HomeThe Life, Philanthropy, and Philosophy of Lydia Moss Bradley

The Life, Philanthropy, and Philosophy of Lydia Moss Bradley

Connie Andrews Lydia Moss Bradley 1080 DKL04473-1 (1).png

On this site, you’ll find archived photographs, historic newspapers, and fascinating interviews we conducted with experts on the life and ethics of Lydia Moss Bradley.


Lydia Moss Bradley was born in Vevay, Indiana, a frontier town. In this pioneer lifestyle, she was impressed with the value of hard work and industry that never left her. Long after she had any material need to tend the household, or keep a garden, Mrs. Bradley insisted on doing these things herself. She churned her own butter, baked, and raised animals, never leaving her frontier roots behind.

It was this value of hard work that convinced her and Tobias to found an institution of higher education. While they had initially considered leaving an orphanage as a legacy, a visit to a children’s asylum in Montreal convinced them otherwise. They found the orphanage to produce adults that were dependent, unindustrious members of society. While Lydia Bradley did care for children, and did fund the Home for the Friendless in Peoria, she found that an institution that produced hard-working, industrious men and women to be more in accordance with her views. For this reason, Bradley Polytechnic institute was coed from its foundation, and taught both Liberal and Manual Arts.

The Institute, which would later become Bradley University, was non-sectarian, coed, and did not discriminate against creed or nationality. The University was not segregated, and indeed, one of the first scholarships given by Mrs. Bradley was to a young African-American woman. While the Institute was described as strictly Christian, there is little evidence to suggest that the admissions denied non-Christian students, especially when considering Lydia’s insistence on teaching ethics without religion. 

Of her own faith, Lydia Bradley was widely known to have been a Universalist, but during this time, there were several schools of thought within the faith. Many believed that there was no Hell, but others believed merely that Damnation was not eternal. While the wicked would be punished, they would eventually be saved. If Wyckoff's recollections of Mrs. Bradley are to be believed, she would have fallen in the latter camp. She did not only support the Universalist Church however, giving money to many of the churches in Peoria, and held some spiritual beliefs that were exploited by a servant preying on her grief. 

It has been asserted by some that Lydia Moss Bradley was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. While Peoria was certainly a stop on the path to freedom, and Mrs. Bradley did oppose the institution of slavery, it is doubtful that she played a role in that particular movement.

Lydia is perhaps best described as a progressive-minded Christian woman who valued industry, manual labor, and hard work. She had a shrewd business sense, but her aggregation of wealth was to an end beyond just that. Lydia loved her family, and sought to provide a memorial that would aid generations to come, and made the opportunity available regardless of race, creed, or gender in a time when this was not universal. Even as she looked forward, she never lost sight of her roots, and remained diligent in her duties, and provided for all she could.

Personal Life :

Lydia Moss Bradley’s personal life is storied. She grew up in Vevay, Indiana, and from an early age began to build the character that she would become known for: hard work and compassion. She was given a horse at a young age that she would eventually sell to purchase her first tract of land, which was the first step for her in regards to real estate.

Her real estate skills are exemplified in how she purchased some bad land for 10. She sent soil samples to Purdue University, which told her that the soil needed additional potash for it to grow well. After spreading potash across the land, its soil was restored, and she resold the land for 140.

The story of her family life is largely a tragic one. She had 6 children with her first husband, Tobias S. Bradley, all of whom died before adulthood. Then, after the last of her children passed, Tobias passed as well, leaving Lydia alone.

Lydia would eventually remarry, however, and had what is believed to be the first prenuptial agreement written to protect a women’s assets. When they eventually separated a little over a year later, she was able to keep ahold of her property. This would allow her to do the philanthropy work she is most well known for these days.

This collection holds items that steer towards the direct life of Mrs. Bradley. These include objects that belonged to her like her handgun and coin purse. We also have articles that recount details of her family story. These would include everything from her humble beginnings to horrific tragedies and to her triumphant success.

Philanthropy :

 Lydia Moss Bradley joined the board of directors of the First National Bank of Peoria in 1875, making her the first female member of a national bank board in the United States, which is now part of Commerce Bank. Bradley was also one of the first American women to establish a marriage contract to protect her assets. In other words, a "prenuptial agreement."

The Society of St. Francis was given land by Bradley to build a hospital, which is now known as OSF St. Francis Medical Center. She supported the construction of the Universalist Church in Peoria and built the Bradley Home for Aged Women in 1884 to care for widowed and childless women. In 1903, Bradley won a land dispute case in the United States Supreme Court. She was also instrumental in the formation of Illinois' first park system. 

The Universalist Church Lydia Moss Bradley attended presented her with the opportunity to fund the Home for the Friendless, an orphanage since renamed “The Children’s Home.” The building is still in use to this day.

Bradley University, which she founded in 1896 to memorialize her husband Tobias and her six children, all of whom died at a young age, has long been her favorite undertaking. Bradley University, which began as a four-year academy, became a four-year college in 1920 and has continued to grow since then.

Today, the university is a fully accredited, self-contained school that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in engineering, business, communication, teacher education, nursing, physical therapy, visual arts, and liberal arts and sciences.


Lydia Moss Bradley has left behind a worthy monument. Her influence can be felt even now, perhaps most obviously through her creation of Bradley University, which affects the lives of the students and faculty who spend each year studying and working there, as well as the lives of those who live in the community which has grown around the university.

While her Home for Aged Women closed shortly before she passed, its successor, funded in part by Mrs. Bradley remains, still serving the community. The Home for the Friendless still remains, now known as The Children’s Home. The parklands, donated in memory of her daughter, still bring joy to all.

Her legacy has been the source of inspiration for many, bringing poems in paintings in her honor. That is all without mentioning the official recognition Lydia Moss Bradley received, such as the two mayoral proclamations of recognition and her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Navigating our website:

On our website, you can browse through collections we made categorizing the specific items we chose to represent her life, philosophy, philanthropy, and legacy. We have tabs for our collections for a more broad search, specific items you want to see, interviews we conducted, and more about us. We hope you enjoy learning a little more about the inspiring woman of Lydia Moss Bradley and what she stood for.