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1894 Biography of Henry W. Sage (1814-1897)
Two historical documents written by "John H. Selkreg."

Source: Reproduced with permission of Janet M. Nash, Tompkins County, New York, NYGenWeb Site (October 2003).

Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

The Honorable Henry W. Sage

The Honorable Henry W. SAGE was born in Middletown, Conn., January 31, 1814. He is a descendant of David SAGE, a native of Wales, who settled in Middletown as early as 1652. His father, Mr. Charles SAGE, married Miss Sally WILLIAMS, a sister of the Hon. J. B. WILLIAMS, of Ithaca. Henry W. SAGE was the oldest child. His early boyhood was passed in Bristol, Conn., until his father moved westward in 1827, with the early tide of emigration, and settled in Ithaca.

In early years he learned the lesson which so many eminent Americans have had to acquire-that of self-support and self-dependence. This discipline of sacrifice and of arduous toil was one of his earliest acquisitions. It had been the ardent wish of the boy to enter Yale College, but the removal of the family to this State interrupted this plan. Even in Ithaca his desire for a profession did not forsake him, and he began the study of medicine, which, however, he was forced by ill-health to abandon, and in the year 1832 he entered the employ of his uncles, Williams & Brothers, men of great energy and probity, who were merchants and large shipping agents, owning lines of transportation which traversed the lakes of Central New York, connecting, by means of the Erie canal and the Hudson river, with the trade of the metropolis. Mr. SAGE's energy and business sagacity were soon manifested, and his enterprise enlarged the sphere of his activity. Five years later he became proprietor of the business. He early foresaw the rising importance of the West, and became interested in the vast forests of Canada and of Michigan.

In 1854 he purchased a large tract of timber land around Lake Simcoe, in Canada, where he manufactured lumber on a large scale. He engaged, soon after, in business with Mr. John MCGRAW, and erected in Winona, Mich. (Wenona, MI), a manufactory which, at that time, was regarded as the largest in the world. When comparatively a young man, during the memorable campaign of 1847, he was elected upon the Whig ticket to the legislature.

In 1857 he removed to Brooklyn, where he resided until 1880. Here his great ability, and above all, the marked force of his character, made him at once one of the most prominent citizens. He was the friend of the Rev. Henry Ward BEECHER, and the great preacher, in all his difficulties, rested upon no heart with more intimate and tender affection than upon that of his parishioner, Mr. Henry W. SAGE.

In 1870 Mr. SAGE was elected trustee of the university, and since 1875 he has been president of the Board of Trustees. As a youth he wandered over the hills of this, his early home, and rejoiced in the beautiful views of lake and valley, and he saw in the new university an opportunity to realize a purpose, which he had deeply cherished, to promote the higher education of woman. Even when residing at a distance, he had given generously the endowment which formed the Sage foundation for the education of women and erected the Sage chapel, which his son, Mr. Dean SAGE, in noble enthusiasm for his father's purpose, endowed, thus securing to the university the valuable courses of sermons which have been delivered for twenty years in the University Chapel, and which will constitute a permanent fund for the promotion of the religious and moral life of the university. It is evident from this that Mr. SAGE is a man of lofty personal faith, who has the courage to follow his convictions wherever they lead. His faith in the education of woman, and in the future which is before her, was a part of his being, in advance of the leading thinkers of this country.

Even amid the exacting demands of business he was an earnest student, and nights of laborious reading followed days of exhausting work. He was interested in modern speculation, and in the bearing of scientific truth upon the profound questions of human life an destiny. He read also upon economical questions. Literature, science and art have always interested him. Work difficult for one less strong has always appeared easy for him. He has never seemed weary when there is work to be done; and he turns with apparently fresh strength to any new subject of interest, demanding his attention. He is only weary in case of enforced rest. Promptness and almost inexhaustible energy have characterized his life.

