• U.S.

Education: Yale’s Cobb

3 minute read

Mr. George Parmly Day, the treasurer of Yale, expects to pay part of the university’s expenses from unexpected legacies. He was therefore both surprised and not surprised when he picked up his paper one morning last week and learned that a rich old gentleman who had never shown any interest in the university’s management and who had not been in New Haven in six years had left Yale some $1,800,000.

Donor of Yale’s windfall was Edward Benedict Cobb, a typical, obscure, sentimental old grad. Inheriting nearly $3,000,000 from his family (who had owned 300 acres in the heart of Tarrytown. N. Y. since Revolutionary times), Benedict Cobb went to Yale in 1868, played on his class chess team, made Psi Upsilon, was elected a class officer in his senior year. After his graduation in 1872, he got a law degree at Columbia and practiced law in Manhattan for twelve years. At 38, bored with the law, he retired and married a Yaleman’s sister, Alice R. Goode.

Bored not only by the law but also by society, music, art, outdoor sports and the movies, Benedict Cobb spent each summer quietly in Pittsfield, Mass., each autumn in Boston, each winter in Washington, each spring abroad. He seldom visited Tarrytown, his birthplace. But for some 60 years he went back often to New Haven for football games and alumni affairs. So modest, however, that he never posed for a photograph, Benedict Cobb was known to few Yalemen, was quickly forgotten when he dropped out of alumni activities in 1932.

Tall, haughty and always immaculately dressed, wearing a white mustache and a wing collar, Benedict Cobb spent much of his time after his wife died in 1929 taking long daily walks with his nurse, Miss Miriam M. Caldwell, a vivacious Virginian. In a Pittsfield hotel last Thanksgiving Day, at 89, he died. In his will, announced last week, childless Benedict Cobb, last of his family, left $250,000 to his nurse, $450,000 to hospitals, a total of $1,340,000 in specific bequests. Yale got $400,000 of that and an estimated $1,400,000 in his residuary estate.

Chief sources of Yale’s visible wealth, immortalized in such forms as its Gothic buildings and great research projects, are huge U. S. fortunes (e. g. Harkness, Rockefeller). But the bulk of Yale’s endowment, like that of many another U. S. college,* comes from the gifts of sentimental old grads like Edward Benedict Cobb.

* New York City College’s Dr. Ernest Victor Hollis, author of Philanthropic Foundations and Higher Education (Columbia University Press) told eastern university business officers in Pittsburgh this week that the trend is toward a broader base of college support. Most colleges, if they are to survive, said he, will in future have to depend on 1) tax funds or 2) numerous modest gifts from tax-evaders.

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