Many late eighteenth century ordinary Scots could not have been so well-prepared to succeed all over the world, but for the benevolence of some in the upper classes. The very good educational system for which Scotland had become well-known was significantly financed by the wealthy. The economic mechanics of how the resources came to be available is perhaps another matter, but, nonetheless, lowland Scots in particular benefited from a relatively advanced educational system.
The wealthy were expected to help the less fortunate in other ways as well, sometimes providing mere subsistence, sometimes building factories or providing employment on the land.
And today, most of our social institutions depend to a huge extent on personal donations, large and small.
On these pages, I'll include include stories about benefactors in society, including those who left significant legacies for future generations (and did not choose to remain anonymous).
Mr. David McCowan, LL.D.
Mr. David McCowan, LL.D., who died last Sunday -- one of Glasgow's wealthiest and most philanthropic citizens, a man whom the people delighted to honour -- was also a native of Cumnock parish. To shew the esteem and appreciation in which he was held by the whole community, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon him by Glasgow University just a few days before his death. Glasgow claimed his manhood, but he had ever a warm heart to the home of his boyhood. Born at the farm of Caponacre, eight-three years ago, he was the youngest but one in a family of eleven and was educated in Cumnock and at Ayr Academy. It is told of his school days that he walked to and from Ayr Academy every week-end, a distance of sixteen miles. One Friday night he carried home two young trees and planted them near his father's door. They are tall and stately now, the finest trees in the countryside. The McCowan Gold Medal, one of the most treasured prizes of Ayr Academy, was the gift of this scholar of other days. The strongest characteristic of the man all through his long life was his innate kindliness. To care for others was his joy. His kindness was spontaneous, there was nothing forced about it, it was the outcome of a loving nature. His liberality was great, and £5000 was not an out of the way sum for him to give to a benevolent institution. But such splendid liberality seems less touching than his thoughtful love in caring for and providing for others who were among the lowly of the world. He loved the simple ways of his early life, the simple manners and customs; and to the end of his days the simplest of fare contented him. It will shew the fine fibre of the man when it is told of him that he was one of the most intimate friends of the Dr. W.B. Robertson the poet-preacher of Irvine and Dr. James Brown's "Life" of that divine contains many of his letters to David McCowan. Of such a son Ayrshire may well be proud.
A news clipping in the John McCowan Hill scrapbook
The McCowan Memorial Library
The McCowan Memorial Library in Pitman, NJ, was formed as the Pitman Public Library on June 3, 1919. It was renamed 40 years later for the first Mayor of Pitman, Joseph M. McCowan. The last will of the McCowan family, which consisted of the first Mayor and three sisters (Anna Elizabeth, Eleanor H., and Emma B.), instructed the Pitman National Bank and Mr. Rowland Porch, Attorney to use their estate for a religious, charitable, or educational purpose. It was decided to build a library across the street from Mayor McCowan's office. The McCowan Memorial Library opened its doors January 3, 1961.