Jane Stanford: Her Values and Impact

Jane Stanford's values

Family and home
Like other women of her generation, Jane viewed family and home as the center of her world. In Sacramento, during her husband's tenure as governor of California, Jane was renowned as a gracious hostess. After becoming a mother, Jane's life centered on the education of her son. Later in life, as the "mother of a university," Jane was deeply concerned with the intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of Stanford students. Historian Roxanne Nilan has suggested that after the death of Leland Stanford Sr., Jane adapted to her new position of power by drawing the university into her "domestic sphere." (See Nilan's 1985 article "The Tenacious and Courageous Jane L. Stanford," published in the Stanford Historical Society's Sandstone and Tile for more on this topic.)
Jane, like her husband, believed in the importance of practical education for both men and women. Both believed that a university education should prepare young men and women to be productive and successful. But Jane's support for education went far beyond the university she and Leland founded in memory of their son. She was a strong supporter of the kindergarten movement, serving as president of the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association. She also promoted Sunday schools and established schools on the Palo Alto Stock Farm for workers and their children.
Jane's strong Christian beliefs sustained her in the difficult years after the deaths of her son and her husband. She spoke often of her belief that she would be reunited with them after death. Jane also cared passionately about the moral development of Stanford students. She considered Memorial Church the heart of the university, and insisted that all services held there be nondenominational.
As a child, Jane was deeply affected by visits to the Albany Orphans' Asylum with her father, who was one of its founders. Many years later, together with her husband Leland, she made her own philanthropic impact by founding Stanford University in memory of her son. During her lifetime she supported the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association, gave control of the Stanford mansion in Sacramento to a Catholic charity, and turned her parents' former home in upstate New York into a shelter for working women and their children. Her will included bequests to a wide range of charitable organizations.
[Archive Photo - Leland, Jane, Leland Jr. circa 1878]

Some current reminders of Jane's impact

Memorial Church
[Photo - Stanford Memorial Church]Jane believed that a church rather than a library should stand at the center of the Main Quadrangle. She commissioned the mosaics for the church's façade and interior from Italy's Salviati & Co. Although the mosaics were largely destroyed in the earthquake of 1906, Salviati workers returned to recreate them.
The Jewel Fund
[Photo - Jane Stanford's Engraved Pocket Watch]Shortly before her death in 1905, Jane instructed the Board of Trustees to sell her jewel collection and establish a fund for purchasing library books. Income from the Jewel Fund continues to support the growth of library collections. Items purchased through the Jewel Fund bear a distinctive book plate. One of Jane's jewels, a pocket watch given to her by her husband, was returned to Stanford in 2005. The watch itself is on exhibit at the Cantor Center for the Arts.
In 1900 Jane established the first student scholarship at Stanford with money from an account that has belonged to her late son. Since tuition was not charged until 1920, this scholarship covered room (recipients lived in the Leland Stanford Jr. Memorial Room in Encina Hall), board, and fees.
Student Life at Stanford
[Archive Photo - Students in the Library circa: pre1920]Jane was deeply interested in student life from the earliest days of the university and sometimes clashed with President David Starr Jordan over the question of rules for student conduct. In an 1897 letter to President Jordan, for example, she refused to allow dances to be held in the dormitories. But on the whole Jane regarded the student body with great warmth; she was known to host receptions for graduating seniors at her San Francisco mansion.
The Cantor Center for the Arts
[Photo - Bronze Castings outside of the Cantor Center for the Arts]The Cantor Center for the Arts grew out of the original Leland Stanford Jr. Museum commissioned by Jane. Before his death at the age of 16, Leland Jr. was an active collector of artifacts and keenly interested in museum-building. His parents devoted a room of their San Francisco mansion to "Leland's Museum." Although the museum's name has changed, a Stanford Family Room still commemorates the lives and legacy of Jane, Leland, and Leland Jr.