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In re Dodge

Decided: February 3, 1966.


Herbert, J.s.c.


The docket in this case was opened by a complaint alleging that Geraldine R. Dodge had become mentally incompetent and required a guardian. There was an adjudication of incompetency on that complaint, and since then various questions in the case relating to the administration of the guardianship have come before the court.

The questions now under consideration have been raised by Elmira College, a college for women located at Elmira, New York. The college filed its complaint in the guardianship case alleging that Mrs. Dodge made a gift to the college of her entire "collection of paintings, pictures, jade, bronze and various objects d'art." The complaint was thereafter amended to add allegations that Mrs. Dodge -- if she had not made an effective gift -- had made a binding promise to give the collections to the college. There was an order to show cause on the college's original complaint and, following the amendment, the guardians responded by filing an answer. Although the college might have asserted its claims in an independent suit, no objection by the guardians has been made to the form of the proceeding. I am satisfied that no worthwhile criticism can be made of the procedure followed. In all important respects the matter has proceeded to trial as though it had been brought as a separate action bearing its own docket number. Depositions were taken and, in addition to that, counsel cooperated in an exemplary way to inspect papers and exchange available information without the time and expense of formal discovery. The case was also pretried and a pretrial order entered. Following all this there was a trial which lasted for several days.

The case of the college is based upon a letter dated May 16, 1961 which reads as follows:

"May 16, 1961

Mr. Harold W. McGraw, Sr.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Elmira College

Elmira, New York

Dear Mr. McGraw:

By this letter I wish to confirm the arrangements I have discussed with you concerning my entire collection of paintings, pictures, jade, bronze, and various objects d'art located in my home at Sixty-first Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, at my New Jersey residence at Giralda Farms in Madison, New Jersey, and in storage in various places in New York City and elsewhere.

I wish to present and hereby do present and convey title to all of these items as a gift to Elmira College. It is to be understood, however, that I may retain possession of such items as long as I am able to enjoy them. I understand that the College has facilities available where these objects may be properly displayed and located, or will prepare such a display area for them. From time to time, I will relinquish possession of these items to the College as I desire.

It is my hope that the College, its students, alumnae and friends will receive the same benefit and enjoyment from these objects as I have been privileged to receive.


/s/ Geraldine R. Dodge

(Mrs.) Geraldine R. Dodge"

Mrs. Dodge, a daughter of William Rockefeller, is a woman of great wealth. She has no living descendants and her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, who lived until December 25, 1963, possessed an independent fortune. All of these facts were well known in 1961 and earlier to the men, such as Mr. McGraw, who were interested in Elmira College.

Long before the date of the quoted letter, determined and persistent efforts had been made to interest Mrs. Dodge in Elmira College. To a considerable extent her interest was aroused. In the spring of 1957 she accepted an invitation to pay the college a visit. A letter she wrote to Mr. McGraw following that visit included these paragraphs:

"I feel as though I had had a liberal education, having been with you and Mr. Shoemaker on the wonderful trip to Elmira. I am so deeply indebted to you both for all you did to make this vacation for me a memorable one. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it will remain a red-letter time for me to remember.

I was much impressed with the whole set-up at Elmira, with Dr. and Mrs. Murray, the members of the Board, and also the type of students I saw, and their general attitude. It is different from many colleges I have visited. I feel also that the location in the heart of the state is a great asset. I was pleased to hear that you do not intend to increase much the size of the student body, as that might alter the close relations they have with the faculty. I am sure it must be very satisfying to you to have such a large part in all this. The college is to be congratulated in having the services of such men as yourself."

In 1957, not long after she had been at Elmira, she gave the college $30,000 to be used for the purchase of land to enlarge the campus. Her next gift consisted of about 220 antique Chinese porcelains, having an appraised value of approximately $50,000. These were actually sent to the college in May 1960, but her intention to send them had been announced more than a year earlier. Then, on June 28, 1960, she signed a formal pledge card for $250,000, which bears this note:

"This fund of 250,000 -- is to be used to erect a building to house all art objects that I have given & may give in the future -- to be known as the Geraldine R. Dodge Building."

At or about the same time she was given an honorary degree by the college. The acceptance of a degree had been discussed with her at least as early as January 1959, but she made no trip to the college to receive it until the end of June 1960.

In or about the summer of 1960 the college acquired a new residence to be used by its presidents and, according to the testimony of Dr. Murray, Mrs. Dodge made a gift of money toward the expense of furnishing and reconditioning the house. In the same general period two payments of $100,000 each on account of her pledge of June 28, 1960 were made. The checks were sent on September 9, 1960 and January 10, 1961, and both of her covering letters made reference to "the proposed building."

The possibility of a gift of Mrs. Dodge's entire collection of paintings and art objects was mentioned by Mr. McGraw in a memorandum to Dr. Murray and Mr. Perry M. Shoemaker,

November 28, 1960. During this period Mr. McGraw had a fairly regular schedule of meetings with Mrs. Dodge. In his memorandum of November 28 he said that she desired to discuss the proposed gift with Murray, Shoemaker and himself and suggested a dinner engagement for December 6. The group did meet at dinner on or about December 6 and Mrs. Murray was included. On December 13, 1960 Dr. Murray wrote to Mrs. Dodge referring to the evening spent with her and saying:

"We were thrilled beyond expression to listen to the discussion about the possibilities of your housing your tremendous collection of various art objects at Strathmont. I think you join us in feeling that there could not be a more perfect setting for displaying the excellent collection which has long been so meaningful to you. The setting at Strathmont is unique and is of such a nature that our society will undoubtedly not be reproducing grounds and buildings which would be so in keeping with the quality and beauty of your art objects.

The tremendous significance that the collection could have to our academic program and the influence on the young women who will be coming to Elmira College could very well produce the most monumental step in many many years at Elmira in making the College the quality institution that all of us desire it to be. If there is to be a Geraldine R. Dodge Center at Strathmont, not only would our Art Department receive tremendous impetus, but the potentialities of the total use of Strathmont are so unlimited that its functioning would permeate every aspect of the College."

On January 4, 1961 Mr. McGraw again wrote to Dr. Murray and Mr. Shoemaker, making reference to the Dodge paintings and art objects as though there had by that time been a definite decision to donate the entire collection. He also wrote to the college architect December 29, 1960 about tentative plans for altering the Strathmont mansion, and in his letter referred to the gift of Mrs. Dodge as follows:

"As I think you know, she is giving all of her art objects, paintings, etc., to Elmira College (for the moment please keep this confidential). Her gifts to Elmira College will be more than ...

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