During his time in Santa Barbara, Vail became very involved in the community, participating in several public works projects to help improve the standard of living. One of these projects was his work with the Cottage Hospital, the first public healthcare facility in Santa Barbara, founded by Mary Ashley with support of other women in the community following her husband's untimely death due to lack of accessible medical care (Tompkins 9-11).
As a prominent cattle rancher in Santa Barbara at this time, Vail was an ideal candidate for Ashley's Board of Directors, since he offered the possiblity of both financial support and influence in the community (14). The hospital eventually raised enough funds and support to open its doors; however, at the opening it still lacked the funds to adequately staff and take care of general day-to-day operations. Ultimately, though, Vail, along with many of the other men who had participated in the founding of the hospital, began chipping in to help: "Hugh Vail and Rowland Hazard, rancher and financier respectively, forgot their affluent status and were often seen washing windows, chopping wood, emptying garbage" (24-25).
Vail served as an active member of the Board of Directors of Cottage Hospital until his death, and his wife eventually became their vice-president.
Vail was a strong proponent of the improvement of public facilities, and this extended beyond his work with Cottage Hospital to the establishment and development of the Free Public Library of Santa Barbara. During his time on the Board of Managers at Haverford College Vail had been involved with the advancement of the library, and this again became an important task during his life in Santa Barbara.
In the clipping entitled "Gift of Books" (at left) there is an account of an extensive gift of books to the Santa Barbara Free Public Library in the hopes that it "in time may become an honor to our city, and a credit to the intelligence of the citizens." The library in turn published their official note of thanks for the gift. As in his teaching career, Vail demonstrated with his library work his drive and passion for sharing knowledge with others in a meaningful way, emphasizing the importance of having adequate access to information and tools.
In "Finish the Library Building," Vail explains in detail his argument for properly equipping the Free Public Library. Vail brings up an idea still present in educational theory today, that an education is never truly completed, and that the search for knowledge can be continued forever. The argument illustrates the essence of Vail's character as a teacher, community activist, and civic leader.
He says in one paragraph, "schools and colleges are not so much intended to furnish knowledge as to furnish the means of acquiring knowledge, and to teach students how to use those means. In this age, books are the real store-houses of knowledge; hence public libraries are the true universities of the people, and, therefore, more important, so far as popular education is concerned than either high schools or colleges; which, even under the most favorable circumstances, can directly benefit comparatively few."
Throughout his teaching career, Vail followed these same principles, emphasizing the value of individual learning. Libraries provide both the most specific and far-reaching span of knowledge which allows for individualized learning and teaching. This article is written with a passion for learning and sharing knowledge, further deepening our ability to understand Vail's character, and giving another glimpse into his life as a community leader.
Hugh D. Vail's Scrapbook of newspaper clippings.
Tompkins, Walker A. Cottage Hospital: the First Hundred Years. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation, 1988.