The California campus of Stanford University has been listed in magazines and on websites as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world and one of the most attractive university settings in the United States. It is often likened by visitors to a country estate or to a farm, and that may be because the campus started as both of these.
The university was founded in 1885 by Leland Stanford, builder of America’s transcontinental railroad and former California governor and United States senator, and was built on the Stanford’s estate in Palo Alto; parts of the campus occupy the Stanfords’ former horse farm and stables, and to this day the institution is often referred to as “the farm”. Although its official name remains “Leland Stanford Junior University”, so called at first because it was anticipated that students would transfer to Harvard, Yale or other eastern schools, Stanford University has grown in 125 years to be one of the major educational and research institutions in the world, is always ranked in the top 5 of American universities and is often number 1 and is one of the best-endowed universities in the country. It is also a lovely and historic place to visit.
The Founding of the University
Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford, lost their only child to typhoid fever in 1884. They resolved that thereafter the young people of California would be their children by proxy, and consulted Harvard president Charles W. Eliot about whether they should endow a museum, a technical school or a university. Eliot recommended a university, and suggested an endowment of about $5 million, which would correspond to around $140 million today.
The Stanfords wrote a Grant of Endowment in November, 1885 that stipulated the university was to “fit the graduate for some useful pursuit…have taught in the University the right and advantages of association and co-operation…to afford equal facilities and give equal advantages in the University to both sexes [and] to maintain on the Palo Alto estate a farm for instruction in agriculture”. Sectarian religious instruction was prohibited but the university was to teach “the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all-wise and benevolent Creator and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man.”
The Stanfords engaged Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park, to lay out the campus, and the first buildings were designed by Boston architect Charles Atherton Coolidge and in some cases by Leland Stanford himself. The cornerstone was laid on May 14, 1887, which would have been the nineteenth birthday of Leland Stanford, Junior. Olmsted and Coolidge first proposed to put the college buildings on the side of a hill but adjacent flat land proved more practical, and the buildings were originally intended to combine the Mission Revival style often seen in California with the Romanesque buildings that are common in Boston. In 1889 Stanford became dissatisfied and took over the architecture himself, and in so doing created the distinctive Stanford “look” of buff-colored walls, red roofs and open arcades that famously complement the sunshine and blue skies that are frequent in California. David Starr Jordan, president of Indiana University, was selected to run the university after several candidates at Harvard, Yale and MIT turned down the offer, and served as president until 1913.
The university opened on October 1, 1891, and in the first class were Ray Lyman Wilbur, who became the third president of the university, and his roommate Herbert Hoover, who became president of the United States in 1929. Hoover married the first woman student admitted, Lou Henry, and they lived in Palo Alto except for their years in the White House until she died in 1944. The Hoover House subsequently became the residence of the university’s president. Outgoing U.S. President Benjamin Harrison was hired to run the new Law School, and a private medical school in San Francisco, Cooper Medical College, was acquired to become first the Department and then the School of Medicine, and did not move to Palo Alto until the 1950s.
Leland Stanford died in 1893, and his wife exerted great influence on the trustees and the administration until her death in 1905. She became increasingly eccentric, had automobiles banned from the campus and prevented art students from sketching nude models in class. A university hospital was not constructed because it would create the impression that the campus was an unhealthy place. The university became involved in an important legal case involving academic freedom when Mrs. Stanford procured the dismissal of an economics professor for supporting William Jennings Bryan for president and racial discrimination against Chinese immigrants.
On the other hand, Mrs. Stanford almost single-handedly kept the school open when its policy of not charging tuition brought about financial problems and a lawsuit against the Stanford estate sought the liquidation of the university. The trustees proposed that the school be closed until its finances could be reorganized, but she pawned her jewelry to pay faculty salaries and arranged for the California constitution to be amended so that the university was exempt from taxation. By the time of her death, the Stanford family had donated about $40 million to the university, the equivalent of about a billion dollars today.
Becoming a major university
Much of the campus was also damaged by the catastrophic San Francisco Earthquake of that year, however, particularly the original quadrangle. Less grandiose but more earthquake-resistant rebuilding began almost immediately. Tuition was introduced in 1920, initially nominal but now quite substantial ($42,000 a year in 2013-2014). Stanford was a pioneering university in raising funds from parents and alumni, and became the first American university to take in more than a billion dollars in gifts and donations in a year. It has in fact done so every year since 2000. The financial situation of the university is dramatically better at the beginning of the 21st century than at the start of the 20th: the endowment was valued at $21 billion in 2014.
