Matilda Rausch Dodge Wilson was born in Ontario in 1883, but her family moved to Detroit soon after. In 1907, Matilda married John Dodge, the automotive pioneer, and they bought a 320-acre farm called Meadowbrook near Rochester, Michigan. This was the first of nine farms that eventually made up the Meadowbrook acreage. John Dodge died in 1920 after contracting influenza, and Matilda was left with three young children of her own, as well as three from Dodge's first marriage. She also was one of the richest women in America.
Matilda subsequently married Alfred Gaston Wilson, a lumber broker, in 1925, and they moved to Meadowbrook, where they lived in the rambling Dodge farmhouse. Once there, Matilda, with typical energy and attention to detail, supervised the building of a Tudor-style mansion and the construction of new farm buildings. In 1926, she began expanding her farm stock of Guernsey and Hereford cattle, draft horses, and pigs. By the outbreak of World War II, the farm consisted of 2,600 acres and employed 40 workers.
Matilda Wilson was well-acquainted with Michigan State University. She first met future MSU president John A. Hannah in the 1920s, when, as a young agricultural agent, he helped her begin developing Meadowbrook's poultry stock. She served as an MSU trustee from 1931 to 1937, and was named trustee emeritus in 1960.
In 1957, Matilda and Alfred Wilson gave most of their land holdings, including their home, Meadowbrook Hall, and a $2 million endowment to MSU to found a branch of the University in Oakland County. This branch eventually became the independent institution Oakland University. Mrs. Wilson also bequeathed $300,000 to help fund the John A. Hannah endowed chairs.
Matilda Wilson died on September 19, 1967. She left the bulk of her estate to the Matilda R. Wilson Fund, a charitable trust she had established in Detroit in 1944. On October 25, 1985, the Matilda R. Wilson Fund announced that it was giving more than $1 million to Michigan State University to establish the Matilda R. Wilson Chair in Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Frederick Nash, the fund's president at the time, said "We asked ourselves what we thought Matilda Wilson would like done, what would be a suitable tribute to a woman with such an abiding interest in large animals and farming. The more we thought about it, the more we became convinced that she would like research and learning in animal health to go on in her name with as much force as possible for as long as possible."
"Matilda Wilson was a tremendously vital person. She was 83 years old when she died, and she died in Belgium on a search for new blood for her line of Belgian draft horses. This is an example of the energy she put into her work, and we are confident that the endowed chair will further those efforts."
In 1985 the Matilda R. Wilson Fund, a charitable trust she had established in Detroit, gave more than $1 million to MSU to establish the Matilda R. Wilson Chair in Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1998, the Fund gave another $1.5 million to create the Matilda R. Wilson Equine Respiratory Disease Research Endowment in the College.
The Matilda R. Wilson Chair in Large Animal Clinical Sciences is endowed by a gift from the estate of the late Matilda R. Wilson as a means of continuing her keen interest in the well-being of food animals and horses.
Matilda Wilson's endowments also support the Meadow Brook Farm Endowed Chair for Animal Health and Wellbeing and also helped found the Matilda R. Wilson Pegasus Critical Care Center. Read about the Pegasus Critical Care Center in an MSU Today article.