The first gift subscribed to the Wesleyan endowment was received in June 1847, from the Second Wesleyan Chapel of New York City for the sum of $1,000. By August 1854, this fund had increased to $14,010.70. The Board of Trustees voted in 1852 that “all other monies hereafter received directly or indirectly in trust for the University, unless otherwise directed by the donors, be placed in the hands of the treasurer for the time being of the University in trust for the purposes intended by the donors.”

In 1866 the University moved to raise a sum of money referred to as the Permanent Fund, the Permanent Endowment, or simply the Endowment. Wesleyan collected $93,153.01, although a substantial amount of this sum was in notes not paid until after William Hoyt became treasurer in 1878. In the late 19th century, endowment income supplied between 60 percent and 80 percent of Wesleyan’s revenue.

Since then, the endowment has been built through investment returns and the generosity of Wesleyan stakeholders.

Major gifts to the endowment have occasionally come from unexpected sources. For instance, in 1934 Charles Morse bequeathed almost $2.7 million to the University, boosting the endowment by 53 percent. Morse had no prior tie to the University, but he had a business relationship with a Methodist minister whose sons were educated at Wesleyan, and Morse and his brother Alfred decided to honor their mother with a gift to the University.

The gift that had the most impact on the endowment came from George Davison, class of 1892 and chair of the Board from 1928 to 1943. In 1953, Wesleyan received his bequest of $6.3 million, which almost doubled the value of Wesleyan’s endowment and substantially increased the annual income from invested funds.

Stuart Hedden, Class of 1919, trustee and chair of the Board’s Finance Committee from 1942 to 1955, made a personal fortune on Wall Street and, applying his skill on Wesleyan’s behalf, increased the common stock portion of the endowment portfolio from 38 percent to 49 percent within a two-year period (1943–45). Hedden became the architect of Wesleyan’s financial prosperity in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, the endowment increased rapidly after Wesleyan sold American Education Publications (including its flagship publication, My Weekly Reader) to Xerox for 400,000 shares of Xerox stock. Much of the proceeds were used to transform the University. The number of faculty and students grew substantially. Physical assets improved markedly with the construction of Hall-Atwater and the Science Center in the late 1960s, followed soon after by the Center for the Arts.

In more recent times, generous donors have substantially increased the value of Wesleyan’s endowment in response to capital campaigns. President Emeritus Colin G. Campbell Hon. ’79 led the University’s first successful campaign in the post-WWII period and raised $63 million. Wesleyan’s capacity to raise funds has since followed a rapidly rising trajectory from the $281 million raised by President Emeritus Douglas J. Bennet ’59 to, most recently, the highly successful THIS IS WHY campaign, led by President Michael S. Roth ’78, which raised $482 million.