After leaving the White House, Hayes and his wife Lucy returned to their estate, Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio, and the former president devoted himself to educational issues and prison reform, among other humanitarian causes.
In addition to serving as a trustee of three universities–Ohio Wesleyan, Western Reserve and Ohio State–Hayes also became the first president of the board of the John F. Slater Education Fund for Freedmen in 1882. The Slater Fund was a $1 million endowment to provide Christian education for Southern blacks. Among the fund’s notable recipients was the sociologist and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963). In 1883, Hayes became the first president of the newly reorganized National Prison Reform Association. For nearly 10 years, he traveled around the country speaking on policy reform topics.
In January 1893, while on business in Cleveland, Hayes fell ill. The ex-president sent for his son Webb C. Hayes (1856-1934) to escort him back home to Fremont, where he died of heart failure at age 70 on January 17, three-and-a-half years after the death of his wife.
After Hayes’ death, Webb established a presidential library in his father’s name at Spiegel Grove, setting the precedent for the construction and dedication of post-term presidential libraries.