The Minns Lecture Series: Susan Minns

By Committee Member Lollie Sharpe at First 2010 Lecture

Susan Minns, who died in 1938 at the age of 98, left an unusual legacy in her brother Thomas’s honor, to be jointly administered by King’s Chapel and First Church. Thomas was an active member of First Church, and Susan was an equally ardent supporter of King’s Chapel. Their legacy is known as the Minns Lecture series. Its purpose is to sponsor an annual series of lectures by Unitarian Universalist ministers on religious topics of historical importance and contemporary relevance.

Susan Minns was an interesting woman. She and her brother lived at 14 Louisburg Square, and neither married. At the time of her death Susan was the oldest living female graduate of M I T. She was, in fact, one of the very first women to study there. She later donated to M I T 20,000 feet of land for the construction of a laboratory to study river flow hydraulics. She donated Little Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, MA to our state, as a bird sanctuary. And if you’ve been to the Museum of Science you may have noticed an outdoor display in front of the entrance, a collection of boulders from around the region and the world which she donated. She was also a charter member of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole on Cape Cod.

Susan Minns was an art collector, too. Her tastes ran to what she called “The dance of death,” with all with a theme of death, including etchings, wood carvings, and engravings by the likes of Durer and Rembrandt.

As to her love of books, there is a possibly apocryphal story of Miss Minns and the Boston Athenaeum. This was recorded by bookman George T. Goodspeed in a 1982 talk he delivered to the Bostonian Society. “Miss Minns once brought her dog to 10 ½ Beacon Street, the home of the Athenaeum, and was politely but firmly reminded that dogs were not permitted in the library. Indignant, she immediately left, went down the hill to her broker’s office, bought a share in the Athenaeum registered in the dog’s name, returned to the library, slapped the share on the front desk, and said ‘NOW keep him out!’” And dogs are still permitted at the Athenaeum!