Mary Lou Diether

Portrait of Mary Lou Diether

Mary Lou Diether was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1883, she was a 1906 graduate of the University of Minnesota and did graduate work at Columbia University in New York.

She dedicated her life to education, in part because it was one of the few professions open to women. Mary Lou was a member of the faculty at Saint Paul’s Summit School, when it opened in 1917. A strict and demanding teacher, she was also known for her love of children but never married.

She established the M.L. Diether Fund in 1976 along with a perpetual trust to distribute her family’s remaining assets. The fund has since the contributed more than $526,000 to the Saint Paul community and is still going strong today.

Her impact

Established in 1976 with $14,000, the Mary Lou Diether Fund has grown with annual gifts from her family trust. Between 1981 and late 2014, the fund had made 43 grants totaling $526,647. Today, the fund is worth $1.1 million.

Boat on the Mississippi River under a bridge in Saint Paul

Her Life

  • Mary Lou Diether spent most of her life in Saint Paul, where she lived in the family home with her sister Adelaide.
  • Warm and gregarious Mary Lou taught full time, while the more reserved Adelaide took care of the home and garden.
  • Before joining the Summit School faculty, Mary Lou taught Latin at the Loomis School, a private secular school for girls in Saint Paul.
  • She taught at the Summit School for 17 years and was the head of the Latin Department.
  • She and her sister delighted in carrying on their family traditions and delivered boxes of cookies and candies to friends and neighbors during the holiday season.
  • Mary Lou outlived all of the members of her family, and near the end of her life she set up a perpetual trust to provide annual support to The Saint Paul Foundation.
A sidewalk stretches down an beautiful, tree lined street

Her Legacy

  • Mary Lou made her gift without restrictions, which allows Foundation staff the flexibility to identify and address changing community needs.
  • Over the years, her fund has supported projects such as Generation Next, which is focused on closing the achievement gap in education for low-income students of color, Youthprise, a nonprofit that champions quality out-of-school time activities for youth and the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network’s Early Childhood Training Project.
  • Today, Mary Lou Diether’s legacy lives on in these and many other nonprofits supported by her generosity.