1902 Encyclopedia > Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard
American philanthropist

STEPHEN GIRARD, (1750-1831), American philanthropist, was born at Bordeaux on 21st May 1750. At the age of thirteen he commenced life as a sailor, and followed his avocation with such assiduity that he was enabled, before the French requisitions of age and service allowed, to become master and captain, in October 1773. His first mercantile venture was to St Domingo in February 1774, whence he proceeded in July to the then colony of New York. After trading for three years between New York, New Orleans, and Port au Prince, he went to Philadelphia in May 1777, and gave up the sea for a mercantile career. While he was engaged most successfully in the prosecution of an extensive trade, the yellow fever in its most malignant type broke out in Philadelphia, sweeping away one-sixth of its population. When, during its height, a hospital was established, for which it seemed almost impossible to secure competent management, Girard devoted himself personally, fearless of all risks, to the care of the sick and the burial of the dead, not only in the hospital, of which he became manager, but throughout the city, supplying the poorer sufferers with money and provisions. Two hundred children, made orphans by the ravages of the fever, were in a great measure thrown upon his care. From this period his success commercially and financially was unexampled. He gave a portion of his time to the management of municipal affairs for several years, and rendered efficient service as warden of the port and as director of many public institutions. On the dissolution of the Bank of the United States, he instituted what is known now as the Girard Bank. During the war of 1812 "he rendered valuable services to the Government by placing at its disposal the resources of his bank at a time of difficulty and embarrassment, subscribing to a large loan which the Government had vainly sought to obtain." Girard added to his other avocations that of a practical agriculturist. He died December 26, 1831.

Girard College was founded by him for the education and support of the poor white orphans of his adopted city. His fortune amounted to about seven and a half millions of dollars. After specific legacies of two millions for the erection and endowment of the college, $140,000 to his relatives, $300,000 to the State for internal improvements, $500,000 to the city of Philadelphia to improve its eastern front, $116,000 to public charities, and various annuities and legacies, he bequeathed the residue of his estate to the city of Philadelphia, mainly for the improvement and maintenance of the college. The most minute directions were given by Girard in regard to the buildings to be erected, and the admission and management of the inmates. He specifically requires that the orphans be instructed in the purest principles of morality, so that on their entrance into active life they may evince benevolence towards their fellow creatures, and a love for truth, sobriety, and industry. As for religious belief they are left to adopt such tenets as their matured reason may lead them to prefer; and to secure this he interdicts the employment, and even the admission into the grounds, of any ecclesiastic whatever.

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