The Minns Lectures were established in 1941 by a bequest of Susan Minns of Boston to honor her brother, Thomas Minns. Susan and Thomas were descendants of John Wilson, who was the first minister of First Church Boston, and also of Rev. Thomas Hooker. Their parents were Francis Parker Minns and Constance Freeman Minns. Thomas Minns, born in 1833, was a merchant, a leader in the milling industry, and active in building railways in the West. He was one of the founders of the Museum of Fine Arts, a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society. A member of King's Chapel, he was also active in the Society for Ministerial Relief and the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. He was known for his sterling integrity, unremitting diligence, and sound judgment. He died in 1913.
Susan Minns, who lived to be ninety-eight, was herself a remarkable woman. She was a philanthropist, art collector, biologist, and a member of King’s Chapel in Boston. She lived at 14 Louisburg Square and maintained a country house and farm in Princeton, Massachusetts, and a summer home in Nahant. Born in 1839 in Lincoln, Massachusetts, she was educated at private schools in Boston, a school in Cambridge conducted by Professor JLR Agassiz of Harvard, and another of the professor’s schools on Pekinese Island in Buzzard’s Bay. She was one of the first women to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and studied botany with Professor Asa Gray of Harvard, contributing to his book, “Manual of the Botany of the Northern U.S.” She was made a charter member of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, and a member of the Board of Overseers of the Gray Herbarium of Harvard. In 1928 she wrote a small volume, illustrated by herself, on the silkworm and culture of silk in North America.
Among her philanthropies was a gift to Wellesley College to aid in the construction of the botany section of Sage Hall and to the library. She gave MIT twenty thousand square feet of land for the construction of a laboratory for the study of river flow hydraulics. She donated Little Wachusett mountain in Princeton to become a bird sanctuary for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She presented the Museum of Natural History, now the Museum of Science in Boston, with a large collection of precious and semi-precious stones found in New England.
Since childhood Susan Minns collected art related to death. In 1922 in New York she had sold part of this art collection, "The Dance of Death," which included etchings, woodcarvings, and engravings by Holbein, Durer, and Rembrandt. The other part she contributed to the University of Louvain in Belgium, which led to her being decorated by the Belgian government with les Painies d'Or de l'Ordre de la Couronne. Susan Minns died on August 2, 1938, and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.