The quiet family rock” described Asa Packer’s second daughter, Mary Hannah, born in Mauch Chunk, now Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Afflicted with a serious eye problem, she lost sight in one eye and had limited vision in the other. Like most unmarried young women of her era, she was involved with family, helping to raise her younger brothers, her deceased sister’s children and taking care of her elderly parents; and with church – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a parish co-founded by her father.
Within five years of her father’s death in 1879, her mother and both her brothers died, leaving Cummings as the principal heir to the Packer fortune, which she used primarily to benefit Mauch Chunk and Lehigh University. A marriage in 1885 to Charles Cummings did not last.
For Lehigh, she built Packer Memorial Church in 1887 to honor her family, and contributed to student aid and operating expenses. By forgiving more than $300,000 in interest that Lehigh owed the Packer estate, she helped the university regain its financial stability after a fiscal crisis in the 1890’s. At the time, Cummings’ contributions to Lehigh were second only to her father’s.