Matilda Dodge Wilson (1883-1967)
Of simple origin, Matilda Dodge Wilson was a self-made, modern woman of the 20th century who lived an all-American success story. She was the daughter of German immigrants George and Margaret Rausch and was born in Walkerton, Canada in 1883. The Rausch family moved to Detroit in 1884 where her father owned and operated a saloon and her mother the boarding house next door. Matilda attended Detroit public schools, graduated from Gorsline Business College and in 1902 found employment as a secretary to John and Horace Dodge, in their burgeoning automotive parts company. Five years later, Matilda married 38-year-old widower John Dodge and with this marriage became an American citizen, stepmother to his three children and mother to three children of their own; Frances in 1914, Daniel in 1917 and Anna Margaret in 1919.
Matilda and John Dodge (1907-1920)
During her 13-year marriage to John Dodge, Matilda devoted her time to raising their children and managing the household, which included a substantial home on Boston Boulevard and the Meadow Brook Farms property used as a country home and weekend getaway. In 1919, the Dodges began construction on a palatial mansion in Grosse Pointe, not too far from Horace and Anna Dodges Rose Terrace.
It was also during this time that Matilda pursued her interests in history, arts and culture, and became active in public service and philanthropy, including what would become a lifelong involvement with the Salvation Army and the Presbyterian Church.
Sadly, in 1920 while attending at the National Automobile Show, John died from the influenza epidemic that had plagued the nation, leaving Matilda a widow with three small children at the age of 37.
Matilda and Alfred Wilson (1925-1962)
Following John Dodge's death in 1920, Matilda sought solace by maintaining her involvement in her charity work. It was at church that Matilda met fellow parishioner Alfred Wilson and in June of 1925, the two were married. This was also the year Matilda and Anna Dodge, widow of Horace Dodge, sold their holdings in the Dodge Motor Car Company for $146 million, becoming heirs to one of the largest fortunes in the United States.
With a new start on life, Matilda and Alfred Wilson began building a new home on the Meadow Brook Farm property and adopted two children; Richard and Barbara. By all accounts, Matilda was the motivating force behind the design, construction and the furnishing of The Hall. In addition to this enormous undertaking, the Wilsons also began expanding the farm operation creating a self-sufficient estate and one of the nation's largest agricultural enterprises.
Matilda kept two offices, one in The Hall where she conducted the daily management of the Meadow Brook farm estate and another in Detroit where she managed her civic, social and charitable causes. In all, Matilda actively supported more than 40 organizations. Her largest contribution occurred in 1957 when she and Alfred donated their 1,500 estate, including Meadow Brook Hall, and $2 million to Michigan State University to form a branch campus in Oakland County, a branch that would become Oakland University in 1963. The Wilsons continued to live at Meadow Brook Hall until both passed away; Alfred in 1962 and Matilda in 1967.
Today, the energetic spirit of Matilda Dodge Wilson is present throughout Meadow Brook Hall's museum and cultural center activities and through her legacy as a businesswoman, preservationist, art collector, horsewoman, farmer and philanthropist and throughout the community she supported.
Alfred Gaston Wilson (1883 - 1962)
Alfred Gaston Wilson was born in 1883 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana to parents Samuel and Eliza Jane Wilson. He attended public schools in Lawrenceburg and at the age of 17 moved with his family to Wausau, Wisconsin. Alfred attended Beloit College where he developed an interest in music, was active in sports and belonged to the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.
After his graduation in 1906, Alfred entered the lumber business and in 1919 moved to Detroit where he and his brother Donald formed the Wilson Lumber Company. The business was first engaged as wholesale distributors of lumber. In 1927 the brothers decided to engage in manufacturing operations, erecting sawmills in Perry, Florida. Alfred served as president of the company until its sale in 1942.
As the son of a minister, Alfred was a religious man and an active member in the same Presbyterian Church attended by the then-widow, Matilda Dodge. The two shared common interests including music, reading and religion, and after a short courtship, they married on June 29, 1925.
Plans began immediately to build Meadow Brook Hall, a new home for their family, which included Frances and Danny Dodge, and soon after two more children through adoption, Richard and Barbara Wilson. In addition to the enormous task of building The Hall, Alfred and Matilda also expanded the farm operation. Alfred's retirement from the lumber business allowed him to devote his time to farming and livestock operations.
Similar to Matilda, Alfred also actively supportive of many social, civic and charitable causes. Most notable was his involvement in the Boy's Club of America, as a trustee of Beloit College, a member of the Masonic order, and a leading participant in community affairs in Oakland County.
Alfred Wilson died in 1962 at the age of 79 while at the winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Richard and Barbara Wilson remember Alfred as a fun, loving father who was very active in their upbringing.