Imagine the Colorado College campus without the Bemis family. There would be no Bemis Hall, no world renowned collection of the letters of British and American writers, no Taylor Hall.
Beyond these tangible reminders of their affection for the school, the Bemis family support has touched all facets of the institution.
Alice Bemis Taylor’s philanthropy, alone, amounts to approximately $750,000 per year for CC’s coffers, changing the lives of countless students 67 years after she died. The Bemis family tree has sunk its roots into the CC soil ever since Judson Moss Bemis and his wife, Alice Cogswell Bemis, moved to Colorado Springs in 1881. The family had lived in Massachusetts, where Judson ran his lucrative bag-manufacturing empire, but the promise of relief for his wife’s health problems brought them to Colorado Springs. At the time, the small resort town had fewer than 100 telephones, and horsedrawn carriages traveled the unpaved streets.
The family circle also included children Judson, Albert, Maude, and Alice; another daughter, Lucy, died in 1877 and young Judson died in 1885.
Their parents lost no time in becoming vital, contributing members of the community. In the foreword to “Judson Moss Bemis, Pioneer” by William C. Edgar, Albert wrote of his father: “Everybody who came in contact with him seemed to recognize and appreciate his salient qualities of tenderheartedness, integrity, thrift, industry, cooperation, and fairmindedness.”
Although Judson had little formal education, he was a natural entrepreneur determined to use his fortune for good. In a speech to employees, he once said, “Success should be measured in the amount of money disbursed in the betterment of mankind.”
Alice, described as a “sweet, cheery, and generous spirit,” was a good match for him. She, too, saw their wealth as an opportunity to help others. And what better way to help their community and the world than through education?
In 1898, the couple provided initial funding to establish the Bemis Professorship in Humanities to foster outstanding scholarship and teaching. Along with Colorado Springs founder William Jackson Palmer, they provided funding to build Bemis Hall, which opened in 1908. Two years later, the Cogswell Theater, named for Alice, was added in the basement.
Judson once wrote a letter to his grandchildren that included the following passage: “Parents can lay the foundation for each child by their own life. They are giving daily examples by their actions and by word of mouth.”
The Bemises purchased and donated what is now the Jackson House residential hall in 1914; that same year, they provided funding to establish the school’s department of banking and business administration, now the economics and business department.
Alice Cogswell Bemis died in 1917, less than one year after the couple’s golden wedding anniversary, and was remembered as someone who “had the heart and the will to bring all the happiness she could to others.”
CC awarded Judson an honorary degree in 1920 and, at his funeral in 1921, former CC President William Slocum spoke of the “sincere, strong, and unselfish character” of the man he worked with through the decades.
Examples of Bemis Philanthropy at CC
- The Bemis Professorship in Humanities
- The Alice Bemis Taylor Scholarship (now named for Harold C. Harmon, a longtime trustee of the BemisTaylor Foundation)
- The Alice Bemis Taylor Library Endowment Fund
- The Alice Bemis Taylor Annual Gift Endowment
- The Alice Bemis Taylor General Fund
Alice, the Bemises’ daughter, inherited her parents’ passion for town and gown involvement. Born in Newton, Mass., in 1877, she was four years old when her family moved west.
The little girl who witnessed her parents’ philanthropy grew up to be described as “Lady Bountiful” in the local press. But she wasn’t flashy about her generosity; she simply saw needs, consulted her heart and gave wisely and freely to help others.
Alice Bemis married Frederick Morgan Taylor, a wealthy stockbroker, in 1903. Little is known about their lives together, beyond the bare facts. They adopted a daughter soon after her birth in 1911 and named her Alice Doree. That daughter died in early 2009, aged 98, and was interred with her parents in Evergreen Cemetery, in southcentral Colorado Springs.
Alice Bemis Taylor did make a splash when, from 1934 to 1937, she served as CC’s first female trustee. Undoubtedly, there were many more acts of quiet generosity and civic involvement over and above the long list of endowments to CC.
This visionary yet modest woman was not content to merely sign checks. She also wrote notes about improvements to architects and builders before and during construction of buildings such as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Colorado Springs Day Nursery. In fact, architecture was one of her hobbies and she often joked about inheriting the Bemis family “building bug.”
When she died at 64 in 1942, her will revealed that she had left $400,000 to Colorado College, along with bequests to her other favorite causes.
In 1956, the college added a wing to Bemis Hall to provide a dining area for students and named it in honor of Alice Bemis Taylor. Today, the room is used for special events, lectures, and college gatherings.
The school and the family have been actively connected every decade since the 1880s, and several Bemis descendants gathered on campus in May 2009 to celebrate this long, happy, and productive relationship.
They included Steve and Sam Perry, whose mother, Marjorie, was the daughter of Albert Bemis, who, like his sister and father, also served as a CC trustee. Steve’s daughter, Emily, is one of the many Bemis descendants who have studied at CC.
Steve Perry regrets not being part of that tradition. “The more we learn, the more we wonder why we didn’t come to CC,” he said.
Perry also wishes he had thoroughly explored the Bemis-CC intertwined history with his mother. “I would have said, ‘tell me more.’ I compare notes with other members of the family and it seems like every part of the family has a piece of the puzzle.”
Bemis Family Contributions to the Community
- Colorado Springs Historic Day Nursery, built 1923
- La Forêt Conference and Retreat Center, built 1928, Black Forest
- Bemis-Taylor Memorial Chapel
- Grace Church organ and the endowment for free Taylor Memorial Concert Series, presented in 1928 in memory of Frederick Morgan Taylor
- The Bemis Taylor Child Guidance Clinic, built in 1929 and a forerunner of the Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group, with offices throughout the Pikes Peak region.
- Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, built 1936, (the architect was John Gaw Meem, who married Faith Bemis, daughter of Albert Bemis)
- Bemis Art School
- Taylor Museum of Southwest Studies
- Alice Bemis Taylor Elementary School, built 1952
Marjorie Perry did talk to her children about the portrait of her as a baby with her grandmother, Alice Cogswell Bemis. The portrait hangs above the fireplace in Bemis Hall. But his mother never took the portrait or herself too seriously, Sam Perry said.
During the family’s tour of campus, Sam recalled an experience his mother recounted after a plane flight. She began talking with the young woman in the next seat and found out she was a CC student. Marjorie Perry asked the student if she had ever seen the portrait.
“My mother said, ‘That baby is me.’ The student got so excited, ‘You’re Baby Bemis! We used to draw mustaches on you at study time and when we were bored.’ Some people might be mortified by that, but my mother thought it was just great,” Perry said.
That day in May, the family campus tour paused near Worner Center at the Earle Flagpole, which lists donors whose lifetime gifts have reached $1 million or more. They searched until they found the names of Judson Moss Bemis and Alice Bemis Taylor, two extraordinary people who gave so much to the past, present and future of Colorado College. The college would be a different place, were it not for its significant and storied relationship with the Bemis family.