|Birth: ||Oct. 19, 1883|
|Death: ||Sep. 19, 1967, Belgium|
Oakland University benefactor Matilda Dodge Wilson was born Matilda Rausch on October 19th 1883 in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, to German immigrant saloon keepers George and Margaret Rausch. In 1902, Matilda Graduated from Gorsline Business College and went to work as a secretary for Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company in Hamtramck Michigan, where she met her first husband automotive pioneer John Dodge. On December 10th 1907, Matilda married John Dodge and a year later, they purchased a 320-acre farm named Meadowbrook near Rochester, Michigan. This was the first of nine farms that eventually made up the Meadowbrook acreage and the family often went on weekend retreats to Meadow Brook Farms. Matilda and John had three children: Frances (b. 1914), Daniel (b. 1917) and Anna Margaret (b. 1919). On January 14th 1920, John Dodge died of influenza in New York, New York, while attending an auto show with his younger brother Horace. At this time, Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company was standing at second place in American automotive sales. In December the same year, his brother Horace died of cirrhosis of the liver at his winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. Close friends of the brothers say Horace died out of grief at the loss of his older brother, with whom he was very close with. Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company fell into the hands of the brothers' widows, who promoted long-time employee Frederick Haynes to the company presidency. Matilda was now left with three young children of her own, as well as three from Dodge's first marriage. She was also one of the wealthiest women in America. Sadly in 1924, her youngest daughter Anna Margaret died from complications following the measles. One year later, the Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company was sold by Matilda and her sister-in-law Anna Thomson Dodge to the investment banking firm Dillon, Read & Company for $146 million dollars. (at the time, the largest cash sale of an American company). The same year in 1925, Matilda married her second husband, lumber broker Alfred Gaston Wilson. Soon after, Matilda and Alfred moved into a farm house on the Meadowbrook property where they lived durring the construction of their new home Meadowbrook Hall. Once there, Matilda, with energy and attention to detail, supervised the construction of a Tudor revival style mansion as well as the construction of new farm buildings. Before his death, John Dodge was in the process of constructing a $4 million dollar house that measured approximately 80-88,000 sq feet in Grosse Pointe, Michigan which included a man made penninsula on Lake St. Clair to accomodate his brothers yachts on visits. His home would have been the largest in that area and the State of Michigan. Matilda, after disputes with her stepchildren over Johns estate and being snubbed by Grosse Pointe society, abandoned Johns dream and from 1926-1929 ended up constructing the $4-million dollar Meadowbrook Hall. In 1929, less than a month after the stock market crash, Matilda and Alfred held a housewarming party at their new home. In 1930 Matilda and Alfred adopted two children: Richard, at 18 months, and Barbara, at 3 months. In 1931, Matilda became chairman of the board at Fidelity Bank & Trust Co, and Time magazine named her the "most prominent woman in U-S. banking." During the same year, she was elected to the State Board of Agriculture, the governing board of Michigan State University. She served as an MSU trustee from 1931 to 1937, and was named trustee emeritus in 1960. Sadly tragedy struck again. On August 15th 1938 her 21 year old son, Daniel, died while on his honeymoon due to the result of a explosive going off in his hand to which he thought was a candlestick. By 1940, Matilda was appointed the first woman lieutenant governor of Michigan by Governor Luren Dickinson. Also by this time, John Dodges home in Grosse Pointe, standing vacant for 20 years with a tax bill of more than $7000.00 a year was sold to a developer, demolished and the land was subdivided to construct smaller stately homes. In 1955 Matilda received an honorary doctor of law degree from Michigan State University. Two years later in 1957 Matilda and Alfred donated their 1500 acre estate, its buildings and a $2 million dollar endowment, to Michigan State University to found a branch of the university in Oakland County. At this time, she also received the Distinguished Service Cross from the Salvation Army. The new MSU branch eventually became the independent institution Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. On April 6th 1962, Alfred Wilson passed away from a heart attack. Matilda would live alone in Meadowbrook Hall until her death of a massive heart attack on September 19th 1967 at the age of 83 in Brussels, Belgium, where she had gone to tour horse breeding farms, searching for new blood for her line of Belgian draft horses. Meadowbrook Hall is now the fourth largest historic house museum in America at 88,000 sq feet (110 rooms). Matilda's contribution to the public saved Meadowbrook Hall from the wrecking ball and the Matilda R. Wilson Fund (the result of John Dodges fortune)awards grants yearly towards charitable causes. John Dodge frequently played golf on the grounds here and for nearly 30 years, the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance car show has been held at Meadowbrook Hall and is considered to be one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the world. In the 1930s, Matilda and Alfred Wilson constructed a pink granite art deco style mausoleum with a pink marble interior. It is located next to the Dodge mausoleum where her first husband was laid to rest in 1920. Special thanks to Seidelman@aol.com for the photo touch-ups.
Sources: "The Dodges the Auto Family fortune and Misfortune" by Jean Pitrone and Joan Potter Elwart (1981) "Dodge Dynasty; The car and the family that rocked Detroit" by Caroline Latham & David Agresta (1989).
Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan and Michigan State University.
Daniel George Dodge (1917 - 1938)*
Anna Margaret Dodge (1919 - 1924)*
Plot: Wilson Mausoleum, next to the Dodge Mausoleum.
Created by: Michael Hojnacki
Record added: Jul 08, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14859087