In 1880, Mr. SAGE removed to Ithaca, and from this time his life is closely identified with the history of the university. However great his gifts, his noble personality has been his greatest gift to the life of the university. It is not too much to say that services extending over nearly a quarter of a century have made him, to all who shall review this later period, the central figure in its history. Mr. CORNELL's magnificent plan, conceived in so large a spirit of personal sacrifice, and maintained with so much tenacity, had not as yet been realized. Indeed, a scheme which had involved so much labor, and which had been pursued for fifteen years with so much devotion, was on the point of failure after the death of Mr. CORNELL. The university had retained the national lands, and paid every year an enormous sum, thus imposing a tax upon its income beyond what it was in its power to sustain. The struggle at last seemed hopeless to the trustees, who had been faithful so long. An offer came to dispose of the balance of the western lands in Wisconsin, consisting of about five hundred thousand acres, for one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The syndicate, which proposed to make this purchase, was unable to make the initial payment, and it was even proposed to sell the vast interest of the university for one million dollars. At this time Mr. SAGE's influence was thrown decisively into the scale to preserve these lands. He maintained that their immediate value was at least three million dollars, and that, by retaining possession of them, and by judicious disposal, even a larger sum might be realized. This decisive action in a decisive moment saved the future of the university, and rescued it from perpetual limitation in its means and scope, and made it possible for it to become one of the representative universities of the land. The results of this policy were embodied in a report of the Land Committee, presented to the Executive committee on October 30, 1889.

"During the year, a sale of timber land amounting to one hundred and sixty-eight thousand two hundred and three dollars was reported. The previous sales, up to August 1, 1888, had realized four million nine hundred and twenty thousand seven hundred and forty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents. One hundred and sixty-two thousand six hundred and sixty-one acres were still unsold, whose estimated value was one million two hundred and sixty-seven thousand three hundred and twenty-three dollars and eighty-six cents, which, added to the previous sales, made a total of six million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand and seventy-one dollars and sixty-one cents."

The committee added:

"Whatever results may be the outcome of present complications, the university is now established upon an enduring basis. We cannot know how almost wholly we have been indebted to the wisdom and statesmanship of Ezra CORNELL, in his arrangements with the State, to let him sell five hundred and twelve thousand acres of land, without admiration and gratitude for the breadth and solidity of the financial basis he laid for us. His undertaking was to carry the land twenty years, from August 4, 1866, to August 4, 1886, and within that time to sell and return all proceeds, less his actual expenses, to the treasurer of the State. He hoped at that time to create about two and one-quarter millions for the benefit of the university. He died in 1874, after expending five hundred and seventy-six thousand nine hundred and fifty-three dollars of his own cash to carry the land; after which it was carried by the university to June, 1881-in all nearly fifteen years, at a further cost of four hundred and eighteen thousand three hundred dollars, making, in all, a cost of nine hundred and ninety-five thousand two hundred and fifty-three dollars, and the total outcome to that date was less by three thousand three hundred and one dollars and sixty-nine cents than the actual cost of carrying it. It was a most discouraging labor, and seemed for a time to be utterly hopeless. The university was at that time very poor. Professors were paid two thousand dollars per year, and the trustees could not pay even these beggarly salaries without creating a large debt. At one time one hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars of such debt was paid from their pockets. Nearly all the available funds were in the land grant. Had any offered a million for it at that time, a majority vote of the trustees would probably have sold it. We had by actual count three hundred and twenty students. The prospect ahead was dark enough, but our dark days were nearly over. In August, 1881, we sold four hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of land at one sale, and by August 1, 1886-three days before the twenty years expired-our total sales were three million eight hundred and eighty-one thousand seven hundred and sixty-four dollars and nineteen cents, far in excess of Mr. CORNELL's wildest dream; and to August 1, 1889, the total sales, added to th4 value of land yet unsold, are six million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand and seventy-one dollars and sixty-one cents. We have had since August, 1881, three million nine hundred and twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and ninety-six dollars and forty-four cents in solid cash, or its equivalent in productive securities, poured into our treasury. All this in eight years! What wonder that we have felt the impulse of such prosperity, that we have had power to increase the pay of our professors as well as their numbers, and ability to build houses, to increase equipments, and thus, by wise use of all, and by deserving it, to command public patronage? We have secured large gifts from others in buildings and in endowments; but to whom, above all others, do we owe the largest debt of love and gratitude for our present and prospective prosperity? To Ezra CORNELL, now sleeping peacefully in yonder Chapel. To his purpose of faith and hope, and, under God, to the officers and faculty of the university, working to establish what he so grandly founded."

This is an incomparable exhibition of sagacity and lofty devotion to the university; and above the material advantage, is that most beautiful and imperishable element which glorifies human life-the love, the sacrifice, the patient devotion of the benefactors-an invisible but immortal gift to the university.

Mr. SAGE's personal gifts have shown a wise purpose to aid the university when gifts were most needed and would serve it best. In addition to the Sage College, the Sage Chapel, and the endowment of the Sage School of Philosophy, the latter at an expense of more than a quarter of a million of dollars, Mr. SAGE has given for the Library and its endowment five hundred and sixty thousand dollars, besides the cost of a residence upon the university grounds for the incumbent of the chair of philosophy, and a gift of eight thousand dollars for the Archaeological Museum. Mr. SAGE is not simply a man of affairs, demanding as they do business gifts of a high order. He has not worked for mere acquisition, although valuing independence and the means of enlarged activity which wealth affords. There has been nothing in his life to withdraw him from sympathy with men, but every thing to give him an interest in all the struggles which form character and constitute manhood. One of his guiding thoughts is not to take from young men the incentive to labor, but through labor, whether of the hands or of the head, to develop their powers. With him work is honorable, essential to manhood, and he has a vigorous scorn of selfish indulgence. He would say: "Let every young man take life as he finds it, and make the most of it," and his own example shows that the field of such a one will expand with his proved powers. One principle has guided his personal life-adherence to justice and honor. That wretched subterfuge, by which men substitute mere expediency for justice and honor, he is incapable of. Mere temporizing when a matter of principle is involved, to secure by shift or device some substitute for just and generous action, is foreign to his nature. The opportunity of service has always imposed an imperative claim upon him. He has faith in the right, which will always prove to have been the wisest in the end. He has placed before himself as the crowning purpose of his life to contribute to the growth of this university. No one has grasped its future with a clearer comprehension of its needs than he. The debt of the university to him cannot be estimated, and is not embraced in his munificent gifts. His foresight in the wise administration of the university lands, in which his advice has fortunately been controlling, has made it possible to realize the large returns which formed a part of Mr. CORNELL's dream. Mr. SAGE has that grasp of principles which makes his judgment instantaneous and almost unerring. His friendship has been freely accorded to all members of the university, and his generous recognition and interest will be inseparably associated with his memory. His services are not surpassed in the long line of its illustrious benefactors.

On January 31, 1894, the university celebrated the eightieth birthday of the Honorable Henry W. SAGE. Upon this day the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Mr. SAGE's latest gift to the university, was dedicated. The semi-annual meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at this time, and most of the members were present. The trustees and faculty met in Mr. SAGE's house to express their gratitude, and extend their congratulations upon this occasion. The celebration was not confined to the university. Mr. SAGE's benefactions had been recognized as a gift to the nation, and the most eminent of the land joined in expressing their recognition of his distinguished services to the State. President CLEVELAND wrote from the White House: "As a friend of Cornell, deeply interested in all that relates to its history and future prosperity, I desire to thank you for your long devotion to her welfare, and for the aid you have thus rendered to practical and useful education. I am sure that the testimonial which will assure you that your worth and generous work is appreciated, will be accompanied by the sincere wish of many hearts: that you may be long spared to enjoy the comfort and satisfaction which attend generous deeds." Governor Roswell P. FLOWER telegraphed his regret at his inability to be present, and said: "Cornell has been fortunate in having interested in her welfare one whose gifts have made him one of the most generous patrons of education in America, and whose sound advice and constant watchfulness have also been invaluable in guiding the progress of this powerful institution. Few lives of four score years have been so busy in good works as that of Henry W. SAGE, and not only Cornell, but the State of New York must feel proud that such a man has lived among us and has devoted so generously his wealth and time to a noble purpose. The monuments which his love and munificence have built at Cornell will perpetuate his honored name forever." An address was also presented from the faculty beautifully engrossed [sic] and signed by every member, expressing their personal gratitude to Mr. SAGE, not simply as an official with whom they had been related, but as a friend to whom they felt a personal indebtedness. This address contained a beautiful estimate of Mr. SAGE's services in behalf of the university. It read as follows:


Your friends who subscribe this paper have a feeling that the day which marks the beginning of the ninth decade of your life should not pass without some expression of the honor and regard they cherish for you. Not unmindful that an austere sense of duty inclines you to shrink from public or private eulogy, they are also mindful that a too delicate hesitation on their part may permit a golden opportunity to escape them. The prudence which would silence the voice of generous feeling, and would let pass the moment of the utterance of a just gratitude, would indeed be excessive. Suffer us, then, to recall the past. Fourteen years ago you surrendered your home in a great city, and the large sphere of usefulness there open to you, to dwell among us. Prescient of the future and the demands upon your toil, solicitude and financial resources, you came upon the scene when the university we love sorely needed a generous heart, a wise mind, and a liberal hand. The great work of the founder and the first president seemed in peril of arrest and decline. A chivalric faith and courage, and a liberality without stint, were the only hope; and Providence inspired you to address yourself to the noble work of conserving, fostering and enlarging the foundation of learning which illustrious men had begun. Your life from the first has been one of noble purpose, and that purpose has had a logical development. Amidst the ceaseless activities of a business career, your thoughts ever turned toward the promotion of the welfare of your country. To you the culture of the young in institutions of learning seemed the safest and most ennobling charity, the most enduring means of promoting patriotism, civic virtue and true, intelligent religion. Your sympathy from the first has been manifest for letters, arts and sciences as related by a common bond, as divine instruments of human progress and welfare. If Cicero could say that nature without education has oftener raised men to glory and virtue than education without natural abilities, you, on the contrary, have held fast the faith in the necessity and advantages of education for all mankind, to strengthen abilities however weak, to afford the young persons of native strength of mind a guidance in the way of the noblest aspiration.

