The Children’s Museum was fortunate to count among its early benefactors Eli Lilly (1885–1977). Named for his grandfather, Colonel Eli Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical manufacturing firm Eli Lilly and Company, Inc., Lilly was a trained pharmacist who used what he knew about science and business to direct the company’s research, production, and operations.
Outside of the company Lilly was one of the most powerful and respected men in Indianapolis. An accomplished historian, author, and archaeologist, he was president of the Indiana Historical Society and one of the founders of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Lilly, together with his father and brother, founded the Lilly Endowment Inc. in 1937.
In 1927, Eli Lilly married Ruth Helen Allison (1891–1973), the woman who had worked as his secretary for seven years. Though Eli and Ruth Lilly had no children of their own (Eli had a daughter, Evelyn, from his first marriage), they were early and longstanding supporters of The Children’s Museum and were instrumental in the growth of the museum throughout the mid-20th century.
Gifts to The Children’s Museum
Ruth Lilly took an avid interest in the museum, joining the board of trustees in 1935. She remained on the board until 1965, and served for many years as corresponding secretary. She became an Honorary Trustee is 1965, a position she held until her death in 1973.
Ruth and Eli Lilly provided numerous gifts to the museum over the years, including $10,000 that helped buy the Parry house in 1946, $55,000 that helped buy the Dreyer building in 1960, and 10,000 shares of Eli Lilly and Company stock that helped establish the museum's endowment fund.
The Lillys also donated $1 million each to the museum's capital campaign in 1972; it was that campaign that funded the construction of the 1976 building. Eli Lilly also prompted his family’s namesake foundation, Lilly Endowment Inc., to provide $3.5 million to the campaign by merely saying to its director, “You know, Ruth is very much interested in The Children’s Museum.” Ruth Lilly didn't live to see the 1976 building completed; she died in March 1973.
Ruth and Eli Lilly’s combined estate gifts to the museum totaled nearly $34 million. In recognition of these generous gifts, the Lilly family name is prevalent throughout the museum’s facilities, including in the Ruth Allison Lilly Theater.