The Crow Letter

The letter seen here was written on February 2, 1853 from the Senate Chamber in Jefferson City, Missouri. The letter was written by Wayman Crow, then a Missouri state senator, to his friend, William Greenleaf Eliot, pastor of the First Unitarian Church in St. Louis. The letter pre-dates the passage of the University’s charter by several weeks, making it the earliest surviving piece of correspondence concerning Washington University.

In the body of the letter Crow brings Eliot up to date on events in the senate, and expresses his concern over the performance of certain (unnamed) senators and representatives from the St. Louis area. Crow then tells Eliot he will soon be returning to St. Louis and sends his regards to Eliot and his family. The transcript can be read here.

The reference to the university is found in Crow’s postscript, where he mentions “a notice to incorporate the Eliot Seminary.” — Eliot Seminary was our institution’s name for the first year of its existence. Eliot had no knowledge of Crow’s work with the charter for the institution, a fact hinted at by the words “don’t condemn me for using the title,” and confirmed by an entry in Eliot’s diary in which Eliot notes that a new institution with the name of Eliot Seminary has just received a charter from the legislature, “but I know nothing of it.”

The Crow letter was discovered in 1988 by Beryl Manne, former university archivist, and is now in University Archives as part of the Washington University Charter and Letter about Incorporation collection.