A Vision of a Great University

On May 31, 2000, President Henry S. Bienen, the Northwestern University Board of Trustees, and other guests gathered in Chicago to commemorate the founding of Northwestern at 69 West Lake Street on May 30, 1850. On that date nine men met in a law office to discuss establishing an institution of higher education. Their hope was that Chicago, already a center of commerce, could become a center of learning as well.


After a benediction, attorney Grant Goodrich, who had opened his office for the meeting, read a resolution stating that "the interests of sanctified learning require the immediate establishment of a university in the Northwest under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church." This must have seemed a tall order. Chicago in 1850 was still a crude outpost - hardly a place of campus-like charm. But things were improving. As the hub of America's former Northwest Territory - a vast region of great future wealth - Chicago had attracted pioneers of ambition and intelligence who were now the boomtown's leading citizens.


Northwestern's founders were just such pioneers. In addition to Goodrich, there was Orrington Lunt, a founder of the Chicago Board of Trade, who envisioned a university that would rival any institution in the eastern United States. And there was John Evans, whose medical skills were matched by his visionary gifts. His success as the former head of the obstetrics department at Rush Medical College, his real estate acumen, his term as a city alderman, and his background as consolidator of railroads provided him with the abundant cash needed for his idealistic schemes. Evans contributed the $1,000 down payment for acreage north of Chicago and assumed responsibility for the mortgage covering the balance. He was among the first to build himself a home on swamp-drained land near the current Alumni Center in the area the trustees named Evanston in his honor.
Through the efforts of Evans, Goodrich, Lunt, and others, Northwestern University was officially established on January 28, 1851, when its Act of Incorporation was passed by the Illinois legislature.