Hearst Hall’s namesake an early advocate for women

Phoebe Apperson Hearst

Phoebe Apperson Hearst (Public Domain)

When Oglethorpe moved to its present location in Atlanta in 1915, what is now Hearst Hall became the first building on campus. While businessman and publisher William Randolph Hearst was a generous donor to the university, Hearst Hall is actually named in honor of his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

Once a schoolteacher, Hearst was an impressive figure whose passion for education and the advancement of women shone throughout her life. In 1862, she married George Hearst, who later became a U.S. Senator in 1887. George operated mines in numerous towns, but it was Phoebe who established free libraries in those towns. When George passed away in 1891, Phoebe became the sole heir to his estate, enabling further philanthropic efforts.

Hearst donated generously to the University of California, Berkeley and endowed several scholarships designated for women to pursue their education at the institution. Not only was educational access a challenge for women of the era, but extracurricular and social clubs at the institution primarily catered to men. In turn, Hearst decided to start the Women’s Student Center in her own home, providing a place for female students to hold social activities. She also helped provide additional funding opportunities for women to continue their education through flexible employment options at Hearst Domestic Industries.

During the 1890s, Hearst held an architectural competition for UC Berkeley’s master plan, leading to the creation of 30 buildings and six campuses. Among those buildings were the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and Hearst Hall, which were built to her exact specifications. In 1897, she became the first female regent of the University of California where she served on the board until her death.

Her efforts were not limited to higher education. She established the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, DC, which is now named Hearst Elementary School in her honor. She also began the National Parent Teachers Association, supported kindergarten teachers by creating a training school, and established the first free kindergarten in the country.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst died in 1919 as a result of the global influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

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