Augustus Juilliard Biography

Philanthropist (1836–1919)
Augustus D. Juilliard was a successful businessman whose 1919 bequest for music education led to the creation of the acclaimed Juilliard School.


Born at sea on April 19, 1836, as his parents emigrated from France to the United States, Augustus Juilliard grew up to run a successful textile company. Juilliard was 83 years old when he died in New York City on April 25, 1919. He surprised many with a will that left most of his large estate to the cause of music education, which led to the establishment of the famed Juilliard School.

Early Life

On April 19, 1836, during his Huguenot parents' journey from France to the United States, Augustus D. Juilliard was born at sea. After reaching their adopted country, the Juilliard family settled in Ohio, where Juilliard lived until he was 30 years old.

Career and Philanthropy

In 1866, Juilliard moved from Ohio to New York, where he worked for a fabric manufacturer. After that company's bankruptcy, he founded A.D. Juilliard & Co., a textile company. His family background meant that Juilliard spoke fluent French, a skill that was sometimes useful when he interacted with textile merchants.

A successful businessman, Juilliard served as a director or trustee of several banking and insurance companies. He also supported many prominent New York cultural institutions, such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera.

Supreme Court Case

In 1879, Thomas S. Greenman tried to pay Juilliard with $5,100 in U.S. notes that were not backed by gold or silver. Juilliard refused to take the notes and instead sued Greenman.

The case of Juilliard v. Greenman reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the government had the right to issue currency that had to be accepted as legal tender, even for private debts. Although the government had issued such notes during the Civil War, this landmark decision declared that it had the same financial authority during peacetime as well.

Death and Bequest

On April 25, 1919, at the age of 83, Juilliard succumbed to pneumonia in his home at 11 West 57th Street in New York City. Two months after his death, Juilliard's will was filed for probate. Few knew what the will's surprising contents would be.

Juilliard had no children, and his wife had predeceased him, so he had no immediate family to provide for. After making provisions for some relatives and a few institutions, Juilliard left instructions that the remainder of his estate was to be used for the advancement of music in the United States. The amount of Juilliard's bequest was initially estimated at $5 million, but in fact turned out to be approximately $15 million. At the time, it was the largest single bequest ever made for musical development.

Legacy of the Juilliard School

Following the instructions in Augustus Juilliard's will, the Juilliard Musical Foundation was set up in 1920. A few years later, in 1924, the trustees created the Juilliard Graduate School, where students could complete their music education. In 1926, the graduate school began to share a board of directors and a president with the Institute of Musical Art (established in 1905). The two institutions functioned together as the Juilliard School of Music, and fully merged in 1946.

In 1968, as the school had opened its doors to dancers and actors, its name was changed to the Juilliard School. The school is now at the pinnacle of arts and music education, and a part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It has a number of impressive alumni, including Yo-Yo Ma, Pat Benatar and Wynton Marsalis. It is hard to imagine what the world of arts and music would look like today without Juilliard's generous bequest.

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