Biographies of Macalester’s Founders

Graphic of Macalester foundersRead quick facts about the Macalester founders we’ll be celebrating at Founders Day:

G. Theodore “Ted” Mitau

  • German-Jewish immigrant, came to Mac as a student, graduated 1940.
  • Became professor of political science. President Charles Turck appointed him Mac’s first non-Christian department chair.
  • Always urged students to be politically active.
  • Very demanding teacher. Many former students say his high expectations prepared them to succeed in life.
  • G. Theodore Mitau Endowed Professorship in Political Science is held by Frank Adler.

Catharine Lealtad

  • Mac’s first African American graduate, 1915.
  • Became a pediatrician; served children affected by poverty, famine and war.
  • Was commissioned a major in U.S. Army during World War II; supervised medical services for children in German refugee camps.
  • Fought cholera epidemic sweeping through China in 1946.
  • Treated children of poor families in New York for decades. After “retiring,” worked at mission hospital in Puerto Rico and free clinic in Mexico nine more years.
  • Created an endowed scholarship at Mac in 1983.
  • Only person to receive two honorary degrees from Mac (for her career and her post-retirement service). Passed away 1989.
  • Lealtad-Suzuki Center in Kagin Commons named for her and Esther Suzuki

John B. Davis, Jr.

  • Mac president 1975-1984.
  • Saved Mac from bankruptcy.
  • Took office with the college in debt. DeWitt Wallace, Mac’s only major donor at the time, had stopped giving because of what he saw as overspending. John Davis pledged to keep the budget balanced and regained Wallace’s trust. Wallace resumed giving, including a substantial final gift to Mac’s endowment.
  • Once told student protesters occupying his outer office, “The U.S. Constitution protects the rights of its people to assemble. I applaud your exercise of that right….Please have a good day.” Then he went inside and got to work.
  • Trademark: a bow tie.
  • John B. Davis Lecture Hall named for him

Margaret Doty

  • Macalester’s dean of women from 1924 to 1960; a proper lady but also broadminded.
  • Successfully worked to make dancing permissible on campus in 1930.
  • Regularly entertained students and recent graduates at her home near campus.
  • Attended Mac, graduating in 1914.
  • Doty residence hall is named for her.

Mary Gwen Owen

  • Graduated from Mac in 1923.
  • Taught speech and drama, 1928 to 1968.
  • Founded “Drama Choros,” dramatic recitation group which toured nationally and once went to England.
  • Ahead of her time in many ways. Emphasized social justice. Rode a bicycle. Taught for seven months in 1940 while concealing a pregnancy.
  • Wrote famous “MacDo” etiquette book because she believed lack of good manners could keep students from achieving success.
  • Trademark: flamboyant red hats.
  • Mary Gwen Owen Stage in Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center named for her

Charles Turck

  • Macalester president 1939-1958, modernized and expanded the campus, doubled enrollment, increased the endowment, strengthened traditions of internationalism and service.
  • Launched study abroad, international relations major, visiting speaker programs; flew United Nations flag beginning in 1950.
  • Emphasized importance of service by individuals and by the college.
  • Diversified the faculty and defended faculty rights to free speech.
  • Wrote Mac Weekly columns on issues such as racial and economic justice and world peace.
  • Turck residence hall is named for him.

James Wallace

  • Taught Greek and classics 1887 to 1923, interrupted by service as Mac president (1894-1906). Remained active until his death in 1939.
  • Early in his career, Mac sometimes couldn’t pay faculty their salaries. One year he sent his family to live with in-laws in Ohio where they’d be fed; he spent cold winter evenings in his coat, sitting on a radiator to keep warm.
  • As president, criss-crossed the country to raise money to retire building debt, pay faculty, establish an endowment. Also established Mac’s high standards and was very interested in global citizenship.
  • Famous story: Arriving on third floor of Old Main to conduct chapel services, he encountered a cow, led there by pranksters. Calmly said, “Whoever brought the cow up will please remove it.” Reportedly, his son DeWitt was among the trouble-makers.
  • Wallace Residence Hall, and several endowed professorships, named for him
  • Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center named for his wife
  • DeWitt Wallace Library named for his son (yes, the prankster), who became a major Mac benefactor

Esther Suzuki

  • First Japanese-American student at Macalester, entered in 1942 at age 16. She was released from a World War II Japanese detention camp in Portland, Ore., in order to attend Mac.
  • Graduated in 1946 with honors degree in sociology.
  • Social worker for Ramsey County (Minn.), participated in civil rights groups and developed programs to assist Southeast Asian-American population.
  • Developed second career as writer and storyteller, giving voice to her hardships and accomplishments as a Japanese-American.
  • Served on Mac Alumni Association board, received Alumni Service Award and Trustees Award for Meritorious and Distinguished Service. Died 1999.
  • Lealtad-Suzuki Center in Kagin Commons named for her and Catharine Lealtad.

Edward Duffield Neill

  • Founded Macalester College in 1874 as a Presbyterian college open to students of other faiths; it would be equal to the finest colleges in the East.
  • Ordained Presbyterian minister, served as Civil War chaplain and adviser to three U.S. presidents.
  • Came to Minnesota in 1849; founded two churches, established Minnesota’s public school system and its university.
  • Spent many years seeking funds to open a private college. Obtained a gift of property from Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist Charles Macalester in 1874 and immediately chartered Macalester College.