The creation of Western Union had made Ezra Cornell a wealthy man, with an annual income of $140,000. He wrote in his old Cyphering Book: "My greatest care now is how to spend this large income to do the greatest good to those who are properly dependent on me, to the poor and to posterity." Cornell had always been generous, so long as the cause embraced his own values of education and honest hard work. His personal philanthropies were numerous, and he often made small grants to individuals. During the Civil War, he was active in local and state war-relief activities, heading the Ithaca relief committees.
For Cornell, however, the greatest good was always education. In 1858, he had been instrumental in founding an Agricultural Reading Room, personally purchasing books and subscribing to journals. He took an active part in creating the New York State Agricultural College at Ovid, and served on its board of trustees. In 1863, he built and endowed a public library for Ithaca and Tompkins County, with space for 30,000 volumes, rooms for the Farmers' Club and Museum, and a place for the new Tompkins County Historical Society which he also was helping to organize. He also supported Dr. Samantha Nivison's proposed establishment of Cascadilla Place, a water cure sanitarium and school for the education of women doctors and nurses. Both charters would come to the attention of the New York State Senate's Committee on Literature, a committee chaired by Andrew Dickson White of Syracuse.
On his trip to Europe, Cornell visited Oxford and several continental universities. Soon after, on the inside cover of his 1863 pocket diary he jotted: "Enquire what the effect of large endowments are upon colleges. How many graduates do they send out, etc." After 1865, Cornell University became the primary focus of his philanthropy.
| Receipt. April 1, 1863.
Crummer to Ezra Cornell. Pleasant Valley, Jo Daviss
County, Illinois. October 28, 1864.
Autograph letter signed, with list of books sent by Cornell.
|Ezra Cornell to Francis M. Finch,
January 13, 1864.
Autograph letter signed.
Dedication of the Cornell Library
Building. Ithaca. N.Y. December 20, 1866. N.Y.: American
(Collection Finding Aid)
|Ezra Cornell to R.R. Williams, Chief
Engineer, Fire Dept., December 18, 1868. Autograph