Morill Hall on Libe Slope

Cornell Begins

October 24, 2018 - March 29, 2019
Michael T. Sillerman ’68 Rotunda
Carl A. Kroch Library

Cornell University was founded with the signing of its Charter on April 27, 1865. Ezra Cornell and co-founder and first president Andrew D. White, spent the next three years planning, designing, and building their new university. There was a lot to do: electing trustees; securing the land-grant scrip; writing a progressive Plan of Organization (inventing the modern American university’s elective system); hiring faculty; purchasing books for the library and equipment and furnishings for its laboratories, classrooms and living quarters; establishing admissions policies and attracting students.

On October 6, 1868, candidates arrived in Ithaca to take entrance exams. The next day was the new university's inauguration day. Although Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White were both ill, exhausted by their efforts, they spoke eloquently of their idea—the close union of liberal and practical education—and their ideal, “to found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

The next morning, the student applicants assembled on the steps of the Library to hear if they had passed their exams, and then the first Cornellians marched up East Hill to the mostly unfinished and unbuilt campus for their first classes.

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