The Danforth name has made an indelible imprint on Washington University in St. Louis – from William H. Danforth, an 1892 graduate who established the Danforth Foundation in 1927; to his son, Donald Danforth, who served as chair of the Danforth Foundation from 1955-1965; to grandson Bill (also named William H. Danforth) who served as chancellor of the University for 24 years. It is after Chancellor William H. Danforth and his late wife Elizabeth that the William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth University Center is named.
Known as “Uncle Bill” or “Chan Dan” by students, Chancellor William H. Danforth and his late wife, Elizabeth Gray Danforth, or Ibby, knew many students by name because of the countless campus events they attended and supported.
William H. Danforth
William Danforth was born on April 10, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson to the founder of Ralston-Purina and of the Danforth Foundation. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1951 he worked for three years as a physician in the U.S. Navy, echoing the two years he spent in the Navy from 1944-45. He then returned to St. Louis to work at Barnes Hospital and eventually Washington University.
Danforth’s early calling to the healing profession influenced his notable years as an academic leader. Being a physician helped him to understand deeply his fellow human beings. He took to his vice chancellorship in the School of Medicine and then to Brookings Hall the imperative to do good, relieve suffering, and make the world better.
Selected accomplishments as Chancellor:
- 70 new faculty chairs, for a total of 110
- a $1.72 billion endowment, seventh largest in the nation
- added dozens of new buildings to campus
- triple the previous number of gift-supported scholarships
- nearly 60,000 students graduated during his chancellorship
- significant increase in retention of undergraduate students
- groundwork laid for future success
Washington University positions:
- Fellow in Cardiology, 1957–58
- Instructor in Medicine, 1951–52, 1954–58
- Assistant, then Associate Professor of Medicine, 1958–67
- Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs, 1965–71
- Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, 1967–present
- Chancellor, 1971–95
- Chairman, Board of Trustees, 1995–99
- Trustee Vice Chairman, 1999-2004
Elizabeth "Ibby" Gray Danforth
William met Elizabeth Anne Gray, of St. Louis, during his college years. They were married in 1950. They have four children: Cynthia Prather, of Anniston, Alabama; David Danforth, of Clayton, Missouri; Maebelle Reed, of Tucson, Arizona; and Elizabeth Sankey, of Ladue, Missouri.
“Ibby Danforth was one of the great citizens of Washington University and of St. Louis,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has said. The late First Lady of the University actively supported her husband in his long career — engaging everyone with her warmth, intelligence, and compassion. Students greeted Ibby in the classes, lectures, performances, and athletic events she attended. Alumni and the St. Louis and corporate communities knew her through her hosting and participation in hundreds of receptions and events around the world and through her volunteerism. Ibby’s name is linked to endeavors that reflect her exceptional spirit and commitment.
Contributions to the University:
- William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholars Program, honors students in all areas
of the University who have outstanding character and are committed to service.
- Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship, awarded to a transfer student from St. Louis
Community College and sponsored by the Women’s Society of Washington University.
- Raymond E. Maritz Professorship in Architecture, from William E. and Jackie Maritz, in
Ibby Danforth’s honor.
- Roy and Diana Vagelos Professorship in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, from Dr.
P. Roy and Mrs. Diana Vagelos in honor of Dr. and Mrs. William H. Danforth
- The Elizabeth Gray Danforth Butterfly Garden — known as Ibby’s Garden — created by
the Woman’s Club of Washington University
- Elizabeth Gray Danforth House, freshman residence hall
- The Washington University Sports Hall of Fame, named to the listing with William H. Danforth