Historic Moments
   
  Planning a university to serve the Northwest Territory

On May 31, 1850, nine men gathered in an law office above a hardware store in Chicago to plan a university that would serve the former Northwest Territory, a vast region that included what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a part of Minnesota.

Given that they had little money, no land and that only one of the nine had even attended college, their vision may have seemed a bit overreaching. But through a combination of creative financing, shrewd politicking, religious inspiration and an abundance of hard work, the founders of Northwestern University were able to make that dream a reality.

Although the founders were strong Methodists -- three of them were Methodist ministers and before the meeting all those in attendance joined in prayer -- they also firmly believed that Northwestern should be institution that would serve all people. At that time in history, particularly in the Midwest, many religious denominations founded colleges aimed at educating only members of their religion. Northwestern's founders, by contrast, envisioned a much more open and inclusive institution.

Three key leaders were John Evans, Orrington Lunt and Grant Goodrich. Evans, a physician, had come to Chicago from Indiana to head the Department of Obstetrics at Rush Medical College. Evans invented obstetrical instruments in addition to having a highly successful private practice. He also was a successful real estate entrepreneur and served a term as a Chicago alderman, as well as 44 years as chairman of Northwestern's Board of Trustees.

Lunt, a successful commodities broker, was often called Northwestern's most devoted servant. Lunt is credited with the selection of the Evanston site for the University and provided financial support on many occasions, including the funds to create the University's first library, now Lunt Hall.

Goodrich, who was known as a "violent antislavery man," was a successful attorney and a leader in the Whig and later Republican parties. His knowledge of Chicago and Illinois politics proved invaluable, as he was responsible for drafting the University's charter and getting it approved by the Illinois legislature on January 28, 1851. He also secured passage of the first amendment to the charter, approved by the legislature four years later, which prohibited the sale of alcohol within four miles of the University and exempted the University from property taxes.

Doing the "wind work"

Although the founders met on May 31, 1850 and had the articles of incorporation for the University completed a few weeks later, Northwestern didn't enroll a student until November 1855. As John Evans stated in 1852 when offered the opportunity to purchase some land in Chicago, "We haven't a red cent. We've been doing the wind work."

What Evans meant by "the wind work" was that the founders were spending their time talking to leaders of the city, the state, business leaders, the Methodist church and other key institutions to gain support for the fledgling university.

At the same time the founders began work on Northwestern's charter, they began raising money to construct and endow the University with an initial goal of $25,000. Evans and Lunt made the first contributions of $5,000 each, the first of many gifts from the two that helped keep the University solvent in its early, financially pressed days.

A final note: Evans took advantage of the above-noted opportunity to buy land, and it proved to be one of the University's best investments. The trustees purchased 16 lots at the corner of Jackson and LaSalle in Chicago for the price of $8,000 as a potential site for the campus. Although the University chose not to build there, Northwestern held on to the property, finally selling it five years ago -- for a bit more than the original purchase price.

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