Lydia (Moss) Bradley was born in 1816 to parents who had a plantation in Kentucky. Prior to her birth, her parents gave the plantation to slaves rent free and no longer wished to profit from their labor. She had a very limited education but acquired practical skills for living. She also had a strong business sense.
Her father gave her a colt that had lost its mother. As the colt matured, she was able to trade it for 40 acres of timber land. She cut the timber and sold it to a sawmill run by her future husband.
Lydia and her husband used her inheritance to buy a large tract of land which they developed. They then moved into other entrepreneurial businesses and banking. They were less fortunate as a family. All five of their children died. Then Lydia’s husband was killed in a carriage accident.
Within 10 years Lydia doubled the estate value twice. She was one of the first women to hold a director’s position in a bank. When she remarried, she became the first woman in America to have a prenuptial agreement. She and her husband divorced four years later.
Lydia embarked on a career of philanthropy with the assets she had accumulated. She helped build a hospital, a home for senior women, a park, and a church. When she wanted to create a university, she was dismayed to discover she didn’t have enough money. What she did was to increase the value of land she owned from $10/acre to $140/acre. She had the money to create her university. Her university provided students with a skill to have a useful life. The university became her personal and emotional legacy. She loved being on campus and interacting with faculty and students.
Today Bradley University (not its original name) has nearly 6,000 students and more than 185 academic programs. Hidden heroes find a way to live up to their values. Lydia’s values were shaped by her father’s abhorrence of slavery. But she also recognized that to live up to her values, she would need to acquire the assets to accomplish what her values represented. She was an accomplished business person when women were not accepted in that role. Rather than use her wealth for her own personal gain, she was guided by values to support others. When she died at the age of 91, she left Bradley University with the rest of her estate.
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“Mrs. Bradley never forgot how to work, and till within a short time of her death, still made her own butter, raised her own eggs, salted down her own meat, and tried out her own lard.”– W.W. Hammond (Lydia Bradley’s business manager and friend)