You are fortunate to live to see the results of your sacrifice. You can enjoy now the serenity of retrospection. You have witnessed the achievements of women in letters, philosophy and science, and the women of America will never cease to regard you as one of their earliest benefactors. Structures founded by your hand, and by that of your noble consort who too soon left us, rise about us. Sage Hall, the Chapel, the great Library, the Museum of Classic Arts, the School of Philosophy, attest your beneficence and wisdom. These are enduring monuments, and will perpetuate human gratitude. But you will receive a still greater reward. Long after you, together with us, shall have passed from earth, the impulse you have given to the culture of man will endure; its vibrations will never cease. Generations of the young shall pass from these university halls in endless succession, who will honor your memory, be inspired to noble living by your example, and thus help to perpetuate the existence and the welfare of the republic you have loved so well.

We affectionately salute you on this, the eightieth anniversary, thankful that such vigor of mind and body is still yours; that your wisdom is still at the service of the university in its councils of administration, and that we may hope for you still other years of well-earned rest and human gratitude. "The end of doubt is the beginning of repose." The solid base of your work here cannot be disturbed. That your remaining years may be full of sunshine and peace, that your hopeful presages of the future of Cornell may "with the process of the suns" be unceasingly realized by those who shall come after us, and that you may return late to the skies, is our earnest prayer.

An address was also presented from members of the senior class, expressing the gratitude and affection of the entire student body for devoted services, invaluable counsel and generous benefactions.

In behalf of the trustees the Hon. Stewart L. WOODFORD in a few simple but deeply felt words, recalling the events of the twenty-five years in which he had been connected with the board, presented to Mr. SAGE, as a gift from the former and present trustees, a vase of solid silver. Upon one side, a draped female figure with arms half raised and with a basket at her feet shows that she represents generosity. Carved upon the vase are pictures of the buildings which Mr. SAGE has given to the university-the Sage College for Women, the Chapel, and the University Library-while a Greek porch, partly concealed by a scroll, was designed to symbolize the munificent endowment of the School of Philosophy. Around the neck of the vase are the words: "On earth there is nothing great but man, in man there is nothing great but mind;" while upon a hand below, just above the base, stands: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men." The inscription upon the base was as follows: "Presented to the Honorable Henry W. SAGE on his eightieth birthday, January 31, 1894, by former and present trustees of Cornell University, over whom as chairman of the board he has presided for nearly twenty years, as a mark of their esteem and affection for the man, and of their grateful appreciation of the devoted love, the wise and zealous services and the munificent gifts which he has bestowed upon the university." The decorations, composed of oak and ivy, symbolized the strength and tenderness, which are elements of Mr. SAGE's character. Mr. SAGE's language in accepting this gift was significant. In the few words which he uttered he expressed his appreciation of the love and kindness of his friends, and paid a lofty tribute to the learning and devotion of the faculty, whose worth he had come to know and prize from an association of so many years. A second tribute, to the devotion of his coworkers among the trustees, and an expression of his love for the university to which his life has been devoted, concluded his remarks.

  • Transcribed into digital format by Virginia Peterson

    Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

    by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

    pp. 1-9

    It is extremely difficult within the limits at our disposal in this work to give a just and fair biography of a man who, reaching success by untiring industry and force of character, rounds out his life with benefactions so judiciously chosen, so munificent, and looking to such practical results as those selected by the subject of this sketch. No man in America from youth to age has by his career better illustrated the genius of our institutions, or whose endowments have been on so liberal a scale as not only to attract attention, but to command admiration for their wisdom and far-reaching results.

