Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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DURANT, Henry Towle, philanthropist, born in Hanover, New Hampshire, 20 February 1822 ; died in Wellesley, Massachusetts, 3 October 1881. His name was originally Henry Welles Smith. He was graduated at Harvard in 1841, and subsequently studied law with General Butler. In 1846, having been admitted to the bar, he entered on the practice of his profession in Boston, and soon became prominent. After changing his name to Durant he was associated with Rufus Choate and other noted lawyers of the time, and was very successful with cases committed to his care. Meanwhile he became connected with John H. Cheerer in the formation of the New York belting and packing company, and also in the purchase of iron mines in northern New York, both of which enterprises proved exceedingly profitable.
In 1863 his only son died, and during the boy's illness he determined thenceforth to consecrate his life to the cause of the Christian religion. Finding that "the law and the gospel were diametrically opposed," he disposed of his law business, although it was exceedingly profitable. He made New York City his residence for some time, and became impressed with the necessity of providing a College where women could obtain a superior education. His plans were put into execution and Wellesley College resulted. This institution, built and equipped at an expense of $1,000,000, was opened in September 1875, and has since been maintained at an expense of $50,000 per annum, furnished through the liberality of Mr. Durant.
The College buildings are beautifully situated in the midst of a park of 300 acres in Wellesley, about fifteen miles west of Boston. While undenominational, the institution is distinctively and positively Christian. After 1864 he became a lay preacher, and held a great number of meetings, not only in Boston and its neighborhood, but in many towns of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Failing health led to his discontinuing public exhortation, but his interest in Christian enterprises continued throughout his life. He left a large property at his death, and his widow continues the work of the College.
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