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Jones, William P. (William Patterson)


William Patterson Jones, co-founder of the Northwestern Female College, was born in Philadelphia on April 23, 1831. The school opened in October, 1855, before the building was complete and before the school was officially chartered; classes were first held in rooms over Colvin's general store on Davis Street. After the merger of the Northwestern Female College with the Evanston College for Ladies, Jones engaged in a variety of pursuits, including continued endorsements of educational persuits.

Jones' father, also William Patterson Jones, a building contractor and Methodist minister, moved west with his family in the late 1830s, eventually settling in Mt. Morris, Illinois. The younger William P. attended the Rock River Seminary at Mt. Morris, where his brother, John Wesley Jones, was a tutor. After his graduation in 1849, William continued his education at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, graduating in 1853.

Jones's lifelong promotion of higher education for women was manifested first in his involvement in the Peoria Ladies Seminary soon after his graduation from Allegheny. In 1855, with the assistance of his father and brothers, he started the Northwestern Female College. Money earned by J. Wesley Jones in the gold mines of California helped pay for a plot of land in Evanston on the west side of Chicago Avenue between Greenwood Avenue and Lake Street; William's father and two younger brothers provided additional construction labor. The school opened in October, 1855, before the building was complete and before the school was officially chartered; classes were first held in rooms over Colvin's general store on Davis Street. The Northwestern Female College building was dedicated on January 1, 1856. During the first year, more than eighty students enrolled in two departments: preparatory (high school), which was the larger department and included young men as well as young women, and collegiate.

In December, 1856, the building burned, reducing the school to “one pair of horses and a wagon,” and leaving Jones critically ill with inflammatory rheumatism. Despite some conflicts with the founders of Northwestern University, Jones was able to reopen the Northwestern Female College. In order to raise funds to rebuild the College, William gave readings of his Indian poetry and lectured on Indian lore throughout the state of Illinois. After the College reopened, he continued his poetry readings and lectures to raise money for the Ladies Educational Aid Fund, which was intended to provide loans to deserving young women who wished to attend the College. For this cause, Jones also prepared a lecture entitled “A Plea for the Better Education of Women.”

On February 22, 1857, Jones married Mary E. Hayes (1833-1894), who had been educated at Mount Holyoke seminary and had served as Jones's first assistant at the College. Jones's continued poor health made it expedient for him to go abroad. Through the influence of J. Wesley Jones and other friends, William Jones was appointed U.S. Consul at Macao in 1862. While in Macao he was also named Acting U.S. Naval Storekeeper, in 1863. In 1865 he was appointed Vice Consul and then Consul at Amoy, China.

Jones returned to the United States in 1868 and resumed the presidency of the Northwestern Female College, which had been in his father's charge during his absence. The Northwestern Female College's sixteenth commencement exercises, in June, 1871, also marked its merger with the Evanston College for Ladies, which had been formed in 1869 in order to provide a more formal college-level education for women. The Evanston College for Ladies, with Frances Willard, who had been in the first graduating class of the Northwestern Female College, as president, existed independently until 1873, when it became the Woman's College of Northwestern University.

After the merger of the Northwestern Female College with the Evanston College for Ladies, Jones engaged in a variety of pursuits. He resumed the lecture circuit, sharing his experiences in China throughout the Midwest. In the early 1870's, he became the secretary of the Committee on an American College in China. The Committee lobbied Congress to use the revenues from a Chinese Indemnity Fund, exacted after Chinese destruction of American property in Canton in 1856, to fund a college in China to train Chinese students as interpreters. Other members of the committee included S.F.B. Morse, William H. Seward, and Peter Cooper.

Like his brother J. Wesley Jones, William was interested in the West. He wrote several lengthy poems based on Indian legends of the Midwest; while several of these appeared in newspapers, “The Myth of Stone Idol” was the only poem published in book form (1876). In addition, Jones co-authored, with R. P. Porter and Henry Gannett, The West: From the Census of 1880 (1882).

Even as he engaged in other ventures, including Chicago real estate, Jones continued to endorse educational efforts. He was the Educational Department editor for the Chicago Evening Journal (1878-9) and the Inter-Ocean (1882-4), and wrote on educational topics for other newspapers. In 1884, he moved to Fremont, Nebraska, becoming president of Fremont Normal School and Business College (founded 1884). On August 4, 1886, while visiting his son in Fullerton, Nebraska, Jones died of heart disease; he was buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. Mary Jones continued to conduct the school for a time before returning to Evanston.

William and Mary Jones's daughter, Lydia Hayes Jones Trowbridge (1859-1948), planned to write a biography of her father and publish his poetry, but did not realize these goals. After attending the Evanston Academy and receiving her BA and MA from Northwestern (1882, 1887), she taught at Lake View High School in Chicago and wrote Frances Willard of Evanston (1938), a book for children.

For more information on William P. Jones and the Northwestern Female College, see also J. Wesley Jones Biographical File, Northwestern University Archives; Lydia Hayes Jones Trowbridge Alumni Biographical File, Northwestern University Archives; Lydia Trowbridge, “The Northwestern Female College,” in Arthur Herbert Wilde, Northwestern University, A History 1855-1905 (NY: The University Publishing Society, 1905), II:33-52; Frances E. Willard, A Classic Town: The Story of Evanston (Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1891); Dictionary of American Biography (NY: Scribners, 1933), vol. 10, s.v. “William Patterson Jones.”

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William P. Jones (1831-1886) Papers

Identifier: 36/1
Abstract The papers in this series are as varied as the career of their creator. Spanning the years 1860 to about 1890, they document Jones' experiences as an educator, lecturer, journalist, and poet. While they illustrate many phases of his life, the papers contain little personal correspondence and scanty biographical information. Perhaps most revealing are two ledger volumes of Jones' poetry and essays, and a scrapbook.
Dates: 1857-1932