    The early life of Henry W. SAGE was like the life of thousands of American youth who by their efforts have reached competence and distinction, and who by individual personality finally stood in the front rank of those building up and controlling great and successful enterprises. But no one within the author’s line of research can be shown to have contributed so largely of his wealth and thrown into the management of any great educational institution the unselfish and absorbing interest which Mr. Sage has devoted to Cornell University. From the date of Mr. Cornell’s death Mr. Sage has been chairman of the Board of Trustees and has taken no inconsiderable share of the burden of oversight in Cornell University affairs. With President WHITE and later with President ADAMS, and an able and industrious Board of Trustees, he has been faithful and assiduous in building up and completing the purposes of Mr. CORNELL.

    From a carefully prepared and exhaustive sketch of Mr. Sage and his benefactions, published in the Troy Times of a recent date, we make copious extracts. The author of the sketch referred to had access to many sources of information not heretofore obtainable by the public, and his statements are entirely authoritative in character:

    "Strong character is portrayed in every line of the face which looks out from the pages of the Troy Times as the portrait of Henry W. Sage. And a strong character in every sense of the term is what Hon. Henry W. Sage possesses. He also has a kindly nature and a mind filled with lofty ideas of usefulness to his fellow-men. With such a combination of mental and moral qualities it is not surprising that Mr. Sage has mad a record for practical munificence hardly surpassed in the annals of American benevolence. His works do praise him, and they have been those which enlisted not only his well-disciplined business faculties, but his heart and soul as well, in short, labors of love, the achievements of one in whom abounds the milk of human kindness. In writing of such a man the best tribute that can be paid him is to enumerate the deeds which make his name illustrious. Fulsome praise or high-sounding eulogy would be out of place, as it would be distasteful to the man. But facts speak for themselves and the facts of Henry W. Sage’s career make up a sum of good accomplished that places his name high up on the roll of those who have made the world better for living in it.

    "Mr. Sage’s early life was similar in its experiences to that of the large class of self-made, self-reliant men who form such a distinct type of American citizenship. He was born at Middletown, Conn., January 31, 1814, and lived at Bristol, Conn. Until 1821, when his family removed to Ithaca, N.Y. It had been his desire to enter Yale College, and he pursued a course of study with that end in view. But a change of plan was necessitated by the removal to this State, and it may be said to have involved the fortunes of the great educational institution which afterward became to him the object of so much affection and liberality. In Ithaca Mr. Sage also began the study of medicine, but ill health forced him to abandon it, and in 1832 he entered the employ of his uncles, Williams & Brothers, becoming a clerk in their extensive merchandise, produce and transportation establishment. Here he developed the business capacity that has marked his whole life since, and in 1837 he succeeded to his uncles’ business and later enlarged it to far greater proportions. He established a large manufactory on Lake Simcoe, Canada, in 1854, and a few years later with John MCGRAW, built another at Wenona, Mich., at that time the largest in the world. He also purchased timber lands in Michigan and elsewhere until he held altogether over 500,000 acres and ranked as the largest land-owner in the State. All these vast business interests were managed with a vigor and intelligence that assured the greatest success and pushed Mr. Sage forward until he stood in the front rank of the noble guild of the princes of trade.

    "Mr. Sage was the steadfast ally and lifelong friend of the late Ezra Cornell, and from the inception of that great philanthropist’s plan for a university at Ithaca, his trusted confidant and sympathetic adviser. At the first commencement of the university the proposition was made by him to Mr. Cornell and President Andrew D. White that ‘Cornell University should provide and forever maintain facilities for the education of women as broadly as for men.’ The way to carry the suggestion into effect was not immediately opened, but a few years later the building and endowment of Sage College amply attested the sincerity and generosity of this noble-hearted friend of education. After the death of Ezra Cornell, Mr. Sage was elected president of the Board of Trustees of the university, which position he has held continuously ever since.

    "While Mr. Sage is so conspicuously associated with Ithaca, its business interests and the university of which it is the seat, he has not held an unbroken residence since he located there in boyhood. From 1837 to 1880 he lived in Brooklyn, where he was a member and one of the trustees of Plymouth Church and intimately identified with the social, commercial and religious life of the city. But he never for a moment relinquished his interest in the university that had so large a place in his heart, and when he returned to make his home in Ithaca it was doubtless with the well-defined intention to dedicate his life to the work in which he has since shown such zeal. In truth, he may be considered the guiding spirit of Cornell University and the one man to whom, next to its founder and its first president, Andrew D. White, it owes its present success and usefulness. He has been its bountiful benefactor, its steadfast, generous friend, its ready helper, when wise counsel, judicious business management and contributions of ready money were in demand.

