“Coeducation of the sexes and entire freedom from sectarian or political preferences is the only proper and safe way for providing an education that shall meet the wants of the future and carry out the founders idea of an Institution where any person can find instruction in any study. I herewith commit this great trust to your care.”
Carpenter, mechanic, farmer, salesman, inventor, entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist, Ezra Cornell was an extraordinary man. While he referred to himself simply as a farmer and mechanic who had spent some time working in the telegraph industry, through skillful work, uncommon tenacity, and fortuitous circumstances he amassed a fortune. Ezra Cornell envisioned America as a place where technology, wealth, and altruism could come together to benefit all the inhabitants. As soon as it became clear that he had a fortune, he used those riches to found a unique university.
Under the guidance of Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University was established as a non-sectarian institution, open to all, and dedicated to all forms of intellectual endeavor. In his address at the opening of the university on October 7, 1868, Ezra articulated his hopes for the new university: “I trust we have laid the foundation of an University — ‘an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.’”
Although Ezra Cornell died in 1874, his remarkable ideals gave life to a radical educational experiment which lives on. In the small rural community of Ithaca, New York, he created the first truly American university, now one of the great educational institutions of the world, which bears his name.
“I Would Found an Institution”: