Few people can walk across the Case Western Reserve University campus without being touched by the legacy of one of Cleveland's great philanthropists of the 19th century—Flora Stone Mather.
Flora Stone Mather (1852-1909) was a typical woman of her times. She strove to be a good daughter, sister, wife and mother. What set her apart in these roles from other women was her inheritance from the earnings of Amasa Stone, her father, who had accrued his wealth from investments in railroads and bridge building. The Stone parents raised their daughter with a conscience to distribute it wisely on the church, education and community's needs.
This woman, who writes in personal letters that she was committed to her work with an energy to be everywhere for everyone, is the subject of the newly published and illustrated biography, Flora Stone Mather, Daughter of Cleveland's Euclid Avenue & Ohio's Western Reserve (Kent State University Press), by Case Western Reserve University's regional historian Gladys Haddad.
The author will give a book talk and signing for Appletree Books. The event takes place Sunday, October 14, at 3 p.m. at Nighttown, 12383 Cedar Road, in Cleveland Heights. Haddad also will sign copies of her new book from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 24, in the Flora Stone Mather Reading Room at the Kelvin Smith Library on campus.
Haddad became acquainted with "Flora," as the historian fondly calls the main subject of her 135-page book, while researching the Samuel Mather family papers at the Western Reserve Historical Society and at Case Western Reserve University for her dissertation, "Social Roles and Advanced Education for Women in Nineteenth Century America: A Study of Three Western Reserve Institutions." Haddad wrote about the coordinate (Western Reserve University), single-sex (Lake Erie Female Seminary and College) and co-education (Oberlin) institutions.
Flora Stone Mather emerged as the woman whose generosity funded a new College for Women. The higher education institution was a coordinate to Adelbert College for Men that had its start with endowments from Flora's father in honor of his son who drowned. The Stone endowment provided resources to move the college from Hudson to Cleveland. Eventually, Adelbert and Flora Stone Mather Colleges of Western Reserve University would merge with Case School of Applied Science to become Case Western Reserve University in 1967.
"I found her to be an inspiring subject and decided then, in 1980, that I would write her biography," said Haddad. Along the way, she presented numerous papers at professional meetings and created three documentaries that focused on Flora's life and the family's philanthropic role in Cleveland.
Haddad dedicated the book to one of those family members; the one she considers the 20th century, modern-day "Flora"—the late Madeleine "Molly" McMillan Offutt, who was Samuel and Flora Stone Mather's great-granddaughter. Over the years, Molly Offutt urged Haddad to write the story of her great grandmother.
Drawing from archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society where family papers and photographs are housed and at Case Western Reserve University where the Stone and Mather family giving is well documented, Haddad researched the philanthropist's life.
While Flora Stone Mather made many grand tours to Europe, she spent the majority of her life engaged in the social life of Euclid Avenue's Millionaire Row society and religious life at the Old Stone Church on Public Square, and later Trinity Cathedral where her husband's family were members.
She would carry on the work of her father in a quiet, modest way refusing repeatedly to have her name on buildings or programs she helped to establish, said Haddad.
Flora attended the Cleveland Academy where Euclid Avenue families sent their daughters to be taught by Linda Thayer Guilford. Eventually this school moved from its downtown site, a few blocks from Public Square, to the University Circle area where it eventually became the Hathaway Brown School. The legacy of the Stones' and Mathers' philanthropy were on this school as well as a new school for young men—University School.
Haddad gives life to the Mather family through the extensive letters that the family wrote each other during the times they were apart for school or travel.
She chronicles the romance between Samuel Mather and Flora Stone that evolved through correspondence while Samuel was away from Cleveland on business for his family's ironworks enterprises throughout the Great Lakes region.
Flora Stone united two leading industrial families on October 19, 1881 when she wed Mather, her childhood friend who lived three doors from the Stones' Euclid Avenue residence. The couple had four children—three boys and a girl.
The Mathers' daughter, Constance, became keeper of the family history and had it preserved at the WRHS for future generations to learn about how this family contributed to the building of Cleveland and some of its major institutions.
At the age of 56, Flora Stone Mather died from breast cancer. Entrusted with her father's money and his wishes for her to spend it where needed throughout her life, Flora Stone Mather bequeathed upon her death gifts to more than 30 institutions.
Haddad said when the Old Stone Church's bells tolled, marking the end of Flora Stone Mather's life, men in board rooms paused or halted business to remember and honor the woman who had forged changes to better their city and had made a difference in the lives of its people.
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