Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and the University of St Andrews

Friday 9 August 2019

This week we mark the centenary of the death of Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist, who gave away almost 90% of his fortune (almost $5 billion in 2019 value) between his retirement in 1901 and his death in 1919. Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Fife and emigrated to the USA with his family in 1848 when he was aged 12. He ultimately became a steel magnate, selling Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for 480 million dollars.

This University was clear early on that Carnegie, as a Fifer made good, was a potential donor and possible target for fundraising. In September 1883, Principal JC Shairp wrote to the St Andrews Burgh Clerk to sound out the possibility of approaching Carnegie “of Dunfermline and America” for funds. 

United College Factor’s correspondence and papers (UYUC560/1883)

Again, in 1895 Professor William Knight wrote to Mrs Carnegie, whom Andrew had married in 1887, to find out whether her husband might be persuaded to support the University’s efforts in the education of women (perhaps in contributing to the building of University Hall). At that time he received a response which indicated that although they were interested in the subject, they were actively supporting the Barnard College for Women in connection with Columbia, in her home city,

“and we feel that all we can spare from Mr. Carnegie’s pet scheme of disposing of his surplus – namely that of libraries – should be devoted to New York”.

Letter from Mrs Louise Carnegie to Professor William Knight, 6 September 1895 (UYUY3778/1/A/17)

“St Andrews appeals to us very strongly also, but we feel we cannot listen to it as much as we should like to do so.” (1895)

In time Carnegie and his wife Louise became very generous donors to the University of St Andrews and funded a number of ventures during the Principalship of Sir James Donaldson (1886-1915). These included the provision of a Willis organ for the University chapel (from 1902), the recreation park on Hepburn Gardens (1902-4), the Women’s Union (1904), the Gymnasium or drill hall (1905), £10,000 to maintain the latter three gifts (1905) and an extension to the library (1907).

Letter from Peter Redford Scott Lang reporting Student opinion about recreation facilities in light of possible donation from Carnegie, 1903 and plan of proposed area to be used (ms36221/14)
Copy letter from Carnegie giving £10,000 for the maintenance and extension of the sports facilities and Women’s Union (UYUY7Sec/1904-5)
Carnegie’s support for Libraries is well known. Here is his letter to Principal Donaldson giving £10,000 “to build a new Library for beloved St Andrews”, 1906. This funded the Carnegie Wing of the Old Library in St Mary’s quadrangle, now part of the School of Psychology. (ms6180)
Letter from Lords Cricket Ground in 1904, responding to request from Professor Scott Lang for information on the performance of ‘Mr Shanks Motor Mower’. Lords reported that the mower halved the time needed to cut 6 acres in comparison with one horse, and ‘the motor mower leaves no foot marks like the horse.” (ms36221/68/8)

Andrew Carnegie was made a Freeman of the City of St Andrews in July 1902 and was elected as Rector of the University twice, in 1903 and 1905.

Letter and telegram from Andrew Carnegie after his first election as rector (ms6145 and 6146)

On the second occasion the alternative candidate withdrew so that Carnegie was unopposed. The festivities surrounding the rectorial included, according to Mabel, wife of Professor James Irvine: a torchlight procession, students in comical dress, a bonfire in the middle of the quadrangle, pipers, men on horseback, trumpets, bells and drums and the usual march through the streets.

Admission card and menu from installation of Carnegie as Rector, 1905 (UYUY223/2/1905 and UYUY199)

The correspondence with Carnegie held in the papers of Principal Donaldson and elsewhere in the archival collections of the Library indicates that he was very personally interested in the way in which the University used the funds he had given and that he did not hold back from making suggestions. He worked closely with Professor Peter Redford Scott Lang and appointed John Ross, his lawyer in Dunfermline, as his representative when he was overseas.

Letter from AC to Donaldson about funds, to be sent on by Ross (ms6150)

There are many notes in his hasty hand giving his responses to various requests from the University, and much evidence of his regular crossing of the Atlantic. This changed in 1914.

Letter from Mrs Carnegie to Principal Donaldson explaining the early return of the Carnegies to New York in August 1914, and giving AC’s view on the impending war (ms6244)

In 1909 Carnegie was an obvious candidate for the General Committee of the Quincentenary celebrations. He attended the events in September 1911 and stayed with the Principal at 9 The Scores. A portrait which had been commissioned after public subscription was presented to him the evening before the full Quincentenary events began. This was subsequently given to the University by Carnegie and remains in our museum collections. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (USA) presented an address of congratulations to the university in 1911.

