Did you know that Ezra Cornell formed Western Union before founding the Ivy League school that bears his name? Or that Samuel Bard was a surgeon to George Washington years before his grandson John founded Bard College? Or that the highly esteemed Berklee School of Music was named after a 12-year-old boy?
At their very best, our colleges and universities are the lifeblood of American ingenuity, innovation, and revelation. Our campuses are a place where knowledge, inspiration, and opportunity are meant to converge, where thought, idea, and action coalesce.
And those schools with the finest of such traditions—those with the richest history and the brightest future—were not simply hatched from a single idea. No. The tradition of higher education is a many-colored tapestry, stitched together by countless brilliant men and women.
Indeed, many of their names adorn buildings and brochures, invoking images of scholarly discourse, tireless invention, and staggering achievement. These are the men and women featured in TBS Magazine’s “Campus Characters” series. Here, we highlight the contributions of the greatest figures in our educational history. We’ll also arm you with tons of amazing trivia tidbits along the way.
R.G. LeTourneau held more than 300 patents, simultaneously owned and operated manufacturing plants on 4 different continents, and founded LeTourneau University. Yet strangely, was himself a 6th grade dropout. Though the title of Most Interesting Man in the World is up for debate, LeTourneau is certainly in the running.
Did you know that the largest independent school of music in the world was named after a 12-year-old boy? Not only that, but this boy would one day go on to be the school’s president.
Payne found his passion for education early in life, so much so that he dedicated himself to affording others these same unique opportunities. In 1829, when Payne was a mere 18 years of age, he opened his first school.
Oberlin College is one of the nation’s great bastions to progressive ideals and left-leaning politics. It is also the oldest co-educational institution in the United States. It is fairly ironic, then, that the founder of this Ohio-based college was himself a decidedly conservative man whose social activism was largely pursued from the minister’s pulpit and included strong advocacy for prohibition.
Were it not for the constant tragedy that surrounded her, Lucy Skidmore’s life might well have proceeded along the traditional path befitting a 19th century woman raised into high society.
LeMoyne-Owen College was created by a 1968 merger combining two Historically Black Colleges located in Memphis, Tennessee. But its true origin would predate this merger by more than a century.
I’m really, really sorry about the title, but ever since the private Roman Catholic university out of Spokane, Washington became a March Madness bracket darling, it’s kind of true. Also, it rhymes, so there.
Impress your friends, irritate your roommates, or just hoard all of this juicy knowledge for yourself. (Just kidding. Don’t do that. Share it all over the internet please.)
And if there’s anybody in your school’s history that you think is deserving of our consideration, let us know. We’ll add them to our list!