Meet Our Founding Mother, So to Speak
Nettie J. Dayton is the archetypal Foundation donor of the institution's early years. Because of her bequest, her name and family live on. As The Foundation's first donor, she is a leading figure in the development of the institution.
Nettie J. Dayton is the archetypal Foundation donor of the institution's early years. Because of her bequest, her name and family live on. As The Foundation's first donor, she is a leading figure in the development of the institution. But as an unmarried woman born in the 19th century who lived most of her life without the privilege of voting, Dayton is a mystery whose most lasting act was her gift to The Foundation. She was only 53 when she died. If it were not for her relationship to The New Haven Foundation, she would be truly lost to history.
Genealogies suggest that the Daytons (also spelled Deighton) were present in New Haven by the early 18th century. Nettie was the third of George H. Dayton and Sarah L. Hull Dayton's four children. Her father and her uncle Fred, distinguished for service during the Civil War, were both officers with the carriage manufacturer Henry Hooker Co. As the surviving member of her immediate family, Nettie J. Dayton must have lived comfortably amid the lawyers, bankers, and other professionals who managed the family assets.
Dayton's life spanned generations of women's activism. She may not have been a campaigner for women's right to vote, but she lived through the activism that generated the modern equal rights movement and extended women's public role through service work and settlement houses. Though not a millionaire, she did have the money to live fashionably in a comfortable house on Dwight Street. Her friend and banker, G. Harold Welch, managed her annuity, advised her on drawing up a will, and encouraged her to consider The Foundation as the permanent home for the family assets. Welch was especially interested in the success of The Foundation and met regularly with James Cooper, Harrison Hewitt, and Osborne Day as they planned for the organization's future.
Nettie J. Dayton's participation adds balance to the portrait of the male founders. Other funds are larger than hers, but her faith in the community trust idea and her belief in this community's promise capture the spirit of early 20th century women's activism. Her unrestricted gift was a perfect illustration of women's advancement, and it has been drawn upon for a broad range of activities and causes for over three-quarters of a century.
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