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Will of KU benefactor Elizabeth Watkins, dead since 1939, provides twist in student health center changes


It was 152 years ago today that Kansas gained statehood: Jan. 29, 1861. That seems like quite a while back; KU did not open until more than five years later.

But as officials explore possible changes at KU's student health center, the University Daily Kansan reported yesterday, they'll have to keep an eye on the will of a woman who was born eight days before Kansas became a state.

Elizabeth Miller was born on Jan. 21, 1861, in New Paris, Ohio. She moved to Lawrence when she was 11, and at 48 she married Lawrence financier J.B. Watkins after working for his company for decades. Her husband died in 1921, after which she began to shower their fortune on KU and Lawrence.

Before and after her death in 1939, Elizabeth Watkins' gifts helped establish a dizzying array of KU and Lawrence institutions: Watkins Scholarship Hall (the first scholarship hall in the country, based on Watkins' idea), Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the KU chancellor's residence, Danforth Chapel, even the largest bell atop the KU campanile (and a lot more).

And, of course, there's the Watkins Memorial Health Center (preceded by Watkins Memorial Hospital, whose building is now known as Twente Hall, home of the School of Social Welfare). The new building, built in 1974, was funded through her trust, and her will dictates what may or may not occupy space there.

The Kansan reports that the center has downsized its physical therapy department, and whatever goes into the newly created space must be beneficial for students' health — all because of the woman once known as KU's "Fairy Godmother," according to KUHistory.com. She's still waving her wand, 72 years after her death.

If you have any KU news tips, or even KU history tips, please send them to merickson@ljworld.com.


Phil Wilke 5 years, 3 months ago

Wow, wonder what Mrs. Watkins thinks of the Affordable Care Act and electronic health records?

parrothead8 5 years, 3 months ago

She obviously believed in making health care more accessible to everyone, so I would guess she'd be all for it.

Belinda Rehmer 5 years, 3 months ago

Personally, I believe, if she were here, she would be the first to say, "We need to fix this system!" and back it up with seed money and common sense solutions!

merickson 5 years, 3 months ago

Per Twitter user @MelanieRR, we'll add an addendum: In addition to Watkins Scholarship Hall, Elizabeth (Miller) Watkins also established Miller Scholarship Hall, which is named after her brother.


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