He Gave Away Millions

He Gave Away Millions

By Olive Tardiff

The Exeter News-Letter

The Tucks in 1922
Mr. & Mrs. Edward Tuck, 1922, shared their wealth
with communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Exeter and Hampton benefited as well
as French municipalities.

[Photo courtesy Miriam Gardner Dunnan]
Edward Tuck may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but by the end of his life he had converted that metal into gold.

Edward, the son of Amos and Sarah Nudd Tuck, was born Aug. 24, 1842, during what might be called the golden age of Exeter. The years between 1840 and 1870 were a period of physical expansion for the town. New streets were being laid out and shade trees planted; fine homes and new churches were built; industries were established.

The first public library was opened in 1853; a new court house was erected in 1854; and the town hall dedicated in 1856. Gas lighting was installed in 1863, and Robinson Female Seminary opened its doors in 1869.

The tone of the community was cultural. Lyceum lectures with such speakers as Theodore Parker and Oliver Wendell Holmes were well attended. Concerts of all kinds, including those of the newly formed Exeter Concert Band, were popular. Leading Exeter citizens, among them Amos Tuck and Judge Henry French, were active in civic affairs and politics.

"A group of lawyers and party leaders," reported the "Dictionary of American Biography" referring to Tuck, "made Exeter one of the influential centers of New England life in the 19th century." Tuck is credited with suggesting the name for the Republican Party and was instrumental, so the biographer claims, in getting Abraham Lincoln elected president.

It was Tuck who persuaded his friend Lincoln, while they were serving together in the House of Representatives to send his son Robert to Phillips Exeter Academy where Edward Tuck was a student. And it was the speech delivered at Cooper Union in New York City on his way to Exeter to visit his son that effectively launched Lincoln's campaign for the presidency.

During his stay in Exeter, Lincoln was a guest at the Tuck home at 89 Front St., where some of the most prominent leaders of the day were entertained by the Tucks. With such influences, is it any wonder that Edward should become literally a man of the world?

Edward Tuck was just one of several young people who were inspired to greater things by the stimulating environment of Exeter's golden age. Ambrose Swasey, inventor; Daniel Chester French, sculptor; William Robinson, founder of the seminary; and Dr. Sarah Palmer, surgeon and lecturer, were Tuck's contemporaries. Tuck's closest friend was John Gardner, Exeter businessman. Gardner's daughter, Elizabeth, a few decades later, was to invite Tuck to act as witness at her marriage in Paris to Adolphe Bouguereau.

Tuck attended local schools, graduated from PEA in 1858, and went on to Dartmouth. On receiving his AB in 1862, he made his first donation as an alumnus to his college -- $1 "for unrestricted use." It marked the beginning of a lifetime of giving.

In 1863, Tuck left for Europe for treatment of an eye problem, and while there, he was appointed vice-consul to Paris by President Lincoln. It was obvious that he had fallen in love with Paris, for in 1866, he accepted a position with an international banking company in New York City that made frequent trips to France necessary. His business career can only be described as meteoric: he showed a special aptitude for high finance. By 1890 he had settled permanently in Paris, where he was to spend the rest of his life.

According to one biographer, Tuck's life was "a bridge connecting the age of hand-labor with the age of the machine." Tuck himself once remarked that his first trip across the Atlantic in a sailing ship had taken 19 days, that later he crossed in a steamship in 130 hours, and that finally he had shaken the hand of the young man (Lindbergh) who had just flown the Atlantic in 33 hours.

Tuck actually retired from business in 1881, but by 1910 he had amassed such a large fortune he was able to give millions of dollars to his alma mater, Dartmouth College. To honor the memory of his father, who had been a trustee, Tuck had endowed the Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance, the first of its kind in the U.S., as director of several corporations, including James Hill's Great Northern Railroad.

The years after his retirement were hardly idle ones. Tuck took an active interest in the currency question and wrote extensively on the subject of bimetallism. He was a leader in the Free Thought religious movement. He served as director of several corporations, including James Hill's Great Northern Railroad.

