Born in Indiana, Lydia Moss Bradley grew up on the frontier. She was educated in a log home before becoming a wealthy businesswoman, an entrepreneur, and the founder of what eventually would become Bradley University.
As a pioneer in so many fields, Bradley experienced both success and tragedy. She and her husband, Tobias Bradley, had six children, but all succumbed to various frontier diseases.
In 1896, after becoming a millionaire through her various business activities, Bradley founded Bradley Polytechnic Institute in memory of her children. Originally organized as a four-year academy, Bradley University became a four-year college in 1920 and has continued to grow and distinguish itself ever since. Bradley University is today a fully accredited institution that supports undergraduate and graduate education in engineering, business, teacher education, nursing, physical therapy, and the liberal arts.
Inspired by this goal of creating an institute that taught boys and girls together and that combined practical and classical education, Bradley became a leader in land development and agriculture. She was the first female member of an American national bank board in the United States, when she joined the Board of Directors of Peoria’s First National Bank. She gave the Society of St. Francis the use of a large estate for a hospital, now known as the OSF St. Francis Medical Center, one of the largest medical facilities in downstate Illinois.
In 1884, she built the Bradley Home for Aged Women to care for widowed and childless women. She donated the land and pushed the city fathers of Peoria to establish a park system, the first in Illinois.