Hofstra University is the fourth and last American college or university to be named after a Dutch American, William S. Hofstra. It is also the only naming of a university or college after a Dutch American that occurred in the twentieth century. The naming of the other three universities named after Dutch Americans, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Vanderbilt University and Rutgers University, had occurred during the nineteenth century.
In 1933, Kate Mason Hofstra, William Hofstra’s widow passed away. In her will she left the Hofstra Estate, which included her residence, on 15 acres of land in Hempstead, Long Island, plus additional funds to a trust, in order to create a memorial to her late husband, William Hofstra. It is not clear what the instructions were for the memorial, but it appears that the trustees of the estate were given considerable freedom to choose an appropriate memorial. In 1935 the trustees decided to open a branch of New York University in the residence, previously the home of the Hofstras, on the property. The name chosen for the university branch was, Nassau College Hofstra Memorial of New York University, a rather long and cumbersome name. Four years later, in 1939, the college was provisionally chartered as a four year institution, and the name was changed to Hofstra College, a more appropriate name for a memorial to the donors of the property.
In 1940, Hofstra College was permanently chartered as a four year institution. In 1963, the college added graduate courses and programs and was renamed Hofstra University, the name it carries until today. So Hofstra College and later Hofstra University became a wonderful memorial to William Hofstra.
William Hofstra was the son of a Dutch immigrant from Friesland, a province in the northern part of the Netherlands. William’s father, Sakee Hofstra, arrived in the United States in 1854, as part of the big immigration wave of that time period. He settled in western Michigan along with his many Dutch compatriots. He married a Dutch American woman by the name of Wilhelmina Zageweg in Holland, Michigan, on January 13, 1860. The following year, in 1861, William was born. The father, Sakee, was apparently quite an entrepreneur. He tried several businesses, and at one time or other was a grocer, a baker and a hotel keeper. The family owned a home and hotel in Muskegon, Michigan in 1875. In 1880, William’s mother died from typhoid fever.
William Hofstra married Anna Laura Morton in 1881. The couple had two daughters, Laura, born in 1882, and Margaret, born in 1883. William went into the lumber business in Saginaw, Michigan and apparently became quite successful as a businessman. Between 1884 and 1895, the Hofstras divorced, and the mother, Anna, moved to Chicago with her daughters.
Following William’s and Anna’s divorce, and it is not clear how soon thereafter, William met Kate Mason Williams in Leadville, Colorado. Kate was six years older than William, and a wealthy widow. The couple got married in New Orleans, and apparently soon thereafter moved to Hempstead, Long Island. They purchased the Hempstead property, then named the Van Vranken Estate, which eventually became the Hofstra University campus, and built a magnificent home on it. William was quite proud of his Dutch heritage and named their estate, “The Netherlands”.
Since William was still relatively young when the couple arrived on Long Island in 1902, he either established or purchased the Nassau Lumber Company and ran it for a number of years to keep himself occupied. At that point in time both he and his wife were already quite wealthy, and this allowed them to do extensive traveling and entertaining. One of their planned trips was on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. Fortunately, they had to cancel the trip because William was called away for an important business activity.
William passed away in 1932 at the moderate age of 72. His wife Kate only outlived him by one year. Kate Mason Williams passed away the following year, in 1933. She was then 79 years old.
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