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Seth Low

Seth Low, born in Brooklyn, New York, (January 18, 1850 - September 17, 1916) was a U.S. educator and political figure.

He spent several years in his father's business through the 1870s, but left to enter politics. In 1880 he married Anne Wroe Scollay Curtis of Boston in 1880, daughter of Justice Benjamin R. Curtis of the United States Supreme Court.

Low became mayor of Brooklyn in 1881, following in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, who was Brooklyn's mayor earlier in the century. He served two terms until 1885, and seemed to have been a popular leader, but his support of Grover Cleveland in 1884 caused a rift with his fellow Republicans and cost him a third term.

After that, he became the president of Columbia University, serving between 1890 and 1901, during which time he led the move of the University from Midtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights. In 1895, he gave one million dollars for Low Library to be built at the new Columbia University campus, dedicated to his father, Abiel Abbot Low (1811-1893), who was the wealthiest China trader in New York, importing teas, porcelains, and silk. It was with the inheritance from his father that he built the library. It opened in 1897.

He also secured trustee approval to change the name of the institution from Columbia College to Columbia University.

On July 4, 1899 he was one of the American delegates to attend the International Peace Conference at The Hague. Others in the delegation were Andrew White , then the United States Ambassador to the German Empire; Stanford Newel of Minnesota, then the United States Minister to the Netherlands; Captain Alfred Mahan, of the United States Navy; Captain William Crozier , of the United States Army; and Frederick Holls of New York.

At the conference, Low made the concluding speech. His remarks were printed two months later in The New York Times. He said:

On this day, so full for Americans of thoughts connected with their National Independence, we may not forget that Americans have yet other grounds for gratitude to the people of the Netherlands. We cannot forget that our flag received its first foreign salute from a Dutch officer, nor that the Province of Friesland gave to our independence its first formal recognition. By way of Leyden and Delft-Haven and Plymouth Rock, and again by way of New Amsterdam, the free public school reached American shores.
The United States of America have taken their name from the United States of the Netherlands . We have learned from you only that "in union there is strength"; that is an old lesson, but also, in large measure, how to make "One out of many." From you we have learned what we, at least, value, to separate Church and State; and from you we gather inspiration at all times in our devotion to learning, to religious liberty, and to individual and National freedom. These are some of the things for which we believe the American people owe no little gratitude to the Dutch; and these are the things for which today, speaking in the name of the American people, we venture to express their heartfelt thanks.

He resigned as president of the university to become the second mayor of the newly consolidated City of New York (1901 to 1903). During his 1901 campaign, he had the support of humorist Mark Twain. He and Twain made a joint appearance that The New York Times, on October 30, 1901, said drew a crowd of more than 2,000. "Ten minutes before the opening of the meeting the rush of those trying to crowd into the already packed hall became so threatening that a half dozen policemen at the entrance were almost carried off their feet, and were forced, by way of precaution, to close the doors," said the Times. "Within the hall every available inch of space was called into requisition. Men and boys climbed up the latticework surrounding the elevator at one side of the hall, and climbed up on window sills and wherever there was an inch to give a foothold above the heads of the rest of the men."

He was chairman of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama from 1907 until his death in 1916 in Bedford Hills, New York.

Further Reading Benjamin R. C. Low, Seth Low (1925). Columbia Alumni News, Oct. 20, 1916. Board of Estimate and Apportionment and Board of Aldermen: Joint Session in Memory of Honorable Seth Low . . . Sept. 25, 1916 (1916). A. L. Moffat, "Low Geneal.: The Descendants of Seth Low and Mary Porter" (1932), a copy of which is in the Lib. of Cong.; and the New York press of Sept. 18, 1916.

Last updated: 05-17-2005 17:11:32