Who Killed Jane Stanford? A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University

Published on Oct 31, 2022


The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino hosts Richard White, Margaret Bryne Professor of American History, emeritus at Stanford University, as he discusses his new book, “Who Killed Jane Stanford? A Gilded Age 

Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University,” in a virtual lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 12 to 1 p.m.


The Huntington partners with the Pasadena Literary Alliance and The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW) in this program.


As a premier historian, White penetrates the fog of corruption and cover-up still surrounding the murder of Stanford University’s co-founder to establish who did it, how, and why.


Jane and Leland Stanford cofounded a university in 1885 to honor their recently deceased young son. After her husband’s death in 1893, Jane Stanford steered the university into eccentricity and public controversy for more than a decade. 


In 1905 she was murdered in Hawaii, a victim, according to the Honolulu coroner’s jury, of strychnine poisoning. With her vast fortune the university’s lifeline, the Stanford president and his allies quickly sought to foreclose challenges to her bequests by constructing a story of death by natural causes. The coverup gained traction in the murky labyrinths of power, wealth, and corruption of Gilded Age San Francisco. The murderer walked.


Deftly sifting the scattered evidence and conflicting stories of suspects and witnesses, White gives the first full account of Jane Stanford’s murder and its cover-up. Against a backdrop of the city’s machine politics, rogue policing, tong wars, and heated newspaper rivalries, White’s search for the murderer draws the reader into Jane Stanford’s imperious household and the academic enmities of the university. Although Stanford officials claimed that no one could have wanted to murder Jane, the book tells about several people who had the motives and the opportunity to do so. One of these also had the means.


Richard White is the author of many acclaimed histories and has written widely on the American West, the Gilded Age, environmental history, the history of capitalism, and Native America. He wrote the groundbreaking study of the transcontinentals, “Railroaded,” winner of the LA Times Book Prize and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He lives in Los Angeles.


Attending the online lecture is free with registration. To register, visit www.huntington.org/event/who-killed-jane-stanford-gilded-age-tale-murder-deceit-spirits-and-birth-university.


For more information, call (626) 405-2100. 

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