The prosperity and growth of the university reflects in part its involvement with science and technology, particularly the computer industry. The Santa Clara valley is today known as “Silicon Valley” principally because of the high-tech businesses that developed on or around the Stanford campus. The university was one of the original four nodes of the ARPAnet, which was the precursor of today’s Internet. Many leading technology companies have been founded by Stanford alumni, including Google, Hewlett-Packard, Instagram, Nike, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo!, and the revenues and profits of Stanford-related companies would represent the 10th-largest economy in the world. The faculty has included 59 Nobel laureates and the winners of prizes and medals in most scientific, technical and medical fields, and 17 astronauts and at least 30 billionaires are represented among the alumni. Stanford also ranks second only to Harvard in alumni who have served in Congress.
Stanford has also developed at off-campus locations since its founding, and has had particular expansion since 2000. Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is a natural reserve to the south of the main campus, and the two-mile-long (3.2 km) linear particle accelerator was built to its west. An additional technology campus is under development in Redwood City, between Palo Alto and San Francisco. The Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove has been conducting marine biology research since 1892. A Stanford program headquartered in Washington operates an art gallery in Woodley Park, and the 15th-century Palazzo Capponi in Florence houses an Italian branch. In 2012 the Stanford Center at Beijing University became the first American university building on a Chinese university campus.
What to see and do on campus
The main landmarks from the early years are the Main Quad and the Memorial Church. The Meyer Library has been demolished but its grounds are being converted into a park. Hoover House, built in 1919, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1937 Hanna-Honeycomb House are now listed on the National Historic Register. The Stanford Mausoleum in the northwest corner of the campus houses the remains of Leland and Jane Stanford and their son, the university’s namesake. The nearby Angel of Grief, a replica of William Wetmore Story’s original in Rome, memorializes Jane Stanford’s brother and was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake, restored in 2008 and then suffered neglect and decay until restored again in 2001.
The Stanford Arboretum grew from the original trees of the Stanford estate and Mrs. Stanford provided that it “always be sacredly preserved from mutilation”. The present-day arboretum houses 350 specimens of some 150 types of tree. The arboretum also contains the Stanfords’ cactus garden, established in 1880 and rescued from neglect after 1997. “The Dish”, a radio telescope 150 feet (46 meters) in the nearby foothills, is another campus landmark that still functions as an astronomical facility but is also the center of a campus recreational and fitness trail. The best-known symbol of the Stanford campus is its tallest building, the 285-foot Hoover Tower built in 1941 to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, which houses the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, one of the country’s chief economic and political science “think tanks”. The Hoover Institution’s research library is so comprehensive that the Soviet Union asked it for a microfilm copy of the first issue of Pravda from 1917 when a surviving issue of the Communist Party organ could not be found in Russia.
The Stanford University Libraries hold almost 10 million volumes, 300,000 rare books, 1.5 million e-books and more than 2 million audiovisual materials, including the collected papers of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. The Green Library holds many of these, as well as a 540,000-volume East Asian collection to be transferred from the Meyer Library to a new facility under construction.
The largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France is on the campus, including one of the twelve castings of the monumental Burghers of Calais. Ten master woodcarvers were brought to the campus in 1994 from Papua New Guinea to create a unique sculpture garden of traditional New Guinea art in a western public space. These sculptures are part of the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, which has 24 galleries including the Thomas Welton Stanford Gallery, dating from 1917, where teaching works and those of students and faculty are displayed. New buildings in a developing Arts District include the Anderson Collection of Post-World War II American Art, opened in 2014, and the just-opened McMurtry Building for Art and Art History. Theatre and music has traditionally been concentrated at the indoor Memorial Auditorium and outdoor Frost Amphitheater, dating from 1937, but the purpose-built Bing Concert Hall was opened for music in 2013 and the 1931 Roble Gym for women will open in 2016 as a theatrical facility.
How to get to Stanford
The Stanford campus can be reached easily by car from San Jose or the Bay Area, using US Highway 101 or Interstate 280. The Embarcadero Road exits from highway 101 or the Sand Hill Road exits from I-280 both direct drivers to Stanford University, and both lead to Galvez Street, on which the University’s Visitor Center and parking lots are located. Palo Alto has two railroad stations served by the CalTrain lines from San Francisco and San Jose, and a free shuttle is available from the station to the campus, named “Marguerite” after the horse that used to pull the carriage that connected the university and the railroad. There are 14 Marguerite routes that connect the station, campus, Stanford Linear Accelerator complex and local shopping centers.
Student-led campus walking tours take place most days at 11 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. and the Hoover Tower, Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion and museums and galleries are open to the public free of charge. Additional tours are available at the Cantor Art Center, Memorial Church, Hanna Honeycomb House, the university’s athletic facilities and the nearby Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and historical exhibits are on display at the Historical Red Barn, one of the last structures of the original Stanford farm. Self-guiding sculpture garden tours, plant walks, walks around the Mausoleum and Gardens, hikes to The Dish and maps of the Oval and the hiking and biking paths are also available. Some of the tours require reservations, which can be made on the university’s website, that also provides maps, directions, schedules of arts performances or sporting events and electronic newsletters for people who are interested in “the farm”.