General Charles G. Dawes gave Northwestern University his mansion on the lake in 1942 – to help sustain a struggling but worthwhile local institution, the Evanston Historical Society, as it was called from 1898 to 2007.
Gen. Dawes had seen the Society almost close its doors during the Great Depression, and he wanted to make sure that would not happen. He offered his house to the Society, but the Society’s president said the Society could not accept such a gift, because the house would require yearly and long-term maintenance beyond the capability of the Society to provide.
The Society’s president then suggested that Gen. Dawes give the house to Northwestern University instead, with the stipulation that the Society have a permanent home there.
Thus, Gen. Dawes gave his house to Northwestern and provided an endowment to allow Northwestern to fulfill its obligation to maintain the mansion.
It was with the understanding shared by him, the Society and Northwestern that the Society would occupy Dawes House in perpetuity.
Ostensibly, that is still the case. The Society – now known as the Evanston History Center – has a $100,000 endowment. Northwestern University has more than a $7 billion endowment.
Last year alone, it averaged cash contributions of more than $4 million a week, just about what is needed to rehab the Dawes House and bring it up to code. Unquestionably, then, Northwestern has the resources to assist the History Center.
Rather than helping, though, Northwestern appears to be washing its hands of the History Center, ignoring the commitment it made in 1942 to Gen. Dawes, to the Society and to the community.
We trust that the University will reassess its stance in relation to the Dawes House and its obligation to maintain the mansion for the Evanston History Center.
As your fight song says, “Go U Northwestern.” As your alma mater says, “Pledge thee victory and honor.”