“We cannot forget that a man born in Scotland and reared in America has been both a Lord Rector of St Andrews University and the honored founder of this institution.” (UYUY185/5/5/1)

The appointment diary of Principal Donaldson recording the stay of the Carnegies in 1911

In her thank you letter (ms6238) Mrs Carnegie talks of

‘the many delightful events of the past week. We look back upon our visit to you as one of the happiest we ever made. Apart from the unique celebrations it is always such a pleasure to be with you, and we also greatly enjoyed your delightful house party. The celebration was such a great success, and everything passed off so smoothly and perfectly. We find our thoughts going back again and again to all the wonderful events. It is impossible to say which we enjoyed most, for all were so delightful in their way’.

In 1913 Carnegie paid off the outstanding debt of those 500th celebrations, about £300 of the £6600 cost, and received a special vote of thanks from the Celebrations Executive Committee (UYUY185/6/2).

Over and above these specific links with St Andrews, the University also benefitted from a grant by Carnegie to support higher education in the country of his birth. The ancient Universities of Scotland were endowed with the Carnegie Trust in June 1901 with US bonds worth $10 million, an unprecedented gift, amounting to around 200-times the annual governmental funding of the four Scottish universities at the time.

Copy of the foundation document of the Carnegie Trust, 1901 (UYUY848) and photograph of the presentation of a Scroll to Carnegie by representatives of the Scottish Ancient Universities, College Echoes 1902 (StA LF1119.A2C7)

The St Andrews award from the Carnegie Trust for the first  5 year period was £42500, spent under the main headings the trust supported: Buildings, Endowment, Library and Grants to income. James Maitland Anderson, Librarian produced a number of documents stating the needs of the University Library for submission to Carnegie: more space and more books were his priority – little changes!

Statement of the Wants of the University Library, St Andrews and Statement of Requirements of the Chemical Department from Professor Purdie, 1901 (UYUY848)

The first grant was to be spent on an annual allowance for the library, on endowed and temporary teaching staff and buildings in the United College, and for teachers and buildings at the Dundee College. It also supported a museum, the botanic garden and the chemistry labs established by Professor Purdie. In Dundee support also went to salaries, buildings, museum and labs. The second quinquennial grant was £37500, which was spent on the library, pathological museum, botanic gardens, and engineering lab and teaching staff. The third period grant totalled £25000 which was spent on library, buildings, equipment and teaching.

There was also significant support for students through the provision of Carnegie Trust vouchers for the payment of fees. Carnegie grants and research scholarships provided funding for many who went on to become eminent in their fields, such as chemist Sir Edmund Hirst.

The link with Carnegie’s legacy continued after 1919. Principal Sir James and Lady Mabel Irvine attended the centenary celebrations of Andrew Carnegie in New York in November 1935 (see an earlier blog post on the recording of Irvine’s speech).  

Article in ‘The Carnegie magazine’ of 1935 (UYUY250/Irvine/2/11)

The Carnegie Corporation of New York continued the generosity of its founder to St Andrews when it awarded the University Library Special Collections Division a generous grant in 2013 for new acquisitions and for the preservation and conservation of our collections. Our Principal Professor Sally Mapstone has been a Trustee of the Carnegie Trust since 2016 and its Vice-Chair since 2019.

Rachel Hart
Senior Archivist (Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments)

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5 thoughts on "Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and the University of St Andrews"

  • Christine Wood
    Christine Wood
    Friday 9 August 2019, 7.03pm

    Brilliant post about Carnegie! Really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  • clcouch123
    Friday 9 August 2019, 8.10pm

    Having grown up in Pittsburgh (PA, USA), it would have been impossible, I believe, not to know of Carnegie. I appreciate this remembrance and review. I went to college in a town that had a Carnegie Library. I'm glad your university deservedly benefited from Carnegie's gifting.

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Monday 12 August 2019, 1.56pm

      Thank you for your lovely comment!

  • juliamelvin1
    Sunday 11 August 2019, 6.13pm

    Thank you for this ample account of Andrew Carnegie's many connections with St Andrews. In 1905, at the time of his second rectorial, Mabel Irvine was a young bride, newly arrived in ST Andrews as the wife of a young lecturer, and not yet professor. She did indeed write vividly about the rectorial events. She and 'Jim' Irvine watched the procession from the roof of the Chemistry Laboratory.

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Tuesday 13 August 2019, 1.30pm

      Thanks for your comment. We are glad to hear you appreciated the blog.


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