General Stanford

Who Killed Jane Stanford?

Jane Stanford
The Palo Alto Daily is reporting  (November, 2015) that a petition is being circulated in Palo Alto to re-name Jordan Junior High which is named after former Stanford University President, David Starr Jordan. Jordan was into the then early field of eugenics. It is this which upsets the parents. In honor of  founder Jane Stanford and Stanford’s upcoming 125th anniversary here is information more disturbing than that of Jordan and eugenics  surrounding this amazing woman.


Many people want their kids to go to Stanford but nobody cares about the murder of the woman who founded the University. It’s a cold case turned frozen tundra. I suppose Stanford University’s lukewarm reception to The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford (Stanford University Press, 2003) by Stanford physician Robert W.P. Cutler was to be expected.

But I didn’t. I read the review of Cutler’s book and thought, “This will be big news.” I should have thought, “This will be big cover-up.” Stanford took the path of least resistance and ignored the tale of murder hoping it would fade away. There were a few official murmurs about her death but they took the form of “We like to look at the good she did.” Fair enough.

Jane Stanford did a lot of good. She and Leland wanted the best for their son. They hired private tutors and took him on world tours. From all accounts Leland Jr. was an inquisitive, intelligent and kind young man with a deep love of learning. Jane was a good mother; Leland a good father. When Leland Jr. died at fifteen the Stanfords used their enormous wealth to start a university in honor and memory of their son. It couldn’t have been easy for Jane in the time after Leland Jr.’s death. She was drowning in diamonds and sorrow and it probably crossed her mind that she would trade all the diamonds to have her son back. It is said she had over 60 diamond rings and that some of her jewels had belonged to Queen Isabella of Spain. The Stanfords were the hedge funds of their day. But they lost their only child.

Nothing was easy for Jane in the years to come. Her husband died as the university was being built. And just as Stanford was thriving with its beautiful new buildings, the 1906 earthquake came and shook them down. Jane persevered and crafted the embryo of the first class institution Stanford was to become. She watched over its creation from building design to instructors. She was strict in who she wanted to teach there; her standards were high.

So picture this: a strong woman with a lot of money, determined to see things done her way. After all it was her vision, her money, and her tragedy that spawned Stanford University. Fast forward over 100 years and we find Jane being painted as a balls busting bitch in the local Palo Alto newspaper. On March 22, 2008 the Palo Alto Daily News ran a piece calling her autocratic, the dowager empress , and commented that people were terrified of her. By the time the article stated, “She engaged in policy making, setting academic standards, and even venturing into personnel matters.” one might forget that she was the President of the Board of Trustees and had hired its President, David Starr Jordan, and that her high standards are why “The Farm” didn’t revert to the farm.

Jane died of strychnine poisoning on February 28, 1905 at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki after an earlier attempted poisoning only the month before. Who killed her and why? There is compelling evidence that we might want to look at the then President of Stanford, David Starr Jordan. Although it isn’t exactly a PR coup for Stanford to have a former President of Stanford implicated in the murder of one of the two founders of the University, Stanford also isn’t overwhelming me with its compassion for the woman some call “the mother of Stanford.” She sold her jewels to fund the university. What did your mom do with hers? Let’s give some credit here and not throw her murder into the dustbin of history.

The strychnine was in a bottle of bicarbonate of soda brought with her to Hawaii. She did not use the bicarbonate until the evening of the 28th leaving one to suspect it could have been tainted in California. The medical examiner held an inquest and found the cause of death to be poison. David Starr Jordan said it was bad food. The doctors called to help her saw spasms and rigidity suggestive of poisoning. Jordan hired his own doctor and paid him $15,000 and he, though in California at the time of death, decided it was not poison. In his book, medical doctor Cutler makes a convincing case for poison, pointing to Jordan’s hand in it.

David Starr Jordan didn’t get along with Jane. She was too controlling for his tastes. He wanted her to keep out of Stanford affairs. He was also a eugenicist. One of Stanford’s alums wrote a letter to the editor of The Alumni Magazine after the book was reviewed and proposed a theory. Quoting Margaret Quigley from Political Research Associates:

Plans of eugenic murder, although not commonplace, did on occasion creep into the writings of eugenicists who were not seen as extremists. David Starr Jordan, for example, then president of Stanford University, wrote in 1911, “Dr. Amos G. Warner has well said that the ‘true function of charity is to restore to usefulness those who are temporarily unfit, and to allow those unfit from heredity to become extinct with as little pain as possible.’ Sooner or later the last duty will not be less important or pressing than the first.”

Go Jordan! You pre-empted the Nazis and the Nobel Sperm Bank. It’s a good thing Stanford named the Psychology building after you. There’s a lot to be learned from you.

Jane, you are not forgotten. Sit vis vobiscum

Jane Stanford

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