Strawn Cottage, the fourth oldest building on the Hood College campus, is named in honor of David Gates Strawn, a philanthropist who became interested in Hood when his niece, Ruth Strawn Moncrieff ’18, was a student at the College.
Dr. Strawn was born on October 2, 1842, in Jacksonville, Ill., the fifth child of Jacob Strawn, a land and cattle baron, and Phebe Gates Strawn.
Educated in the public schools of Jacksonville, he graduated from Illinois College, pursued post-graduate studies throughout Europe, and earned a degree in chemistry from Harvard University.
On July 18, 1866, he married Laura Eliza Holmes, a niece of Oliver Wendall Holmes, who was born in North Adams, Mass., on December 14, 1843. They had one son, Ferdinand Ludwig, and made their home in Boston. While living in Boston, Dr. Strawn practiced dentistry and was engaged in commercial real estate ventures. An avid traveler, he visited many European countries and was fluent in several languages, including French, Italian, and German.
His marriage to Laura was short-lived. On February 6, 1879, she died suddenly in Boston at the age of 36. A short time later, Dr. Strawn moved with his son back to Jacksonville, Ill., where they made their home with Dr. Strawn’s widowed mother, Phebe. Abandoning his dental practice, Dr. Strawn engaged in farming and raised thoroughbred horses, a love he acquired while living in Europe.
A generous philanthropist, Dr. Strawn donated the funds for the Strawn Memorial Library at Illinois Woman’s College (now MacMurray College). In 1915, he purchased his brother’s interest in the family home on West College Avenue in Jacksonville and gave the spacious three-story house to the Art Association of Jacksonville to be used as an art gallery in accordance with the wishes of his mother. Dr. Strawn also provided an endowment to ensure the upkeep of the gallery. H was known for his self-effacing generosity to individuals and many were the recipients of his kind and good deeds.
He was interested in Hood because his niece, Ruth, the daughter of his half-brother, was a student at Hood in the home economics department, which was experiencing rapid growth under the capable direction of Edith Mathias Thomas ’01. It was Miss Thomas who organized the College’s first School of Home Economics in 1911 and developed the plan to build a home economics practice house, with the lower floor to be used as a model home, and the upper floors as a residence for students engaged in managing the home.
David Strawn agreed to first give $1,000. Later he gave an additional $5,000. The gifts paid for the construction of the first floor of the building. The upper floors were to be constructed as an investment. According to President Joseph Henry Apple’s memoirs, some of the items in the building were difficult to obtain because of war shortages.
The home management facility, one of the first of its kind in the nation, was dedicated in 1918 in connection with the College’s 25th anniversary. It attracted considerable media attention, including an article in “School Life.”
The building was occupied for the first time on December 18, 1918, and served as a home economics practice house for generations of students over the next 60 years. Most of the home economics students lived in the house for six weeks during a semester while taking the home management course.
In 1978, a fire (the first and only major fire at the College since its founding in 1893) severely damaged the building. However, following extensive renovations, and with the decision to build a new technical resource management facility (The Lawrence Marx Jr. Resource Management Center opened in 1983) to replace Strawn as the home economics management house, it was decided to use Strawn Cottage for administrative offices.
Today Strawn is the first place that many prospective students and their families visit, as it houses the offices of administration and financial aid.
Dr. Strawn’s great-niece and Ruth Strawn’s grand-daughter, Heather M. Moncrieff ’85, is also a Hood graduate. (See “Walking in Granny’s Footsteps,” Hood College Magazine, Winter 1984.)
David Strawn died on May 30, 1924, in Jacksonville and is buried in the Strawn family mausoleum in Jacksonville’s Diamond Grove Cemetery.