William Marsh Rice

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(1st) Margaret Bremond

William Marsh Rice (March 14, 1816 – September 23, 1900) was an American businessman who bequeathed his fortune to found Rice University in Houston, Texas.



Rice was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the third of ten children of David and Patty Hall Rice. His first job was as a grocery store clerk in Springfield, at the age of 15. By age 22, he had purchased the store from its owner. In 1838, Rice traveled to Texas in search of new business opportunities. Unfortunately, all the merchandise from his store was lost at sea, and Rice was forced to start anew in Houston as a clerk. He soon set up the Rice and Nichols general store, which became the William M. Rice and Company.[1]

Rice made his fortune by investing in land, real estate, lumber, railroads, cotton and other prospects in Texas and Louisiana. He also invested in business firms in Houston; in 1895 he was listed in the city directories as "Capitalist. Owner of Capitol Hotel and Capitol Hotel Annex Building, President of Houston Brick Works Company."[1] Rice was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.[2]

Little is known about Rice's private life. He lived in Houston until around 1865, when he moved to New York (but did not own a home there). He built a house on a 160-acre (0.65 km2) estate in Dunellen, New Jersey, and moved there in 1872. He became a resident of New York again in 1882.[1]

Rice married Julia E. Brown (nee Elizabeth Baldwin) on June 26, 1867. Baldwin was the sister of Charlotte Rice, the wife of William Rice's brother Frederick. The marriage was "stormy", and during the 1890s, she consulted an attorney regarding the possibility of a divorce. She died "hopelessly insane" in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on July 24, 1896.[1]

On January 28, 1882, William Rice drafted a will, instructing the executors to pay over to the trustees, the Governor and the Judge, funds from his estate for the establishment of "The William M. Rice Orphans Institute." The next year, he began spending more time in Houston, reuniting with old acquaintances. After an 1886 or 1887 meeting with a C. Lombardi, Rice decided that the benefits of his wealth should be enjoyed by the children of the city where he made his fortune. In 1891, Rice decided that he would not establish an Orphans Institute at the Dunellen estate, but would instead found the William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art in Houston, Texas. The Institute's charter was signed by all the original trustees, except for Rice, on May 18, 1891, and certified by the State of Texas the following day.[1]

In 1893, Rice made a new will, naming as executors James A. Baker Jr. (a lawyer who often worked for Rice), William M. Rice Jr. (his nephew), and John D. Bartine. The value of Rice's estate at the time was estimated at about $4 million. The new will instructed the executors to divide his property into two equal parts, one to be bequeathed to the Rice Institute, the other to be divided into shares and distributed to his wife Elizabeth Baldwin Rice and other legatees. After her death in 1896, a new will was drafted on September 26, providing bequests for several of Rice's relatives and leaving the remainder of the estate to the Rice Institute. The next four years saw a great deal of litigation by the will of Elizabeth Rice. Its executor was O. T. Holt, assisted by Albert T. Patrick, formerly an attorney in Houston, but working in New York at the time. Under a false identity, Patrick interviewed Rice, who would not otherwise have seen him due to his professional relationship with Elizabeth Rice. Patrick was attempting to establish Rice's domicile in Texas, and not in New York, which would have provided a more favorable bequest for Mrs. Rice. Despite revealing his identity in 1900, to Rice's anger, the two men continued to have dealings.[1]

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