The story of Louise Foucar Marshall is remarkable in every sense of the word. Born in 1864, the daughter of a Boston family that had emigrated from Germany, she had the advantage of a quality education and the broad perspective of someone who had traveled widely and lived in other countries. At the same time, her personality was formal and reserved like many of her social peers growing up in the Victorian era of the late 1800’s.
In her business career, Louise proved to be a savvy real estate investor, but her first love was teaching and her dream was to find a way to help young women attend the University of Arizona. She saw this as a way not only to assist students further their educations, but also to create a positive impact on their families and the larger community as well. Even as a young woman, Louise Henriette Foucar (maiden name) was already thinking in larger terms. She wanted to have a positive impact beyond herself and into the community by helping students and those less fortunate.
After her father discovered the formula for patent leather, Louise was able to study in France, Italy and Switzerland. Her health was not good and she searched for a place with a better climate to live, moving first to El Paso, Texas and then to Mexico City. In 1890, she moved to Denver, Colorado and earned two degrees at the University of Denver, one in modern languages. While in Denver, she developed tuberculosis and heart problems and moved again in 1898, this time to the warmer climate and lower elevation of Tucson.
She began her graduate studies at the University of Arizona and soon after one of her professors recommended her as a replacement for the position he was leaving. In 1900, at the age of 36, she became the school’s first woman professor. She taught Botany and a host of languages including English, French, Latin and Spanish. Her talent and drive were soon recognized, and by 1901 she was named head of the Department of Ancient and Modern Languages.
At the time, the University was still very small, with fewer than 150 students and less than 20 members of the faculty. The campus was mostly open desert with very few buildings. It was located in a rural area, far from the center of Tucson. The bustling frontier town had grown to a population of about 10,000, and boasted a lively commercial district with dry goods stores and rough-and-tumble saloons catering to railroad men, miners and ranchers.
Louise Foucar loved teaching and was an ambitious woman with a talent for business. She had an idea that it might be possible to buy and develop land and use the rental income to fund scholarships for the students she wanted to help. While still teaching, she began to buy up properties near the expanding university campus using money inherited from her parents. It was not a huge sum, but Louise was a shrewd negotiator and was willing to buy raw land not many people wanted because it was so far from the central business district downtown. In 1903, she resigned her teaching position at the University to focus full time on her business pursuits. The shy ex-university professor had a plan that involved real estate and she was determined to make it work.
Marriage and New Foundation
In 1903, she hired Thomas Marshall, a former student and her future husband, to help with the maintenance of her rental properties. In 1904, they were married in El Paso, Texas. Louise was very publicity-shy and felt more comfortable with the out-of-town location for their wedding. They lived in the brick house Louise built on a large two-acre lot on East Second St.
It was a happy time for the newlyweds and a busy time for Louise as she focused all her energy and skill on expanding her holdings and managing the various properties. In 1922, she developed a block of businesses across from the University’s main entrance at Park and Third Street, now known as University Boulevard. The Park Avenue Shops were Tucson’s first suburban shopping center and became an instant success, attracting new customers to the area for the first time.
Louise continued to develop properties and used the growing revenue to create the private, not-for-profit corporation known as Marshall Charitable Foundation in 1930. As a non-profit, it was (and still is) required to donate five percent of its net worth yearly and serve the needs of organizations based in Pima County. 1930 was a banner year for Louise because her dream to create a permanent scholarship fund to help students attend the University had finally become a reality.
A Tragic Episode
Despite Louise’s business success, the marriage was going through a difficult time. There were persistent rumors about Thomas Marshall’s affair with an ex-housekeeper and the mysterious cause of Louise’s prolonged illness. After weeks of tests, doctors finally determined that she had been poisoned. A tense atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust hung over the Marshall household and finally it exploded on the night of April 27, 1931, when Louise shot her husband five times at point blank range. Two bullets missed him completely and three hit non-vital organs.
Thomas Marshall died three weeks later at a Los Angeles hospital and Louise was charged with first-degree murder. She said at the time that her intention was only to warn her husband, after suspecting him and their ex-housekeeper of having an affair and conspiring to kill her with arsenic. The doctors eventually ruled that the cause of death was an infection that set in after a botched operation to remove one of the bullets, and not the shooting itself.
Because Louise was such a prominent Tucson citizen, the trial was moved to Nogales. And it became a media sensation, attracting newspaper coverage and bold headlines around the country. People in Tucson were shocked by the crime. After all, it had been committed by one of the city’s most prominent citizens. At the same time, there was a good deal of sympathy from those familiar with the reckless side of Thomas Marshall’s personality.
On the advice of her lawyers, Louise pleaded guilty by reason of temporary insanity. It was one the very first legal cases to include this novel defense. She claimed she shot her husband because of fear that she was being poisoned. The jury was persuaded by her emotional testimony and acquitted her on the first-degree murder charge after deliberating only half an hour.
Lifetime of Achievement
The tragic episode marked a low point for this remarkable woman, but in the end it turned out to be a brief chapter in a long, rich life filled with achievement. Louise Foucar Marshall was the first woman professor at the University of Arizona, she helped establish a chapter of the sorority Pi Beta Phi and served on the Arizona Board of Regents. At the beginning of the 20th century, she was one of the first people to realize the potential for real estate development next to the University campus. She used her business savvy to acquire the properties that would generate the income that would make possible the scholarships for deserving students.
After her acquittal, Louise rededicated herself to managing her extensive real estate holdings and promoting the work of the new Marshall Charitable Foundation. She took over day-to-day operations and began working in concert with a newly-appointed board of directors. Her participation in foundation activities continued until her death in 1956 at the age of 92. When she died, the assets in her personal estate totaled less than $5,000, but the holdings of Marshall Foundation were worth more than $900,000, a very large sum by any measure for the time.