Harvard’s Loss…

What a wonderful world this would be if we would all get to know a person first before judging them on looks, ability, or stature.

The President of Harvard made a mistake by prejudging people and it cost him dearly…

A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the president’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned.

“We want to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.

“We’ll wait,” the lady replied.

For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t. And the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted to do. “Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she told him.

And he sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple.

The lady told him, “We had a son that attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. And my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”

The president wasn’t touched, he was shocked. “Madam,” he said gruffly, “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.”

“Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly, “We don’t want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.”

The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard.”

For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now. And the lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a University? Why don’t we just start our own?

Her husband nodded. The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment.

And Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.

When I first read this story, I thought that it was true. But the Stanford web site says the story is false. So even though the story is good it is not true. This is the explanation given at the web site.

Dispelling an Urban Myth

You may have heard a story that a lady in “faded gingham” (Jane Stanford) and a man dressed in a “homespun threadbare suit” (Leland Stanford) went to visit the president of Harvard, were rebuffed, and as a result, went on to found their own university in Palo Alto. This untrue story is an urban myth, and Stanford’s archivist has prepared a response for those desiring more information:

For what it is worth, there was a book written by the then Harvard president’s son that may have started the twist on actual events.

Leland Stanford Junior was just short of his 16th birthday when he died of typhoid fever in Florence, Italy on March 13, 1884. He had not spent a year at Harvard before his death, nor was he “accidentally killed.” Following Leland Junior’s death, the Stanfords determined to found an institution in his name that would serve the “children of California.”

Detained on the East Coast following their return from Europe, the Stanfords visited a number of universities and consulted with the presidents of each. The account of their visit with Charles W. Eliot at Harvard is actually recounted by Eliot himself in a letter sent to David Starr Jordan (Stanford’s first president) in 1919. At the point the Stanfords met with Eliot, they apparently had not yet decided about whether to establish a university, a technical school or a museum. Eliot recommended a university and told them the endowment should be $5 million. Accepted accounts indicate that Jane and Leland looked at each other and agreed they could manage that amount.

The thought of Leland and Jane, by this time quite wealthy, arriving at Harvard in a faded gingham dress and homespun threadbare suit is quite entertaining. And, as a former governor of California and well-known railroad baron, they likely were not knowingly kept waiting for too long outside Eliot’s office. The Stanfords also visited Cornell, MIT and Johns Hopkins.

The Stanfords established two institutions in Leland Junior’s name — the University and the Museum, which was originally planned for San Francisco, but moved to adjoin the university.


  1. Suji said,

    February 18, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Yes so true. This world would become an ideal place if we stopped judging people by their looks and what they wear.

  2. silverine said,

    February 18, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    There are so many Urban Legends like these that do inspire even if it is not factually true. Hope you liked the article I sent you. I don’t know if it is true, but it leaves a wonderful feeling in you after reading it.

  3. -poison- said,

    February 18, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    nice ! i totally believed the first story when i read it here 😀 urban legends…..:D

  4. James Bright said,

    February 18, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    I didn’t know this story before!
    It is true that the appearances can be often deceptive!

  5. Alexis Leon said,

    February 18, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Suji: Very true.

    Silverine: The story you send me was very moving. It also is not true. But it is a beautiful story and as long as it moves you, brings you joy, inspires and motivates you, then who cares whether it is true or not. There is an even touching variation of that story written by James A. Whitney.

    -poison-: I read the story a few years back, when my friend who was in Stanford sent it to me and till yesterday, I thought it was true. Before posting it, I just checked the Stanford web site and found it untrue. But it sure is a good story.

    James: Exactly. That is why it wrong to judge people without really knowing them.

  6. Mind Curry said,

    February 19, 2006 at 12:13 am

    very nice story..now that you said its not true i felt like i was watching a hindi movie..kidding..it was very good.

  7. venus said,

    February 19, 2006 at 2:51 am

    In US, believe me, people judge you right at the moment when they “check you out” at a first glance- what you are wearing, if you are wearing strong hold hair spray, if you use hair straightner, if you wear perfume, if you wear brand clothes and accessories.

    btw, this was a nice story, though untrue!

