Maryam Mohseni '24
Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson (later Hearst) was born in Missouri, United States, on December 3, 1842. Her father was Randolph Walker Apperson, a successful farmer and businessman while her mother stayed at home and homeschooled her until the age of nine, when she was sent to attend a boarding school in St. Louis. In 1862, she married George Hearst, a very wealthy mining entrepreneur and, later, senator, when she was 19 and he was 41. Sadly, George died in 1891, leaving her a young widow with a substantial amount of money that she spent the next 40 years donating.
Phoebe believed that education was the key to social progress and invested most of her husband’s money in schools and universities. One of her biggest investments was the University of California at Berkeley which she donated millions of dollars to. She also played a big role in the creation of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology which is located on the Berkeley campus and which she donated more than 60,000 objects to. She also funded many expeditions to preserve Native Californian culture, the findings of which were added to the museum's collection which today numbers about 250,000 Native Californian artifacts.
In addition to her philanthropic work in education, Phoebe was also part of the women’s suffrage movement. At first she was not in favor of women’s suffrage (though she may have been privately), but later in her life publicly supported and advocated for the 19th amendment. While she did come to believe in the right to vote for women, she never supported women gaining political power. Instead, she believed that women should have the right to vote to protect their homes and children.
Phoebe was raised in the Christian Cumberland Presbyterian community, but later converted to Bahá'ísm in 1898. After her conversion, she spent much of her money promoting the spread of the religion in the United States and even made a pilgrimage to Palestine to meet with Abdu'l-Bahá, the then head of the Bahá'í Faith. She eventually became estranged from the Bahá'í community after a group of Bahá'í’s tried to extort money for, but she continued to financially support the spread of the religion in the United States and even invited ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to stay at her home in 1912.
In 1900, Phoebe donated 200,000$ to found the National Cathedral School. The money she donated was used to construct Hearst Hall, and in the first few years of the school’s existence it was popularly known as Hearst School in honor of her. Phoebe was involved in the design of Hearst Hall and mandated that the external and internal walls be made of stone and brick, the beams of steel, and the staircases of iron and marble, so that the building would be fireproof.
During and after her life, she was recognized by the public as “an example of the right use of great wealth," and the legacy of her philanthropy can still be seen today, not least in NCS.