Blanche Seaver: Prodigy, Composer, and Philanthropist
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Seaver Newsroom will be publishing a series of three articles that highlight significant women who have impacted Pepperdine University in a positive and meaningful manner. This first installment evaluates the life of the founder of Seaver College, Blanche Seaver.
On September 6, 1972, Pepperdine University welcomed 867 students to its new undergraduate campus in the sandy and shy beach town of Malibu, California. The pristine college, built atop hundreds of acres of newly acquired coastal land, was to be named in honor of its main contributing benefactor – Blanche Ebert Seaver, who donated an estimated 300 million dollars in order to ensure that the next generation was properly educated.
“Words are inadequate to express how deeply fulfilling it is to be the founder of something so magnificent as Seaver College,” Mrs. Seaver expressed in 1981, as she addressed a group of students prior to graduation. “To have started completely from scratch in working with this beautiful campus; to see it dedicated to my beloved husband; and then, especially to contemplate the future, and to know what an impact for good it will have in our world is profoundly gratifying.”
Born in 1891 to a pair of poor Norwegian immigrants, Blache Seaver grew up in the windy city of Chicago, Illinois. From an early age, she showed great interest and ability in playing the piano, and she was officially recognized as a prodigy by the age of six when she began teaching lessons. It was this love of music that eventually carried Blanche toward the Golden State, as in 1915, at the age of 24, she relocated to Los Angeles, California to teach at the Egan School of Drama and Music.
While riding the trolley through LA one day, Blanche met a young man named Frank Seaver, who worked in oil alongside Edward Doheny. Less than a year after this initial encounter, Blanche and Frank married; however, this newfound romance did not deter Mrs. Seaver’s creative initiative.
Throughout the early part of her married life, Blanche arranged hit songs that would be played nationally during radio broadcasts. Tunes like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Calling Me Back to You,” and “Just For Today” all established the piano prodigy as a musical force.* Blanche went on to publish over two dozen songs prior to focusing her efforts on more philanthropic endeavors.
“If you want to do something for the future of your country,” goes the famous Seaver mantra, “do something for the youth, for they are the future of the country.”
With no children themselves, Blanche and Frank did all they could to support youth initiatives. Their first act of philanthropy came in the 1920’s when they founded an orphanage in Mexico City. From there, the couple gave millions of dollars to the academic institutions scattered around Los Angeles. Pomona College (Frank’s alma mater), the University of Southern California, Loyola Marymount University, and, of course, Pepperdine University were some of the higher education institutions that the Seaver’s financially supported.
It wasn’t until after Frank died in 1964 that Blanche began to leave her mark on Pepperdine University. In an effort to honor her late husband, Mrs. Seaver collaborated with Bill Banowsky and Norvel Young to develop the Malibu campus and create Seaver College. From 1967 until 1972, this triumvirate worked together to make September 6, 1972 a reality.
As classes began on that Wednesday morning at 8 AM, so too did the 50 year legacy that Seaver College has gone on to lead. During its first year in Malibu, Seaver College admitted a total of 475 freshman, who came touting the highest Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in Pepperdine history to that point, with each of them scoring above the 93rd percentile.
From this foundation, Seaver College has become one of the premier undergraduate institutions in the United States and the world. Honoring Blanche’s generosity and dedication to young people, Pepperdine University has gone about the business of preparing students to carry on in her tradition of making an impact for good.
*Fun fact: Blanche’s piano resides on the third floor of the Thornton Administrative Center.