Elisabeth Mannering Congdon, the sixth of seven children and third daughter of Chester Adgate Congdon and Clara Bannister Congdon, was born at home on April 22, 1894, in Duluth, Minnesota, eleven months after the death of her brother John, two days shy of his second birthday. Elisabeth escaped the scourge of childhood illness at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth: typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, and influenza.
Her father, Chester Congdon, amassed a fortune from mining iron ore in the Mesabi and Vermillion ranges in Minnesota, and the Gogebic ranges at the far western tip of the upper peninsula of Michigan. He developed successful copper mines at Bisbee and Ajo, Arizona and expanded his business interests to include a horticultural enterprise with his own fruit processing and storage warehouse, brand label, and irrigation system.
Elisabeth pursued the cultivation of social reform, women’s rights and suffrage, and a life of service by disseminating the progressive values she had gleaned from her time at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. During World War I, she served as the State Chairman of the Young Women’s Safety Auxiliary, a branch of the Minnesota division of the Council of National Defense, which cooperated with the Naval Service, National Surgical Dressings Committee of the Red Cross, and the American Women’s Hospital organization. Additionally, along with many other young women, she completed home nursing and first aid training in order to serve as a reserve force in case all of the hospital nurses were called overseas.
Elisabeth’s patronages and charitable interests included the arts, education, and the health and welfare of women and children. For her many contributions to education, Elisabeth Congdon was awarded two Honorary Doctorates of Public Service; one from University of Pacific, Stockton, California, and the other from Tunghai University, Taiwan.