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Stanford History

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In 1884, tragedy struck the family when Leland and Jane’s only child, Leland Stanford, Jr., died of typhoid fever while traveling in Italy. After the death of their beloved child, the Stanfords thought incessantly about an appropriate memorial in his honor. After deliberation, they decided that since they could not help their own son, “the children of California shall be our children.” They decided to convert part of their Stock Farm into a university in their son’s honor. Eventually the farm was replaced by Leland Stanford Junior University.

However, Leland and Jane did not just want to create another college. They wanted an institution that would provide its students with a pragmatic education. One unique aspect of a Stanford education was multi-cultural enlightenment, a goal that has persisted throughout the history of the school. Some other progressive features of the founding grant proclaimed Stanford to be co-ed, non-sectarian, open to all individuals regardless of their heritage, tuition-free (this remained the case until 1920), and that no land was ever to be sold.

Once the decision was made, the Stanfords faced the daunting task of making it all a reality. They began this process by selecting a president for the university. For this honor, they chose David Starr Jordan, who at the time was the president of Indiana University. Before the opening of the school, Jordan had the responsibilities of hiring a faculty, setting a curriculum, and most importantly, enrolling students. The inaugural year, there were fifteen faculty members for the 555 enrolled students (40 more than enrolled at UC Berkeley the same year). The overwhelming student response led to a doubling in the number of professors in the first year. Today, more than 1400 men and women serve as professors for the students at Stanford University.

Undoubtedly, Stanford University has indeed established itself as an exemplary institution with the highest standards.

Want To Know More?

Listen to interviews with leading faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees that explore the institutional history of the University. Visit our ARCHIVE page with links to artifacts, letters, and photographs held in the University and Stanford Family collections. 

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