    "As is well known, Cornell University was founded in the expectation of receiving the benefits of the land grant voted by Congress in 1862. In 1881 the university was in sore straits, needing a large sum of money which was not forthcoming from any other source within reach. Accordingly the trustees determined to sell the land, consisting practically of about 500,000 acres in Wisconsin. They had an offer of $1,250,000 for the property, but the proposing purchaser could not make the first payment, and the trustees would gladly have accepted $1,000.00. But Mr. Sage strenuously objected, basing his opposition on his personal knowledge of the value of pine lands, and the matter was held in abeyance and referred to him for a special report. He prepared an exhaustive statement showing in detail the exact value of the lands, which he estimated were at that time worth more than $2,600,000 at a fair market price. The thorough manner in which the work was done is demonstrated by the fact that he employed experts to go over the ground, estimating the whole in sections of forty acres, a careful report being made of each section and the amount of stumpage, etc. in the whole vast tract. In this minute, painstaking and systematic manner the precise nature and value of the property were established. Mr. Sage’s report to the trustees June 15, 1881, and the recommendations with which it was accompanied were convincing as to the wisdom of retaining possession of the land. The policy as to the care of the property and the sale of such portions of it as they deemed it advisable to dispose of from time to time suggested by Mr. Sage was adopted by the trustees and has been adhered to ever since. That his conclusions were sound is shown by the present value of the land, which is estimated, with that already sold, to be not less than $6,000,000. Thus the adoption of Mr. Sage’s recommendations saved the university a large sum of money. Since 1881 the care of the university lands has been left mostly in his hands as chairman of the land committee. He had personally attended to the selling, and with the assistance of the treasurer of the university, to drawing up papers, making collections and all the details connected with this great estate, and without expense to the university other than the clerk’s compensation. This in the entire twelve years he has carried on ‘a land office business’ for Cornell and it has not cost that institution a single dollar.

    "John McGraw was a warm and personal friend of Mr. Sage for over fifty years, and during a considerable part of that period his partner in extensive lumbering operations in the West. Jennie McGraw, his friend’s daughter, was beloved by Mr. Sage from her earliest childhood. She united with her father in the purpose to give the bulk of the McGraw estate toward the erection and maintenance of a magnificent library for Cornell University. In 1880 Jennie McGraw married Professor D. W. FISKE, a member of the Cornell faculty, and in 1881 she died. After her death came the suit of Fiske, who claimed the whole estate. But the McGraw heirs, claiming that their rights were superior to his, commenced another suit, which resulted in a compromise with Fiske and in the complete success of the contestants, who took over $2,000,000 willed by Jennie McGraw to Cornell university. The Board of Trustees entrusted Mr. Sage and the late Judge BOARDMAN with the sole direction and policy of the suit as representatives of the university’s interests. In September, 1885, Mr. Sage, fearing the decision would be adverse to the university and that he might die before the settlement of the case, added a codicil to his will in which he bound his estate, in the event of the McGraw legacy being set aside, to erect a library building at a cost of $200,000, and also to provide the additional sum of $300,000 as an endowment fund for the maintenance of the library. But the noble benefactor lived to carry out in person this additional scheme of benevolence, and the library building built in 1891, with its endowment, is the enduring testimonial to his munificence. On a tablet near the main entrance of the building is the following inscription: ‘In loving memory of Jennie McGraw Fiske, whose purpose to found a great library for Cornell University has been defeated, this house has been built and endowed by her friend, Henry W. Sage.’ A remarkable exhibition not only of a lofty purpose to do good with his money, but of loyalty to and affection for the memory of those he loved.

    "Mr. Sage long had a strong determination to found a college of ethics and philosophy, and it was his purpose to make it the best and most comprehensive in the land. He suggested that Professor (now President) SCHURMAN visit Europe to study the best methods employed in the various countries as applied to these studies. On his return Professor Schurman presented a report embodying the results of his observations and the recommendations based thereon. To carry into effect the plan suggested would necessitate an endowment of $400,000. At that time Mr. Sage, in addition to other large contributions to the university, had assumed the responsibility of building the library, together with its endowment, representing a total of $500,000 and he felt that the condition of his finances would not warrant him in providing the further sum of $400,000 necessary to found and endow the department of ethics and philosophy. However, his heart was in this work, as in everything else connected with the great institution for which he has done so much, and he was determined to bring about the desired result if possible. Presenting Professor Schurman’s report to the trustees, he proposed to give outright the sum of $200,000 toward the necessary endowment if the university would bind itself to maintain the department according to the plan suggested – equivalent to the university giving annually the interest on $200,000 for this purpose.:

