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The Birth of the University


On October 1, 1891, Stanford University opened its doors after six years of planning and building. In the early morning hours, construction workers were still preparing the Inner Quadrangle for the opening ceremonies. The great arch at the western end had been backed with panels of red and white cloth to form an alcove where the dignitaries would sit. Behind the stage was a life-size portrait of Leland Stanford, Jr., in whose memory the university was founded.

About 2,000 seats, many of them sturdy classroom chairs, were set up in the 3-acre Quad, and they soon proved insufficient for the growing crowd. By midmorning, people were streaming across the brown fields on foot. Riding horses, carriages and farm wagons were hitched to every fence and at half past ten the special train from San Francisco came puffing almost to the university buildings on the temporary spur that had been used during construction.

Just before 11 a.m., Leland and Jane Stanford mounted to the stage. As Mr. Stanford unfolded his manuscript and laid it on the large Bible that was open on the stand, Mrs. Stanford linked her left arm in his right and held her parasol to shelter him from the rays of the midday sun. He began in measured phrases:
 
"In the few remarks I am about to make, I speak for Mrs. Stanford, as well as myself, for she has been my active and sympathetic coadjutor and is co-grantor with me in the endowment and establishment of this University..."

What manner of people were this man and this woman, who had the intelligence, the means, the faith and the daring to plan a major university in Pacific soil, far from the nation's center of culture a university that broke from the classical tradition of higher learning?

 


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