Leland Stanford Jr inspired a legacy that has endured for more than 100 years
What many people don’t know is the fascinating story behind the university’s establishment and growth over the years. From its humble beginnings as a memorial to a tragic event, all the way through to its evolution into one of the most respected institutions of higher learning, Stanford University history is a saga worth exploring.
Below, you can discover the tale of how Leland Stanford Jr inspired the founding of Stanford University, and learn about the vision that drove its founders.
We’ve also collected more than 50 old photos of the Stanford campus — offering a glimpse into what the school looked like in its earliest years.
Stanford University history: It started as a monument to the memory of a senator’s son (1888)
Wilkes Barre Times Leader, the Evening News (Pennsylvania) July 6, 1888
The Leland Stanford Jr University of California… had its origin indirectly in the death of the only son, indeed the only child, of Senator and Mrs. Stanford.
The boy died abroad [of typhoid fever], and his body was brought home and buried with great ceremony.
Having no heir to inherit his wealth, Senator Stanford decided to erect a university as a memorial to his son. He set aside some $20,000,000 for this purpose.
A conveyance of these moneys has been made to a board of twenty-four trustees, but it is specified in the grant that Mr. and Mrs. Stanford are to retain absolute control of the property granted during their lifetime, and “to amend, alter or modify the conditions of the grant and the trusts therein created.”
At the same time, “this reservation does not include the right or power to sell or encumber any of the real property granted.”
Leland Stanford Junior University
The institution is to be called the Leland Stanford Junior University. The buildings are to be like the old adobe houses of the early Spanish days; they will be one-storied; they will have deep window seats and open fireplaces, and the roofs will be covered with the familiar dark red tiles, which are shaped like long chimneys split in two. The material is to be a fine cream-colored sandstone.
There are to be fourteen of these buildings, all exactly alike, and built about a quadrangle 600 feet long by 250 feet wide. There will be a memorial church on one side and a handsome memorial arch on the other.
Within the quadrangle will be a splendid sweep of lawn, relieved here and there by large flower beds and a continuous arcade, covered and supported by pillars like a cloister. These buildings will be twenty feet high, with immense windows. There will be five of them on each long side of the quadrangle, and two on each of the shorter.
In addition to the university proper, there are to be a large number of buildings erected at once for the benefit of the professors and parents of students, and these will be multiplied as the demand increases. The male and female colleges “are to be distinct institutions, yet with a mutual interdependence.
The higher course is to be free, and the collegiate may be enjoyed for a nominal sum. The professors will receive liberal salaries, so that the highest talent may be secured.
In addition to the ordinary collegiate course, there are to be buildings devoted to the instruction of the science of government, law, medicine, painting, mechanics, agriculture, and there will be art galleries, museums and a conservatory of music.
There will be free scholarships awarded to the children of men who have died in the service of the country, and of worthy mechanics who cannot afford even the modest prices of the university. There will be no discrimination in regard to sex, unless, indeed, it be in favor of women.
Leland Stanford Jr University, Western entrance to inner quadrangle (c1895)
Leland Stanford University (c1895)
Old Stanford Mansion, Madrono Hall and frat houses
Fraternity houses for Phi Kappa Psi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Chi & Delta Tau Delta
Old Stanford fraternities in 1900
Kappa Kappa Gamma, Sigma Nu, Delta Upsilon, Zeta Psi, Phi Delta Theta, Beta Theta Pi
Book cover: Stanford University California (1900)
View from Church tower in 1903
Panorama of north facade
Panorama of north facade – Left
North facade – Stanford University
Side Arch and Chemistry Building
Birds-eye view of campus – Stanford University
People reading – the Quad
Quadrangle loking north
Rainy day on the Quad
The old Arcade in 1903
Stanford Arcade and Museum
Leland Stanford Memorial Statue
Angel of Grief statue
Memorial Court view
The Palo Alto and Memorial Church
Memorial Church, rear view
Interior of Stanford church
Interior of Memorial Church
Memorial Church and Memorial Arch
Campus street – Stanford University
Campus – Street and sidewalk with homes
Mrs Stanford’s residence
Class plates – starting with 1895
Stanford’s old smoke stack and boiler room