    In a letter addressed to the trustees of Cornell University, dated October 20, 1890 Mr. Sage, referring to his endowment of the Susan E. Linn Sage chair of Christian Ethics and Philosophy, amounting with costs of a house for the permanent use of its occupant to $61,000, offered to endow the Susan E. Linn Sage School of Ethics and Philosophy in the sum of $200,000 provided the university bound itself to forever maintain the department upon the basis proposed, which would practically demand the interest on $400,000. As Mr. Sage expressed it, ‘With these conditions assented to by a proper resolution of this board, and other proper legal obligations, I propose to add to my former endowment $200,000, payable in cash, or approved securities, October 1, 1891, to enlarge the basis of the Susan E. Linn Sage foundation and establish the Susan E. Linn Sage School of Philosophy.’ After presenting an outline of the plan suggested, Mr. Sage added: ‘I will now discuss briefly the question. Should you accept this proposition? Can Cornell University afford the department of ethics and philosophy at the cost of so large an annual draft upon its general fund ($87,500)? Is the purpose to be accomplished by and through it worthy in itself; will it add value and dignity to our processes of education equal to its cost? Heretofore Cornell has done little at her own proper cost to uplift the moral and religious elements of her students.

    "’True, we have had this department of ethics several years, we have had the chapel and its preachership eighteen years, but these have been carried with very little expenditure from the funds of the university. We have done much, very much, for the foundations in science, in technical work, in agriculture, the classics and modern languages, in history and economic studies, in ornamentation of our campus and noble buildings for all purposes. But for the top work of man’s structure and development, the crown of his character and achievement through his moral and religious nature little, very little!

    "’Our function here is to educate men, and, through education, to provide the foundations of character based on moral principles which shall underlie the whole man and give impulse, tone and color to all the work of his life. We cannot do that without facilities for cultivating and developing every side of his nature. Increase of knowledge, addressed solely to the intellect, does not produce fully rounded men. Quite too often it makes stronger and more dangerous animals, leaving moral qualities dormant and the whole power of cultivated intellect the servant of man’s selfish and animal nature.

    "’No education can be complete which does not carry forward with the acquisition of knowledge for its intellectual side and physical wants a broad and thorough cultivation of his moral and religious side. Developing Christian virtues, veneration, benevolence, conscience, a sense of duty to God and man, purity and right living in the largest sense. In short, wise and broad education should and will ally man’s intellect to his moral and religious character more completely than to his animal nature, and from this alliance results all the real dignity there is in mankind, making moral and intellectual qualities regnant, all others subject!

    "’I am so fully impressed with the vital importance of this subject and the purpose of the proposed gift that as a trustee of Cornell University (with greater love for its policies and functions than I can express) I think you can afford to accept this gift with its attendant liabilities and that you cannot afford to decline it.

    "’It is my free and voluntary offering for a purpose the highest, the noblest and best ever promoted by this noble university.’

    "This generous proposition was accepted by the trustees without a dissenting vote.

    "The above recital of some of Mr. Sage’s characteristic acts indicates the generosity of his nature. Below appears a list of his chief gifts to the university which has so large a share of his affections:
    Sage College for Women with endowment fund, 1873 .............................. $266,000
    Sage Chapel, 1873.............................................................. 30,000
    Contribution toward extinguishment of a floating indebtedness, 1881............ 30,000
    House of Sage professor of philosophy, 1886.................................... 11,000
    Susan E. Linn Sage chair of philosophy, 1886................................... 50,000
    Susan E. Linn School of Philosophy, 1891 ...................................... 200,000
    University Library building, 1891 ............................................. 200,000
    University Library endowment, 1891............................................. 300,000
    Casts for Archaeological Museum, 1891.......................................... 8,000

    "Besides these gifts to Cornell University Mr. Sage has presented West Bay City, Mich. With a library which cost $50,000.

    "Mr. Sage’s munificent donations, it will be observed by reading this list of benefactions, is in the line of aids to the education of the moral side of men and women. Mr. Sage regards these acts with the utmost satisfaction as effective agencies in carrying out the dearest wish of his heart – the promotion of the moral improvement of mankind.

    "All this has been heartwork with Mr. Sage and expressed the predominating tendencies of his nature. It had much of its inspiration no doubt in the sweet companionship and tender memories of his lamented wife, Susan E. Linn Sage. She was of a most lovely Christian character, whose influence for good was felt and recognized by every one who knew her intimately. A lovely and lovable woman, steadfast in friendship, devoted to the right, her life filled with deeds of true charity, she won the unbounded affection and esteem of all privileged to enter the circle of her acquaintance. When some years ago she lost her life in a runaway accident, the calamity brought a shock to all her friends, and a deep sense of personal bereavement that generated for Mr. Sage a sympathy so genuine and profound that all his acquaintances might be said to have shared his great sorrow.

