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History of Cornell

Cornell University was founded in 1868 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White with a dream of creating a university dedicated to the education of the common man in any discipline desired. The central elements of the campus were built on Cornell’s farm, and a total endowment of half a million dollars was established to begin the school. White became the University’s first President. Integral to the establishment of Cornell was the Merrill Act that granted public lands to educational institutions. This Act and the endowment donated by Cornell made Cornell University an unusual institution because of the mix of public and private funds. Finding the faculty was the next duty for White. He combed the world looking for a wide variety of individuals to teach the wide variety of subjects which made up the proposed curriculum in little Ithaca, NY. In 1873, Cornell graduated its first female graduate and, in 1897, its first African American student. The Graduate School was developed in 1909 to organize the advanced studies that have been a part of the campus since its inception.

Cornell has had a distinguished history since its creation. The first doctorates awarded in the United States in electrical engineering and industrial engineering were granted by Cornell. It recently ranked first in funds allocated by the National Science Foundation for programs in academic science and engineering. Many Nobel laureates have been affiliated with Cornell (see table 8.2 on page 164 for a list).
If you are interested in learning more about the school’s creation or its history, a good place to start is the University Archives. The archives include records about Cornell, memorabilia, and even past Ph.D. theses and papers. You can find them within the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections located in Kroch Library. () There are also a number of books that have been written about Cornell. Perhaps the most comprehensive, The History of Cornell, sold in the Campus Store, gives a detailed account of Cornell over the past century and a half. You can also find special topic books about women at Cornell, or the 1969 takeover of Willard Straight Hall.