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Old University of Chicago

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Title: Old University of Chicago  
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Subject: History of the University of Chicago, University of Chicago, Archie Frederick Collins, Old University of Chicago, Dearborn Observatory
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Old University of Chicago

The University of Chicago (also called Chicago University and, after it closed, Old University of Chicago), was a college affiliated with the Baptist church in Chicago from 1857 to 1886.

The present-day University of Chicago, which was established in 1890, is legally a separate institution but the new school eventually recognized Old University alumni as its own.[1] The lone remaining stone from the older school's building, which was destroyed by fire, is preserved on the present school's main quadrangle, where it is set into the wall of the arch between the Classics building and Wieboldt Hall.


Students of the Old University of Chicago
The Old University of Chicago

The land upon which the University of Chicago was established was originally part of a lakefront tract owned by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas had offered the 10-acre (4.0 ha) plot, worth $50,000 and located at Cottage Grove Avenue and Thirty-Fifth Street, to the Presbyterian Church for a seminary. When the church group failed to raise the $100,000 Douglas set as a precondition of his donation, he offered the site to a group of Baptists, who accepted. Douglas was no religious man but an avid promoter of Chicago; critics accused him of trying to boost the value of his adjoining lots.[2]

The school's 1856 charter required that most of the members of the Board of Trustees be of the Baptist faith. The school made no such restrictions on either faculty or students. Despite the title of university, in the early years, the tenor of the instruction was primarily collegiate and vocational in nature. Two hundred to five hundred students enrolled annually in preparatory, collegiate, law, and medical schools.

The new institution began almost immediately to encounter financial difficulties. Fundraising was hurt by Douglas' support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was regarded by many northern Baptists and other abolitionists as a betrayal,[3] while the financial Panic of 1857 drained the finances of many of the principal investors, rendering most of their initial subscriptions worthless.

The trustees proceeded with plans to build the university, including construction projects that were beyond the school's means because of the volatility of the market. With the university’s debt mounting rapidly, President J. C. Burroughs and the trustees sold a second wave of subscriptions. Key to this effort was James Hutchinson Woodworth, a former Chicago mayor who was also president of the Treasury Bank of Chicago. Woodworth served as a university trustee from 1857 to 1869, as well as treasurer for some time.

Burroughs, who remained in office longer than any of his five successors, established in 1859 the University's Union College of Law, the city's first law school. In 1870, Ada Kepley and Richard A. Dawson received bachelor of law degrees, likely the first woman and first African American, respectively, to receive degrees from the institution. In 1872, the faculty voted to allow women as students.[4] In 1873, the Law School became jointly associated with Northwestern University, and ultimately became today's Northwestern University School of Law.[5]

The university's finances deteriorated rapidly after Woodworth died in 1869. It was rocked by the huge costs of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the Panic of 1873 decreased donations. In 1874, a fire damaged the university’s main physical plant.

Meanwhile, disagreements in the Board of Trustees flared up over fundraising, financial management, and faculty appointments, escalating into open conflict. Burroughs and his most vocal opponent, trustee W. W. Everts, left the board. To keep Burroughs affiliated with the university, the trustees created the post of chancellor and appointed him responsible for the school's financial affairs. But the new president and Chancellor Burroughs were quickly at odds. Other administrators were hired and departed in rapid succession; by 1886, six presidents had served the university.

The university's fifth president, Galusha Anderson, appealed to philanthropists John D. Rockefeller and Leland Stanford, but was unable to secure substantial donations.[6] Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, the university's chief creditor, brought suit in 1881 to foreclose the mortgage on the university's property. Anderson argued to keep the school open, but in January 1885 the court found for Union Mutual.[6] The university closed in autumn 1886, and the main building was razed in 1890.[7]

At the final meeting of its Board of Trustees in 1890, the group officially changed the name of the institution to the Old University of Chicago. This was to enable a new Rockefeller-financed Baptist school, then being organized, to have a completely separate legal entity and take the title of the University of Chicago.

Notable graduates


  1. ^ "The University of Chicago Magazine, Volumes 5-6". p. 284. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  2. ^ Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (1973) pp 558, 872
  3. ^ Integrating the Life of the Mind: African Americans at the University of Chicago 1870-1940"Controversy", , Exhibit September 2008 - February 2009, University of Chicago Library, web exhibit 2009, accessed 23 September 2013
  4. ^ "Advocacy", Integrating the Life of the Mind, 2009
  5. ^ Law School: 150th anniversary, Northwestern University School of Law
  6. ^ a b "Myth of Openness", Integrating the Life of the Mind (2009), accessed 23 September 2013
  7. ^ Rudolph, Frederick (1962). The American College and University: A History. Knopf. p. 351.  
  8. ^ "Lincoln Chronology". National Park Service. 

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