- Major benefactress of University of Kansas who was nicknamed “Lady Bountiful”
- Namesake of Watkins Scholarship Hall, which she donated funds for
- Also namesake of Miller Scholarship Hall, the second hall she funded
- Namesake of Watkins Student Health Center
- Pioneer in promoting proper health care for university students regardless of gender, color, race, or nationality
It is said that one of Elizabeth Watkins’ chief pleasures consisted of sitting on the porch of her stately home greeting students as they walked past her on their way to class. Her daily greeting is perhaps the least of the ways in which she showed her concern for young people, but her simple gesture is indicative of her fondness for those who came to Lawrence seeking education. Elizabeth Watkins’ affection for students is at the root of all the gifts she made to the University. She believed in the young and used her inherited fortune to transform the University of Kansas into a major public institution.
Elizabeth Miller Watkins understood the obligations of stewardship. She felt it was the responsibility of those with means to use their wealth to provide for the good of humanity. Elizabeth Watkins and her husband Jabez Bunting Watkins felt humanity would best be served by promoting higher education. Her belief probably stemmed from her own attempt to get a college degree; she started her college education at KU in 1874, but family financial problems forced her to give up her hopes for a University degree after only a year.
It is no coincidence that her first major gift to the University was Watkins Scholarship Hall. This unique residence hall enable young women with pressing financial needs to attend college. Another scholarship hall, Miller, soon followed as tribute to the astounding success of her idea. Meanwhile, she made a student hospital possible as well as a nurses’ home, a chapel, carillon chimes, scholarships, professorships, and many other gifts. Her generosity earned her the titles of “Lady Bountiful” and “fairy godmother.” Yet when showered with praise Elizabeth Watkins rebuffed it saying, “If you are bound to write about me, just say that in making these gifts I am simply carrying out the wishes and plans of my late husband…”
Although her modesty caused her to give full credit to her husband, it is clear that Elizabeth Watkins had certain interests she intended to further. She was strongly in favor of higher education for women, and through scholarship halls and scholarships she helped many deserving women get degrees. Student health services were also of major concern to her. She was a pioneer in promoting proper health care for university students regardless of color, race, or nationality. As a bronze tablet in the old student hospital proclaimed, “This hospital is the gift of Elizabeth Miller Watkins, in memory of her husband, Jabez B. Watkins. ‘Our youth will dwell in a land of health and fair sights and sounds.’”
Because of her judicious use of her estate, students continue to benefit from her generosity. About the young people for whom she made so many things possible she once wrote: “I do not find fitting words to express my affectionate interest in these young people but my hope is that, while enjoying life to the full, they will not fail to take advantage of every opportunity for effective preparation for the serious tasks which life most certainly brings to them. I shall leave them my most cordial good wishes.”