William & Mary

Harrison Ruffin Tyler '49 pledges $5 million to Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History

Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Ruffin Tyler have committed $5 million to establish an endowment for the College's Department of History in memory of his father, Lyon Gardiner Tyler--17th president of William and Mary and son of John Tyler, the 10th United States president. In honor of the former College president, the department will be named the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History, and a campus garden will be created and dedicated in his memory.

In addition to supporting the Department of History, the gift includes funding for the establishment of the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Library Endowment at Swem Library. The Tyler Library Endowment will be used for acquisitions to support the Department of History and for the conservation and preservation of historic documents in the library's Special Collections.

"The legacy of Lyon Gardiner Tyler is nothing less than the university that we see today," said President Timothy Sullivan, in announcing Mr. and Mrs. Tyler's gift to the William and Mary Board of Visitors last week. "When President Tyler was appointed in 1888, he inherited a school struggling for survival. Upon retiring in 1919, he had built an enduring foundation on which today's excellence rests. We are most grateful for his legacy and for this transforming gift from Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Ruffin Tyler."

In serious decline following the Civil War, William and Mary had been virtually closed for seven years when Tyler took office. There were no full-time students, and the College's three main buildings were dilapidated. By 1919, Tyler's leadership had enabled the College to increase its enrollment to more than 200, enlarge the faculty to 14, renovate or construct 12 buildings and increase the endowment to $154,000. Tyler also led successful efforts to establish a program for women and to make William and Mary a public institution, thus assuring the College's financial survival.

"My father loved William and Mary, as is evident from the 31 years he served as president," said Harrison Tyler. "I am certain that he would be pleased to learn that his son is honoring his memory and his commitment to the institution by advancing the excellence of one of the College's premiere academic programs."

The Tyler family has been associated with William and Mary since 1704, when the great-grandfather of United States President John Tyler--also named John Tyler--attended the institution. His son also attended William and Mary, and later became Marshal of the Colonial Admiralty Court. His grandson, the governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811, graduated from William and Mary and also served as the last appointed judge of the Admiralty Court. His great-grandson, the United States president, also graduated from the College.

Son of the United States president, Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born in 1853 and would have attended William and Mary except for the serious decline of the College. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Virginia and received an honorary degree from Harvard University. At the end of his term as William and Mary president, the College also awarded him an honorary degree.

Harrison Ruffin Tyler earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from William and Mary in 1949, as well as a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1951. He was the co-founder of ChemTreat Inc., an industrial water treatment company headquartered in Richmond. Tyler and his wife, Frances Payne Bouknight Tyler, reside at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the Charles City County estate of President John Tyler.

As a result of the endowment, the William and Mary Department of History will be able to offer annual Lyon Gardiner Tyler Graduate Fellowships, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Undergraduate Scholarships and a scholarship award to the top history student. To enhance the quality of the faculty, the endowment will fund an annual Lyon Gardiner Tyler faculty leave award and a Tyler Distinguished Speakers Series.

"This gift truly has the power to transform our program," said James McCord, chair of the Department of History. "It is particularly fitting that our department will be named for Lyon Gardiner Tyler, because he was a prolific author, well-respected historian of Virginia and founder of the William and Mary Quarterly."

In recent years, the Department of History has gained national recognition for its excellence. U.S. News & World Report ranks the department's graduate program in colonial American history among the top five in the nation. In terms of both enrollment and number of majors, the Department of History is one of the most popular on campus.

The Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History will be the first department at William and Mary to be named for an individual. In addition to endowing the academic program, the commitment will enable the College to establish the Tyler Family Garden, near James Blair Hall, the home of the Department of History. The garden will contain a plaque paying tribute to the long association of the Tyler family with William and Mary, and appropriate statuary.

The Tylers have previously established endowments in honor of his father and provide continued support for the College's Center for Archaeological Research. The center has been quite active in the exploration of Fort Pocahontas, a Civil War site owned by Tyler near Sherwood Forest Plantation.