  8. Alexis Leon said,

    February 19, 2006 at 11:03 am

    Mind Curry: I actually laughed when I found out the story was not true. For the past five years, I was under the impression that it was a true story. 🙂

    venus: It is not only in US. It is everywhere. Many people judge others by their appearance. But it is their loss.

  9. Chacko said,

    February 19, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    🙂 … i think there are lot of inspirational stories going around like viral mails.. some are not true …but i think its nice to read something like this although it is not true… some are realy inspirational and some are really touching 🙂

    and regarding judging people by their looks …. yes its a fact.. its sad , but true. it happens everywhere i think… it happens even in job interviews naa

  10. Deepa said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Hey !

    Thanx for stopping by !
    Awesome template u have here

    WOW ! 🙂

    Really , appearances shouldnt matter … but they def do ! For eg, if a lady walks into ” Bhima jewellers ” in a chudidar , they dont pay much attention to her .. but if she walks in wearing a silk saree , they go the extra mile to serve her …
    What do u say to this ????

    Hope to see u soon

    tc 🙂

  11. Alexis Leon said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Chackochen: Yes it is a fact that people are judged by their looks. This is especially true when you are on a wheelchair. When I was staying in Madras, there was a lady who used to come to iron the clothes. Even though my Tamil was much better than my brother’s and I am much better at arithmetic, she never used to speak to me. If I opened the door, she will ask for my brother and if he is not available she will go back. Even though, I called her several times and told her that I would pay the money due, she always refused to take the money from me as she thought I couldn’t do the math properly. It was fun. But sometimes when people, even educated people, treat you as an illiterate idiot just because you happen to be on a wheelchair, it is irritating.

    Deepa: I completely agree with you. Your example about jewelry shops is equally applicable to apparel shops too. And thank you for dropping by.

  12. anu said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    hmmm.. true.. people judge on appearances.. i do..we all do i belive.. thats y we love stories like the one u had posted..

  13. Geo said,

    February 21, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Have read this ‘story’ before from an Email fwd…

    Email fwds – lifelines for a software engineer…

    >>people judge on appearances
    cant blame them, as I know that I do it very often…

  14. Dewaker Basnet said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    hey this reminds me of the classic Indian myth about the percentage of Indian scientists working for NASA in the US, No of Indians in the top ranks at Microsoft et al…u might dispel this myth sometime throu your blog:)
    nice blog.

  15. Alexis Leon said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    anu: Very true. Hope you had a nice vacation.

    Geo: Yes we all do that. How is firefighting?

    Dewaker: Thank you fro dropping by. Yes there are many such myths.

  16. Geo said,

    February 23, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Not bad :_))

    Going fine…
    Taking up and finishing functionalities one by one…
    First release went fine… 3 more to go…

  17. venus said,

    February 24, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    yeah, sometimes, I feel very devilish in giving them a shock treatment, proving their superficial judgements wrong 🙂

  18. Ganja_turtle said,

    February 25, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Alexis…
    Thanks for dropping by…was reading a book called The Pilots Wife…nothing major except a lot of jumbled emotions mixed with an improbable plot…but there was this line which reminded me of you…”sometimes courage is just that ability to take step after step after step and not stop”…maybe am over-reading the situation…but I find that for a lot of people who have been in and out of accidents, getting into a [uroseful daily routine transcending their a depressed mind and the dependancy on others etc is initself an achievement….just wanted to tell you.
    More specific comments later…Cheers!

  19. Alexis Leon said,

    February 25, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Ganja_turtle: Thank you for your kind words. I have read The Pilot’s Wife. It was a book recommended by Oprah. I came to know that it was recommended by Oprah from the cover of the book. Usually I don’t read anything that she recommends 😉

    I have read two more ‘Wife’ books. The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I like the last one (The Time Traveler’s Wife) most.

  20. Ganja_turtle said,

    February 26, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Oh No! an old friend has been bugging me to read Time Traveler’s Wife so much…but couldnt find it at all in eloor or any bookstore in town…have to pick it up next time when am in blore….