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If not for Elizabeth Miller Watkins, the University of Kansas and the city of Lawrence would be very different today.
Watkins is one of the most magnanimous donors the university has ever had.
Her gifts for the benefit of the university are worth more than $32.5 million today. To celebrate the sesquicentennial of her birth, KU Endowment is coordinating with area organizations by hosting a series of events in her honor in April. The city of Lawrence has declared April 16-23 as Elizabeth Miller Watkins Week.
Her gifts to KU include 23,000 acres of Kansas farmland (still managed today); her home, the “Outlook,” (used as the chancellor’s residence); two scholarship halls for women; and Watkins Memorial Health Center. She also funded the original building for Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
“Elizabeth Watkins’ generosity has had a profound, lasting legacy at KU,” said Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment. “Her impact can been seen throughout the university. Her gift of farmland alone has enabled KU Endowment to support academic programs and fund student scholarships for many generations.”
Watkins was born on Jan. 21, 1861, and died on June 1, 1939. In honor of her 150th birthday year, several events are planned, all of which are open to the public.
April 16 — A new play, “Elizabeth, Betsy and Bess: A Conversation with Elizabeth Watkins,” chronicles the life of Watkins. Sponsored by KU Endowment’s Women Philanthropists for KU, the play begins at 2 p.m. at Swarthout Recital Hall in Murphy Hall. It is free and open to the public. Ronald Willis, professor emeritus of theatre, researched and wrote the 30-minute play. Jack Wright, professor of theatre, is directing the play’s cast of three — KU students Maggie Parker and Shannon Buhler and Gail Trottier, theatre staff member.
April 17 — The women’s scholarship halls built by Watkins invite the halls’ alumnae to return for their annual spring teas. Watkins Scholarship Hall’s tea will be at 1 p.m. and Miller Scholarship Hall’s tea is set for 2 p.m.
April 18-23 — Watkins Memorial Health Center will collect contributions from students in honor of Watkins’ legacy of giving. Donations will support the Roy and Pat McClain Good Samaritan Fund, which provides emergency aid for needy students, as well as maintenance of Danforth Chapel. The center also will have a display of Watkins’ support for health services.
April 19 — KU Endowment is serving cookies in Watkins’ honor from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or until all cookies are distributed, at the Kansas Union.
April 20 — Lawrence Memorial Hospital will serve a birthday cake in her honor at the hospital’s atrium, immediately following their Board of Trustees meeting.
April 21 — Douglas County Historical Society and Watkins Community Museum of History invite the public to a conversation about Watkins, led by historian Mary Burchill. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. at the museum, 1047 Massachusetts St.
April 26 — Each year, KU Endowment celebrates Watkins’ birthday at the Watkins Society Luncheon. The Watkins Society recognizes individuals who have developed an estate plan or other deferred gift arrangement with KU Endowment. This year, the event will be at noon at KU Medical Center.