforth name will live prominently, forever at Washington University in St. Louis.”
Contributions of the family have lasting impact
William H. Danforth — grandfather of Bill Danforth — founded the Ralston Purina Co. and established the Danforth Foundation. He graduated from the WUSTL School of Engineering & Applied Science in 1892 and served as a trustee of the University for 25 years.
William Danforth’s son, Donald, a key builder of Ralston Purina and enricher of the foundation, continued his father’s legacy as a philanthropist and businessman until his death in 1973.
Donald’s four children exemplify the family’s commitment to education and public service: Bill became WUSTL’s chancellor; Dorothy Danforth Miller is a mother and St. Louis citizen; Donald Jr. was a St. Louis businessman, entrepreneur and a 1955 graduate of the John M. Olin School of Business who died in 2001; and John served as U.S. senator from Missouri, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and is the current chair of the foundation.
They all were raised, in the words of their grandfather, to “aspire nobly, adventure daringly and serve humbly.” According to John, “A very important part of our upbringing was the idea of having a purpose beyond ourselves.”
Washington University, St. Louis, America and the world have benefited from the exemplary citizenship of the Danforth family.
The foundation made its first major contribution to the University in 1970, a $15 million, five-year grant to replace $3 million a year from the Ford Foundation that had been used as annual support. In 1973, it offered to contribute $60 million to the endowment if the amount were matched in five years; it was matched in three.
The foundation’s contributions — totaling $200 million — to the ALLIANCE campaign in the 1980s were a major component of a $630.5 million fund-raising success, which at the time was the largest amount any university had ever raised in a single campaign. And its $100 million gift to the Campaign for Washington University in 1997 contributed to the success of that $1.55 billion initiative, which was concluded in 2004.
When the gift to the most recent campaign was announced, Bill Danforth said, “It is our belief that Washington University best serves St. Louis by being a world-class university, by attracting outstanding students and faculty to St. Louis, and by deepening understanding of the problems, solutions and opportunities of society.”