Whites-Only Fellowship for Iowa Students Receives Challenge at Major University

Sharyn Jackson, Des Moines Register, May 15, 2013

Columbia University is seeking to change the terms of a fellowship that can only be awarded only to white students from Iowa.

The Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship stipulates that money be given only to “a person of the Caucasian race.”

Lydia C. Chamberlain, an Iowa native, left Columbia most of her $500,000 estate when she died in 1920 and created the highly restrictive fellowship. In addition to the “whites only” rule, Roberts fellows must be born in Iowa, must have graduated from an Iowa college or university, must not study law or several other fields and must return to Iowa for two years after graduating.

University officials filed court papers last week in support of earlier action by the estate’s trustee, JPMorgan Chase, to change the racist provisions of the bequest. The affidavit also proposes a change to the requirement that students be born in Iowa, as the university “may not discriminate based upon national origin.”

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Columbia University released a statement Wednesday, saying that it is “as offended as anyone by the requirements of these fellowships.”

“The fact is Columbia long ago ceased awarding the fellowships in question and does not follow gift conditions that violate anti-discrimination laws,” the statement read.

The Daily News reports that Columbia hasn’t awarded the fellowship since 1997.

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According to Des Moines Register archives, Chamberlain was born in 1862 near Jefferson, Iowa. One of 10 children, Chamberlain (nee Roberts) was the daughter of a Welsh immigrant in the tannery business.

She resided in Des Moines until about a year before her death, when she sold the hotel and relocated to the Hotel Woodward in New York City.

Chamberlain worked as a “teacher of crayon work” and “conducted a private school in the Flynn building,” before her marriage to Davis S. Chamberlain in 1892. Davis Chamberlain was a co-owner of the Des Moines-based Chamberlain Medicine Company, which was known for its Golden Touch hand lotion.

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