The Tucks' Home In Vert Mont in 1929
Vert Mont, 1929, the home of Exeter philanthropist
Edward Tuck when he settled permanently in France.

[Photo courtesy Miriam Gardner Dunnan]
While he never gave up his American citizenship, he and his wife, the former Julia Stell of Philadelphia, whom he married in 1872, made their permanent home at Vert Mont, a country villa near Paris. They maintained an apartment in the City of Paris and spent their winters in Monte Carlo.

Tuck must have been besieged with requests for money, but like the judicious financier he was, he gave only to causes and organizations that could prove their worth. In all of his charitable undertakings, he had the support and encouragement of his wife.

Greatly concerned with their French neighbors, the Tucks gave a hospital and a park to the town of Reuil where their country home was located. They established a school of domestic science in Paris for young working girls.

During WW I, the Tucks assisted both the French and the American war effort in every way possible. Having no children of their own, they "adopted" 15,000 French soldiers, many of whom were patients in the Stell Hospital which had been converted to a military hospital in 1914, totally supported throughout the war with Tuck funds. To help the French government in its war effort, Tuck lent his own securities and persuaded other investors to lend theirs.

After the war, the Tucks gave generously to French institutions. They gave money and art objects to Malmaison, the Napoleonic museum near their home. To the Petit Palais in Paris, Tuck gave his entire art collection of tapestries, porcelains, and paintings valued at $5 million. He restored the Roman Monument at La Turbie near Monte Carlo.

The French people showed their gratitude to their benefactors in several ways. Camille Flammarion, noted astronomer, named a newly-discovered "planet" (probably an asteroid) "Tuckia." Streets in both Paris and La Turbie were named Rue Edward Tuck. Tuck became the first American to receive the Prix de Vertu from the French Academy, and in 1929 both Tucks were awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. In 1932, on his 90th birthday, Tuck was made an honorary citizen of France, the highest honor the government could give.

With all these well-deserved honors heaped on him, Tuck nevertheless remembered his more modest beginnings. He extended his generosity to both Exeter, the town of his birth, and to Hampton, which his first ancestor in America helped to found, and where Amos Tuck had served as headmaster of Hampton Academy.

When Rev. Ira Jones of Hampton suggested the need for a museum to memorialize early settlers, Tuck generously responded. The Tuck [Memorial] Museum was established in 1925 with funds provided by Tuck for building and grounds. He had already underwritten the Founders' Park adjacent to the museum. Later he sent money for playing fields nearby, known today as the Tuck Athletic Field.

In June, 1926, Tuck wrote that he would be sending $1,000 a year to the Tuck Museum, and he added, "If I were to have the privilege of again riding over the Hampton roads and inhaling the delicious air with its mixed flavor of sea water and marsh mud . . . (it) would be a great delight." He would indeed be delighted to see the fine museum that has developed since his initial investment.

Tuck gave money in 1911 to the Town of Exeter to help build a public high school for boys. The Tuck High School, named in the honor of Amos Tuck, though it has been altered considerably by later additions, still gives evidence of Tuck's concern for his native town. He contributed to the seminary as well. To the Exeter Nurses Home he gave $10,000 with the provision that it be provided with "good plumbing." He bought Stratham Hill, then donated it to the town of Stratham as a public park. He provided the funds necessary for the construction of the state's "Marble Palace," the N.H. Historical Society Building in Concord, and took great pride in its design.

Tuck was, however, not so open-handed with PEA. It is said that after a disagreement over policy with the board of trustees, he resolved never to give any more money to the school. In his will, he did leave 400 shares of stock to the school and the Front St. house to the faculty.

Tuck died at the age of 96 on April 30, 1938, and is buried in St. Germaine-en-Laye near Paris. He had lived all his life by the philosophy of his hero Benjamin Franklin, who said, "I would rather be remembered as a man who lived usefully than as a man who died rich."