The name “Hattie Marie Corrin Lockwood Strong” is unfamiliar to most people in Winston-Salem. In fact, very few people in the United States would recognize her name. Hattie could have lived really anywhere she chose, but she chose to establish her residence at Salem College and to spend her last years among Salem students and the people of Winston-Salem.
Born in South Coventry, Connecticut, in 1862 to Henry and Maria Belknap Corrin, Hattie Marie Corrin was educated in private schools and lived a comfortable existence. The business recession of 1877 and her father’s untimely death drastically changed her family’s fortunes and their lifestyle. They were forced to live with relatives, and Hattie taught piano lessons to support the family.
Hattie married Lester B. Lockwood in 1888, and they moved to Tacoma in Washington Territory. Their son, Lester Corrin, was born there in 1892. Lester deserted Hattie and their son, and they divorced in 1897. Hattie and a nurse friend planned to establish a combination hospital/hotel in Skagway for sick and injured miners during Alaska’s Gold Rush. Hattie traveled to Alaska with her son and friend carrying building materials and medical supplies.
Their ship wrecked en route, and while the threesome barely escaped with their lives, they lost all of their provisions. In Skagway, Hattie worked as a nurse, an assistant to a physician, and a steamship ticket agent, but the harsh conditions endangered her health. She returned to Tacoma and worked as the supervisor of a men’s club, but later moved to the warmer climate of Southern California for her health.
Hattie met a widower in California, Henry Alvah Strong, who was twenty-five years her senior. They married in 1905 and Henry adopted Hattie’s son, Corrin. Strong was the co-founder and president of a company that was first called Strong & Eastman, and later Eastman Dry Plate and Film, and finally Eastman Kodak Company. The growth and popularity of photography made Strong one of the wealthiest men in America. He was an active philanthropist during the last 20 years of his life, building halls and auditoriums at several colleges and contributing to charities in Rochester, New York, and throughout the United States.
Hattie continued their philanthropic work after Henry’s death in 1919. Hattie believed in helping people to help themselves. She established the Hattie M. Strong Foundation in 1928, one of the first student loan programs in the country. The loans charged zero interest and offered flexible repayment schedules. The loan program changed in 2009 to a scholarship program for college students enrolled in teacher-training, aimed at reducing the financial pressure during the student-teaching semester. In the 2015-2016 school year, 104 students from 24 universities received $5,000 scholarships. The schools were located in Washington, D. C., Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Four students at Salem College received scholarships.
The fact that Salem College was included comes as no surprise, knowing Hattie’s affection for the school. Hattie provided funds for the Corrin Refectory (dining hall) at Salem College in 1941. She followed this gift with funds for a dormitory at Salem that was finished in 1942, called the Hattie Strong Residence Hall. But the gift of the dormitory came with an interesting caveat. Hattie wanted the dormitory to be designed with living quarters for her on the first floor.
According to her memoir from the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, Hattie first visited Winston-Salem in 1936 and spent the war years here. Hattie joined Home Moravian Church and “loved the quiet paths of Salem.” Hattie lived on the first floor of Strong dormitory, with a separate entrance, until her death in 1950. Today, her former apartment is common space for residence hall students.
Hattie Corrin Strong experienced the ups and downs of fortune’s fickleness during her life and never forgot how welcome a helping hand can be to one in need. Her philanthropy resounds on many college campuses across the United States, and also includes orphanages, YMCAs and YWCAs, and extends to China and France. But of all the places that she visited and of all the buildings that she financed, she chose Winston-Salem to be her final home.
Coming in June: The Wedding Dress