The youngest in a family of twelve children, Wayman Crow was born in Hartford, Kentucky, on March 7, 1808. Crow first entered the dry goods business in 1820, when he began a five-year apprenticeship in a general dry goods store in Kentucky. By 1828, he was operating his own dry goods store, and he moved to St. Louis in 1835. In partnership with his cousin, Joshua Tevis of Philadelphia, he established the wholesale dry goods house of Crow & Tevis. In later years, the business would be known as Crow, McCreery & Company Crow, Hargadine & Company, and Hargadine-McKittrick Dry Goods Company.
In 1840, Crow was elected to the Missouri state senate, on the Whig ticket. He was elected to a second term in the senate in 1850. In 1846 he secured the charter for the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association, and in 1853, he secured the charter for the institution now known as Washington University. The institution's original name was Eliot Seminary a tribute Wayman Crow's close friend, St. Louis educator William Greenleaf Eliot. A modest man, Eliot thought the name too local and restrictive, so in deference to his wishes, the name was officially changed to "Washington Institute in St. Louis" in 1854. The institution's name was changed to "Washington University" in 1857.
While Wayman Crow is entirely responsible for securing the charter which brought the university into existence, William Greenleaf Eliot supplied the educational vision which guided the institution in its formative years. Both Crow and Eliot publicly acknowleged each other's contributions to the founding and development of the institution. Eliot said of Crow:
The Act of Incorporation of this institution, known at first as Eliot Seminary, was approved February 22, 1853. Its passage was obtained by the exertions of Hon. Wayman Crow, at that time Senator from this destrict, to whose feelings of personal friendship the name first selected must be attributed. As he was the sole originator of the design and himself prepared the charter, the existence of the university is primarily due to him. (William Greenleaf Eliot, address at the Inauguration of Washington University, April 23, 1857)
Crow said of Eliot:
As President of the Board of Directors, it fell within your province to prepare and develop the general plan upon which the success of the experiment was believed to depend. To you was committed the duty of organizing the different departments of instruction as they were rendered necessary to accommodate the ever widening circle of scholars (Wayman Crow, address at the installation of William Greenleaf Eliot as Chancellor of Washington University, February 29, 1872.)
Eliot served as first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, from 1854 until his death in 1887. Eliot also served as the university's third Chancellor, from 1870 to 1887. From 1853 until his death in 1885, Crow served as a trustee of Washington University, and was one of the University's most generous benefactors.
Below is a reproduction of the earliest surviving letter concerning Washington University. The letter, written by Wayman Crow to William Greenleaf Eliot, was written on February 2, 1853 and sent from the senate chamber in Jefferson City, Missouri. In the body of the letter, Crow brings Eliot up to date on events in the senate. In the postscript, which can be seen on page 3, Crow informs Eliot for the first time of the forthcoming charter for a new education institution, to be known as the "Eliot Seminary". In 1857, the Eliot Seminary changed its name to "Washington University." Crow writes:
If you see notice of a charter to incorporate the "Eliot Seminary" - forgive me for using the title - it is rather a favorable time to get acts of incorporation and I avail of it, as our Society may desire to have the privilege of establishing such an institution at some day, and this can be partially organized and held in reserve.
You can view a complete transaction of the Crow letter with the link provided below.