Stanford honors the enduring memory of its founders with music, dancing and displays of Stanford family artifacts

The Founders' Celebration on Sunday commemorated the day Stanford opened its doors – Oct. 1, 1891 – and the legacy of Jane and Leland Stanford, who committed themselves to "educating other people's children" after their only child, Leland Jr. died as a teenager.

L.A. Cicero


With the Stanford family's carriage parked in front of Cantor Arts Center on Sunday, it was only a matter of time before "Jane Stanford" arrived, gently gathered the folds of her black silk dress, stepped into the carriage and took a seat – regal as a queen.

It was the signal that the 2012 Founders' Celebration had begun.

Before going into the museum for the formal ceremony, Jane Stanford – played by actor Caryn Huberman Yocowitz – took the time to pose for a photo with Zoë Swinton, 5, who was visiting Stanford for Reunion Homecoming with her father Eliel, '97, mother, Krystal, and sister, Alora, 1½, from Los Angeles.

"Do you have a favorite part of Stanford?" the actor asked the child.

"Hoover Tower," Zoë replied enthusiastically.

"I hope to see you in a few years in this university," Jane Stanford said, pointing to the ground beneath the child's feet.

During the ceremony on the art center's outdoor terrace, the actor sat attentively in the front row, where she heard speaker after speaker praise Jane and Leland Stanford for their dedication to establishing the university.

"When they began the university, there were many skeptics," said Isaac Stein, a member of Stanford's Board of Trustees.

"California was a remote place to many on the East Coast and not a place for a great university. One New York paper proclaimed that 'to attempt to create a great university Aladdin-like out of nothing but money is as useless as would be the building  …  of an institution for the relief of a destitute ship captain in the mountains of Switzerland. At present, Stanford's great wealth can only be used to erect an empty shell and to commemorate a rich man's folly.'"

Stanford University archivesPortrait of the Stanfords, Leland, Jane and Leland Jr.

Leland and Jane Stanford founded the university in memory of their son, Leland Jr.

President John Hennessy described the Stanfords as dignified, educated people who were well known in the United States. They sought advice from Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University, about creating a living legacy for their son.

"They asked him, 'Should we establish a museum or a university in honor of our son?'" Hennessy said. "And Charles Eliot, one of the great university presidents of all time, recommended a university. They asked him how much it would cost. He said, well, he would think a $5 million endowment, plus the buildings, would be sufficient. And Leland leaned over to Jane and said: 'I think we can manage that.'"

Hennessy said the Stanfords had nurtured Leland Jr.'s interests and intellectual curiosity by taking him on trips abroad, including visits to dozens of art museums in Britain and continental Europe. So when they decided to establish a university in his name, they specified in the Founding Grant that it include museums and galleries of art to make it a "university of high degree."

"In 1892, one year after the university opened its doors and just before the museum was complete, Jane Stanford was quoted in the New York Times as saying that it was her wish that a good part of their fortune would go to maintaining the museum. She also, by the way, decided that the museum should charge admission and the university should be free. Today, the museum is free," he added, which drew an appreciative  laugh from the audience.

Hennessy said he thought the founders would be very pleased by the university's dedication to the arts, including the Cantor Arts Center, Bing Concert Hall, the McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History, and The Anderson Collection at Stanford.

Steven Denning, chair of Stanford's Board of Trustees, invited guests inside the Cantor Arts Center to see a special exhibit of Stanford Family artifacts, including a time capsule – a copper box – Jane Stanford had placed in the cornerstone of Building 160 (Wallenberg Hall) that had been recently discovered during a renovation project in the Main Quad.

Among the items taken out of the time capsule and put on display were gold and silver coins, an Oct. 28, 1898 issue of The Stanford Sequoia journal and the handwritten manuscript of a hymn sung at the cornerstone laying on Nov. 1, 1898.

During the reception on the lawn, Jane Stanford mingled with the crowd and struck up a conversation with Whitney Hopkins, '02 (BA), '03 (MA), who was attending Homecoming Reunion with her mother, Toni Turner Hopkins, '72.

Whitney Hopkins, who works at the national headquarters of the American Red Cross in the archives, asked the actor if she thought Jane Stanford had ever met Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.

"That would be quite interesting if they had met," the actor said.

"They both traveled quite a lot," Hopkins noted.

It was something they both wanted to look into.

Their exchange ended in a modern-era sort of way, with Hopkins giving the actor,  Yocowitz – who is also a playwright and a children's book author – her business card.

At the end of the celebration, Jane Stanford, accompanied by dance caller Alan Winston, led nine couples, two children and a dog on a grand march through Sequence, the Richard Serra sculpture, behind Cantor, and back onto the terrace. The celebration ended with an hour of dancing – everything from the waltz to the gothic.