Who’s who in the Danforth family

Jenny Janovitz
Scott Bressler

Washington University and the Danforth family name go together like peanut butter and jelly. You’ve probably seen the Danforth medallion outside Brookings Hall that welcomes visitors to campus; you may have lived in the Danforth House freshman dorm; and most of your classes are likely on the Danforth Campus. So who are these Danforths? Let’s take a look at some of the members of the ubiquitous Danforth clan.

William Danforth Sr.
William H. Danforth Sr., the original Danforth, graduated from Wash. U.’s School of Engineering & Applied Science in 1892. He served as a trustee of the University for 25 years and also used his entrepreneurial spirit to found the internationally renowned Ralston Purina Co. In 1927, along with his wife and two children, he established the Danforth Foundation. The mission of the Danforth Foundation is to help revitalize St. Louis and make it one of the top metropolitan areas in the nation. The foundation made its first major contribution to the University, a $15 million five-year grant, in 1970. Since then, the foundation has provided consistent contributions to the University, including a 1997 gift of $100 million that influenced the success of the Campaign for Washington University, a $1.55 billion initiative.

Bill Danforth (Senior’s grandson)
Dr. William (Bill) Danforth Jr. is the grandson of William Danforth Sr. He received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and his medical degree from Harvard University Medical School. In 1951, he came to St. Louis for an internship at Barnes Hospital. While working as a physician, he realized how important his educational background had been in his development and was therefore drawn to the field of education. Remembered fondly by colleagues and students alike as “Chan Dan” or “Uncle Bill,” Dr. Danforth first became involved with Washington University in 1957 when he took a position as a member of the medical school faculty. He later served as Vice Chancellor in the School of Medicine and eventually became the University’s thirteenth chancellor.

When Chancellor Emeritus Danforth was 12 years old, his grandfather instructed him to cut the word “impossible” out of his dictionary. If you take a look at the significant changes Chancellor Danforth made to improve the University, it’s apparent that this advice really stuck. Under his leadership, the Alliance for Washington University raised $630.5 million, making it the most successful fundraising campaign in U.S. higher education at that time. Additionally, 70 new faculty chairs were established, a $1.72 billion endowment was established (the seventh largest in the nation), and the number of scholarships for students tripled. Chancellor Emeritus Danforth also helped guide the campus through the social and political unrest of the 1970s and strengthened the University’s relationship with the greater St. Louis community.

“I want to be remembered for being associated with a school that produces graduates who are successful and well-accomplished in their respective fields,” said the younger Danforth. “I hope Washington University continues to provide an excellent education for generations of students to come.”

Taking a look at the honors Chancellor Emeritus Danforth has already received, it is easy to see that community members do indeed appreciate his contributions to the University. He received numerous awards throughout his career as chancellor, including the Alexander Meiklejohn Award from the American Association of University Professors for his firm support of academic freedom and the distinction of “Man of the Year” in 1977 from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1999, he became Chancellor Emeritus, Vice Chairman of the Board and a Life Trustee of the University. He also received an honorary doctorate degree.

“The student body, the faculty and the staff are Washington University’s greatest assets,” said the younger Danforth. “That’s what makes an institution great . I feel so lucky to have worked here and with the people with whom I worked.I believe in education and I believe in Washington University.”

Elizabeth Danforth (Chancellor Emeritus Danforth’s wife)
As First Lady of the University, the late Elizabeth (Ibby) Danforth did more than support her husband in his tenure as Chancellor. Ibby is remembered for her compassion and warmth toward students as well as for her campus activism. She made a concentrated effort to get to know students, and she frequently attended classes, campus performances and athletic events. In 1995, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities from Washington University.

Donald Danforth (Chancellor Bill’s brother)
Donald Danforth Jr. graduated from Wash. U. with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1955. In 1967, he joined the Ralston Purina Company. Donald Danforth Jr. was a trustee of the Danforth Foundation and the founding president of Danforth Agri-Resources. He also served on the boards of numerous civic organizations, including the American Youth Foundation (founded by his grandfather) and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri.

John C. Danforth
John C. Danforth graduated with honors from Princeton University in 1958 and from Yale Divinity School and Yale Law School in 1963. He first ran for public office in 1968 and was elected attorney general of Missouri. He was re-elected to the position in 1972. His political career continued to soar, and he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976, then re-elected in 1982 and in 1988. During his 18 years as a U.S. senator he served on the Committee on Finance, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. His major legislative initiatives included international trade, telecommunications, health care, research and development, transportation and civil rights.

In 1999, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed John C. Danforth to a special counsel to investigate the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He was also appointed as the President’s special envoy to Sudan in 2001. In 2004, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. John C. Danforth also chaired St. Louis 2004, which was a twelve county initiative to revitalize the area surrounding Wash. U. by means of economic growth, capital projects and health care. He currently chairs the Danforth Foundation.

4 Responses to “Who’s who in the Danforth family”

  1. Michael danforth says:

    im interest in the danforth name.

  2. Michael danforth says:

    thank you

  3. Craig Lynn Danforth says:

    Did Bill Danforth have brother’s? Did any live in New Mexico.

  4. Lee Falco says:

    I won the William H. Danforth award my senior year (high school).

    Do you have a list of winners from 1957; I have long ago via to many moves lost my certificate and the little “I Dare You” book.

    As I recall inside it said, “what I’ve dared, I’ve willed and what I have willed I’ll do”.

    Thank you,

    Lee Falco

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