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A Tribute to TC's Founding Families

Published: 3/12/2013


Founding Families

Current-day members of five of the families that founded many of New York's institutions - the Vanderbilts, the Macys, the Milbanks, the Rockefellers and the Dodges.

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    Here's to History Repeating Itself

    Old artifacts and past glories were only half the story this past Monday evening at an opening night bash to launch "Teachers College: Pioneering Education through Innovation," a month-long exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

At the New York Historical Society, history comes alive as modern-day Dodges and others take to the stage
When TC founder Grace Dodge asked George Vanderbilt to support TC’s first library, the scion of the railroad and shipping dynasty urged her to instead “find the brains to develop the work, place it on a strong footing and teach people how to use the school’s library.” He wrote a check for $10,000, with which Dodge hired Nicholas Murray Butler as the College’s first president. Vanderbilt subsequently purchased 20 lots on 120th Street for $100,000 and donated it to the college in 1892.

“And the rest, as they say, is history.”

With that story, told at the opening night launch of an exhibit about Teachers College at the New York Historical Society, TC President Fuhrman began a moving tribute to the five families that laid the early groundwork for TC and many other among New York City’s most enduring cultural institutions. Summoning the modern-day representatives of each family to the stage, Fuhrman told stories of how their forebears had made seminal contributions to the College.

TC Trustee V. Everit Macy and his wife, Edith Carpenter Macy, gave TC $350,000 to fund the construction of the new Horace Mann School Building , which opened in 1901. Carolyn Macy, Everit’s mother, also built the Macy Manual Arts Building, prompting the New York Times to write that “New York City can now claim to have the finest-equipped manual training school in the United States.”

In 1896, Trustee Joseph Milbank honored his parents by funding the construction of Milbank Memorial Hall, which completed the original quadrangle of the TC campus. At the dedication ceremony, he said that “in completing the facilities of Teachers College, I have accomplished the greatest good open to me.”  Milbank also prevailed on his fellow Trustees to join him in building TC’s first dormitory, Whittier Hall, which opened in 1901.

Trustee John D. Rockefeller gave the College $500,000 in 1902 for its endowment, but with two conditions: that TC commit to paying off its debt, and that trustees and other donors match his gift. “Rockefeller’s gift to TC, I am proud to note, was the second largest he made to an academic institution, exceeded only by his support of the University of Chicago,” Fuhrman told her listeners. She saluted the current Rockefeller family members who work closely with the College today: Trustee Abby O’Neill and alumna and President’s Advisory Council member Valerie Rockefeller Wayne.

Finally, in response to Fuhrman’s invitation to “members of the first family of Teachers College, the Dodge family, to step forward,” TC Board of Trustees Co-Chair William Dodge Rueckert and his wife, Fleur, came up on stage. They listened as Fuhrman described Grace Dodge as “the College’s guiding spirit through its formative years… supreme benefactor, creative business maven, tireless fundraiser and promoter, shrewd negotiator, skilled peacemaker who forged harmony among many competing factions.” Above all, Fuhrman said, Dodge had “the gift for bringing the right people together at the right time to achieve great things. Quite simply Teachers College would not exist without Grace Hoadley Dodge.”

Averring that “our founding families would be so proud to see what’s become of the College they started,” Fuhrman then turned to Rueckert and thanked him for carrying on “the Dodge family tradition of unwavering support, guidance and leadership.

“Bill and Fleur,” Fuhrman said, to loud applause, “we hope there will always be a member of the Dodge family to serve as a guiding light for Teachers College.”