This is the 35th article in the genealogy project “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 edition.” This week’s theme is “School Days.” This is the story of how Vanderbilt University was founded because of the relationship between two cousins from Alabama.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was married to his first cousin, Sophia Hand Johnson, for more than 50 years when she died in 1868. On Aug. 21, 1869, Cornelius Vanderbilt married Frank Armstrong Crawford. Frank’s parents had pledged to name their first-born child Frank, after a family friend, regardless of the baby’s gender, which is how a girl named Frank was born. Vanderbilt and Crawford were first cousins, twice removed, through the Hand line as well. He was 75. She was 30.
In 1873, Frank invited her cousin by marriage, Methodist Bishop Holland N. McTyeire, to stay at the Vanderbilt mansion to recover from a medical treatment. Holland’s wife was Amelia Townsend. Frank and Amelia were cousins because their mothers were half-sisters and they had grown up in Mobile, Ala. together.
Over the course of the visit, Holland and Frank persuaded Vanderbilt to donate $1 million to establish a university in the war-ravaged South. This became Vanderbilt University and it became the memorial to himself that Vanderbilt had been thinking about for some time.
If two cousins had not had such a close relationship, the young bishop might not have convalesced in New York and Vanderbilt University might not exist today.
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