Lydia Moss Bradley: County native founds Bradley University

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Looking for a school to cheer for during this week’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament now that all of the “local teams” have been eliminated? Perhaps you’ve overlooked the team with closer ties to Switzerland County than any other.

The Bradley Braves of Peoria, Illinois.

Lydia Moss Bradley was born in Vevay on July 31st, 1816, and lives here in Switzerland County until 1837. In May of that year she married Tobias S. Bradley, whom she had met while he was running a saw mill and her family was clearing lumber from some farmland.

After the couple was married they lived with Lydia’s family in Vevay.

While living in Peoria, the Bradleys were quite successful in banking and the acquisition of land, and when Tobias Bradley passed away in 1867, he left Lydia a very wealthy woman.

Lydia Moss grew up on the family farm along the Ohio River as a child. Her father, Zeally Moss, was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1755, and served as a non-commissioned officer during the Revolutionary War. In 1786, Zeally Moss marred Elizabeth Barry, but she died during childbirth.

Lydia’s mother, Jennett Glasscock Moss, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1766.

The newlyweds purchased a plantation in Kentucky, but with slavery throughout the South, Zeally Moss decided that he could not accept owning slaves, so he and Jennett moved north to Indiana — a free state.

That’s when the family moved to Vevay.

Although her family prospered here in Switzerland County, Lydia Moss and her family didn’t shy away from hard work. In fact, a newspaper article on her at the end of her life reported:

“Mrs. Bradley never forgot how to work, and till within a short time of her death still made her own butter, raised her own eggs, salted down her own meat, and tried out her own lard. She would not have considered herself a good housekeeper had she not done so.”

Her father’s hatred of slavery also affected Lydia Moss Bradley as an adult. She insisted on living in a free state when she married Tobias Bradley, and some reports speculated that her home was a safe haven along the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves making their way to the North.

The Bradleys first child, Rebecca, was born in 1839, and that same year Zeally Moss died, living the family farm here to Lydia. The family continued to work the family farm here, and a second child, Clarissa, was born in 1843.

Tragedy struck the family in September of 1845 when Rebecca died at the age of six; and at that point Lydia, Tobias, Clarissa, and mother Jennett moved to Peoria; where Lydia’s brother William Moss now lived.

After selling the farm in Vevay, the Bradleys used the proceeds to buy land in Peoria.

The Bradley family began to grow, with son Tobias Moss being born in 1847. Tragically, both Tobias and Clarissa would die in 1847. Daughter Laura was born in 1849, and she would live longer than any of the Bradley children, dying in 1864 at the age of 14.

Daughter Mary died in 1864, the year of her birth; and son William died in 1855 at the age of two.

Deeply grieving the loss of their six children, Tobias and Lydia Bradley began to discuss ways of constructing a monument to their children’s memories. The couple discussed building an orphanage, but Lydia believed that such a venture would not equip those children to grow up and be independent.

Tragedy again hit Lydia in 1867, when husband Tobias died in a carriage accident. he left no will or plans for his wife, and she was left with an estate valued at approximately $500,000.

At the time of his death, Tobias Bradley was the president of the First National Bank of Peoria, and Lydia inherited his stock, becoming a member of the board of directors.

About two years after Tobias’ death, Lydia married Edward Clark, but they divorced in 1873.

She did hire a business manager, W.W. Hammond, and under his guidance, Lydia’s wealth doubled to $1 million — and she made sure that his first priority was establishing a legacy for her deceased family.

That guidance led to the founding of Bradley Polytechnic Institute in 1896, and in 1897, the college’s first buildings, Bradley Hall and Horology Hall, were erected.

She endowed the college with a $2 million endowment and 28 acres of land; and after adding several areas of education, it would eventually be renamed Bradley University in 1946.

Lydia Moss Bradley would die in Peoria on January 16th, 1908, but she lived long enough to see the establishment of an institution of higher learning that would serve as a legacy for her husband and six children.

That legacy continues today, and will continue this week as the Bradley Braves men’s basketball team competes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

So cheer hard for the hometown team — because now you know.

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Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Libby Kinman of Vevay for her information that led to this story.