Tulane University Founding

This article discusses the founding history of the university which began its life as the Deep South’s second-oldest medical school. It developed into one of the region’s premier universities during a time period that reshaped the South, New Orleans, and in turn, the university.

Medical College of Louisiana

Tulane University is often cited as being founded in 1834 by seven young New Orleans medical doctors [1] and it is true that Tulane’s earliest roots lie in the school founded by these seven. However, the institution created then was quite different than what it would become just a few decades later, and vastly different from what it is today. The school’s first class consisted of just 11 students and seven faculty; the seven doctors referred to previously. The establishment created by these doctors was then known as the Medical College of Louisiana. It’s purpose was to train New Orleans doctors in the combat of cholera and yellow fever [2] ; two of the most deadly diseases which plagued the U.S. south during the 1800s. Yellow fever alone was responsible for over 41,000 deaths in New Orleans between 1817 and 1905, with most of those deaths coming during 8 separate years of severe outbreak during that time period. [3] The days of the university’s infancy were spent focusing on how to mitigate the spread of these deadly diseases within the city. The school’s long-standing tradition of medical instruction and research survives today at Tulane University medical school.

University of Louisiana

In 1847, the Louisiana state legislature added a law school to the college, and renamed it the University of Louisiana. [4] The school was the first of its kind in the southwest, and remains one of the core pillars of the university today. Like the medical school, the law school had humble beginnings. The state legislature provided very little funding for the school, and with very little enrollment, the young school nearly failed. The school’s first president, Dr. Francis Lister Hawks, was selected partially because he would be able to fulfill his duties as president while maintaining an income of his own, as there would be no salary allotted to his position due to lack of funding. [5] In 1851, an academic school was added to the university, as it further took shape to become one of the South’s premier institutions of higher learning. Like the previous two branches of the university, the academic branch also suffered from lack of funding and enrollment in its infancy. The branch nearly collapsed entirely under the weight of a yellow fever epidemic which broke out in the city in 1853, killing 7,849. [6] That outbreak had a tremendous impact on the city as a whole; it would remain the deadliest in its history since records began being kept 1817. Were it not for the tireless efforts of the academic school’s first Dean, Claudius Wisdor Sears, the school would have fallen apart. [7] The university closed down in 1861 due to the many complications posed by the Civil War. It reopened again in 1865, but much like the rest of New Orleans, and the rest of the south for that matter, it spent much of the next 20 years falling victim to the challenges posed by reconstruction, as enrollment and funding remained scarce. [8] It remained a public institution until 1884, when the Tulane Educational Fund was granted private ownership of it and the institution was renamed Tulane University – in honor of Paul Tulane, the benefactor who donated property appraised at $288,700 to the education of the people of New Orleans, which led to the establishment of the Tulane Educational Fund. [9]

Paul Tulane

Paul Tulane was a wealthy businessman of French-American descent, born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey. As a young man he was educated in private schools and developed an interest in business. At the age of 18 he took a three year tour of the South, which is how he first became exposed to New Orleans. At the age of 21 he returned to New Orleans, where he would reside intermittently for the next 50 years before retiring back to Princeton in his old age. [10] Tulane had a knack for turning a profit, quickly establishing himself as one of the city’s most influential businessman. Upon settling in the city, with the financial assistance of his father, he founded Paul Tulane and Co, which became a name known throughout the Mississippi Valley. His company was involved heavily in the dry goods industry – hats, shoes, and clothes – both on the retail and wholesale side. His first retail shop was founded at 20 and later 26 Levee – now known as North Peters Street. [11] In 1881, at the age of 80 and now retired to his home in Princeton, Tulane devised his plan to give back to the City of New Orleans. He reflected upon his younger days seeing men ship their sons off on steamboats to go to college, a sight which made him wonder how there could be no school for higher education within such a great city. [12] Tulane’s mind was made up, although he did not wish to give clear instructions as to how his plan should be carried out. He simply stated that the donation he would make was to be used “for the promotion and encouragement of the intellectual, moral, and industrial education among the white young persons in the city of New Orleans, State of Louisiana, and for the advancement of learning and letter the arts and sciences therein.” [13]

Tulane University of Louisiana

To carry out his plan, Tulane called upon then Representative in congress, and later Louisiana Senator, Randall Lee Gibson. It was Gibson, a former confederate Brigadier General, who devised the Tulane Educational Fund, managed by a board of administrators composed of wealthy and influential citizens of New Orleans. [14] Gibson would later become the first president of the Fund and Tulane University’s main academic hall would come to bear his name. [15] His plan was carried out and on May 23, 1882, the board was formed, followed by Tulane’s Act of Donation, dated June 10 of the same year, and accepted by the board on June 12. [16] Thus the wheels were set in motion for the creation of the modern Tulane University. At the same time as the formation of the Tulane Educational Fund, the University of Louisiana was in financial trouble. A November 18, 1881 article which appeared in The Daily Picayune alludes to the financial straits the university was in, in a plea to the wealthy of New Orleans to supply it with more funding: “We ought to be proud of our University, whose schools of Law and Medicine are supplying the two noblest professions with material of which any nation would be proud; and we shall be compelled to be prouder of it when our wealthy citizens have founded twenty more professorships in the department of literature and science. Let every one help to hasten that time.” [17] The two entities saw an opportunity for mutual benefit. It was agreed that the Fund would take possession of the university, a plan which was met with great support both by the individuals responsible for it and the general public. Both the Times and the Picayune, New Orleans’ rival newspapers came out in support of such a deal; evidence of its resounding public support. [18] Louisiana State Legislature Act 43 of 1884 made the university’s transition from public to private official, and the Tulane University of Louisiana was born. [19]

Works Cited

  • “History.” Tulane University -. Accessed June 08, 2015. http://tulane.edu/about/history.cfm.,
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 19. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • “Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans.” Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans. Accessed June 08, 2015. http://nutrias.org/facts/feverdeaths.htm.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 22. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 25. New York: Harper & Row, 1966
  • “Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans.” Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans. Accessed June 08, 2015. http://nutrias.org/facts/feverdeaths.htm.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 27. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 29. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 11. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 6. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 6-7. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 3. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 12. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 4-5. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • McBride, Mary Gorton, and Ann M. McLaurin. Randall Lee Gibson of Louisiana: Confederate General and New South Reformer. 183-84 Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 11. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • “University of Louisiana To-Morrow.” The Daily Picayune (New Orleans), November 18, 1881. Accessed June 9, 2015. America’s Historical Newspapers.
  • Dyer, John P. Tulane; the Biography of a University, 1834-1965. 13. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • “LA Act 43 of 1884.” LA Act 43 of 1884. July 2005. Accessed June 08, 2015. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/act43_03a.htm.

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Paul Tulane and Co.'s First Retail Shop

26 North Peters Street, New Orleans LA

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Gibson Hall

6823 St Charles Avenue, New Orleans LA 70118