Rupert Costo saw a vision to establish a university in Riverside. If you’ve ever visited Costo Hall on UC Riverside’s campus, you are familiar with Rupert Costo. Costo Hall, located near the Highlander Union Building and home to many Ethnic and Gender Program offices, is named after Costo and his spouse, Jeannette.
He was a local Cahuilla Native American man, born in 1906 in Hemet, California, and raised on the Cahuilla Reservation in Anza, California. He attended Riverside City College, then moved on to Whittier College and the University of Nevada.
“Rupert was very interested in establishing a university in Riverside because of the city’s proximity to many local Native American tribes,” said William Madrigal Jr., a local Cahuilla Native and a graduate student at UCR in Ethnic Studies.
“The Costo family had many members that were involved in activist organizations such as the Mission Indian Federation,” said Rose Soza War Soldier, a lecturer at Northern Arizona University whose research topics include Costo. “Rupert was an active member of the California Indian Rights Association, and lobbied in Washington, D.C., on behalf of many tribes. He was a young man, only in his twenties when he did this.”
In 1950, Costo founded the American Indian Historical Society and shortly after, Costo began to lobby University of California to establish a university in Riverside. He believed in the importance of higher education, according to Madrigal.
He married his spouse, Jeannette Henry-Costo, of Eastern Cherokee descent, in 1954. Jeannette Henry-Costo was a reporter for the New York Times and Detroit Free Press. Together, they founded the Indian Historian Press publishing house from their home in San Francisco.
In 1986, the Costos donated their entire library of books, textbooks, and publishings to UCR. The library became known as the Rupert Costo Library for the American Indian, located on the fourth floor of the Tomás Rivera Library, at the entrance of the Special Collections and University Archives.
After Costo’s death in 1989, his spouse donated the Rupert and Jeannette Costo Papers to UCR, which are part of the Rivera Library Special Collections.
Proceeds from the sale of their “Victorian-style mansion” in San Francisco created the funds for the Costo Endowment at UCR, which provides some funding to the Ethnic and Gender Programs within Costo Hall, according to Soza War Soldier.
“I spend much of my time in the Native American Student Programs in Costo Hall,” said Anthony Ruiz, a fourth-year student in Ethnic Studies. “We take the time to learn about the history and legacy of Rupert and Jeannette Henry-Costo. I believe Costo Hall embodies the heart and soul of Rupert and Jeannette’s passion for education.”
For more information about Rupert and Jeannette Henry-Costo, please visit https://library.ucr.edu/collections/rupert-and-jeannette-costo-papers