    "Mr. Sage in a recent conversation declared there would always be a tender feeling in his heart for the university chapel to which he could not give expression. It was the original design, though this is not generally known, to have a small chapel in one of the wings of Sage College. One evening Mrs. Sage, after looking over the plans for the proposed college, an enterprise close to her heart and thoughts at that time, remarked to her husband, ‘Henry, is that small chapel to be the only place provided for the worship of God for the young men and women of Cornell University?’ This question dwelt in the mind of Mr. Sage after he had retired; and the next morning after breakfast he announced to his wife that he was determined to provide other and better facilities for religious worship. Soon afterward at Ithaca he called upon President White and offered to give $30,000 toward the erection of a university chapel. Within half an hour the site was decided upon and later his son, Dean Sage of Albany, endowed the chapel in the sum of $30,000 to provide for the cost of bringing the best theological talent of all denominations to preach there. ‘Heart history,’ remarked Mr. Sage, ‘can be clearly seen in all that I have ever done for Cornell University,’ and the facts we have enumerated amply substantiate the declaration.

    "Two short extracts from the address of Mr. Sage at the laying of the corner-stone of Sage College, May 15, 1873, will make an appropriate conclusion to this sketch of his work for education. They voice the noblest sentiments and are a key to the character of the man who uttered them:

    ";It has been wisely said that "who educates a woman educates a generation,” and the structure which is to be erected over this corner-stone will be especially devoted to the education of women, and will carry with it a pledge of all the power and resources of Cornell University to "provide for and forever maintain facilities for the education of women as broadly as for men.” This may be truly said to mark a new era in the history of education; for, although the education of women with men has been heretofore practically conducted, notably at Oberlin, Ohio, for many years, and at Ann Arbor, Mich. For three years past, this is the first university in this country, if not in the world, which has at the same time bodily recognized the rights of woman as well as man to all the education she will ask, and pledged itself to the policy and duty of maintaining equal facilities for both. It is, then, no small matter of congratulation that this university, a State institution, endowed by our general government with a princely gift of lands and by Ezra Cornell, its founder, with his own fortune, and more than that, with his own great, earnest heart and zealous love for man, is fairly committed to the education and elevation of woman, and that henceforth the structures now standing here, and those which shall hereafter be added to them, are to be used forever for the education of woman with man, to whom God gave her as a helpmeet, and as the mother and chief educator of his race.

    "’Brief reference to some of the ideas and motives which underlie this offering of a university education to the women of America is enough for the hour. When this structure shall be completed and ready for its uses, let us look upward and forward for results. And if woman be true to herself, if man be true to woman, and both be true to God, there ought to be from the work inaugurated here this day an outflow which shall bless and elevate all mankind!’

    "The corner-stone was then laid by Mrs. Sage with the following words:
    "’I lay this corner-stone, in faith
    That structure fair and good
    Shall from it rise and thenceforth come
    True Christian womanhood’

    "And the history of the university, having recently celebrated its ‘silver anniversary,’ proves how well was laid the foundation and how wisely its managers, with Henry W. Sage chief among them, have built the superstructure."

  • Names Referenced
    Beecher, Henry W. (Rev.)
    Boardman, (Judge)
    Cleveland, (President)
    Cornell, Ezra
    Fiske, D.W.
    Flower, Roswell P. (Gov.)
    McGraw, Jennie
    McGraw, John
    Sage, Charles
    Sage, David
    Sage, Dean
    Sage, Susan E. (Linn)
    Silkreg, John H.
    White, Andrew D.
    Williams, J.B.
    Williams, Sally
    Woodford, Stewart L.
    Subjects Referenced
    Albany, NY
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Archaelological Museum
    Bristol, CT
    Brooklyn, NY
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, NY
    Mason & Co.
    Middletown, CT
    New York
    Oberlin, OH
    Plymouth Church
    Sage Chapel
    Sage College
    Sage Foundation
    Sage School of Philosophy
    Simcoe, Canada
    Troy Times
    University chapel
    Wenona, MI
    West Bay City, MI
    Whig ticket
    Williams & Brothers
    Yale College
    Internet Resources
  • Tompkins Co. Landmarks
    Brief biography of John McGraw.
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