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Ezra Cornell
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The First Inauguration
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The Cornell Public Library

The First Inauguration

At the Cornell Library on Wednesday, October 7, 1868, a warm and bright autumn day, Cornell University celebrated its first Inauguration Day. On campus, the Arts Quad was little more than a cow pasture, and only one still-unfinished building (Morrill Hall) stood, but several hundred people attended the ceremonies. At 10:00 in the morning, President Andrew Dickson White, the Faculty, and the Trustees entered as the audience of distinguished guests, students, and citizens arose and the band played “Hail to the Chief.” Because of the controversy over the new university’s nonsectarian foundation, Gov. Reuben E. Fenton did not attend the ceremonies, but was represented by Lt. Gov. Stewart L. Woodford, a strong supporter of the new institution.

Ezra Cornell delivered a brief address, in which he said:
I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education, which shall fit the youth of our country for the professions, the farms, the mines, the manufactories, for the investigations of science and for mastering all the practical questions of life with success and honor. I believe that we have made the beginning of an institution which will prove highly beneficial to the poor young men and the poor young women of our country . . . I trust we have laid the foundation of an university - ‘an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.’

Lt. Gov. Woodford administered the oath of office to Andrew Dickson White and presented him with the Charter, Seal and keys of the university. White delivered an address in which he asserted the formative ideals of the new university and declared its educational independence.

Cornell’s historian, Morris Bishop, credits the first inauguration decorations for the choice of carnelian or red as Cornell’s color:

Students and citizens thronged to Library Hall. . . . On the side wall the motto of the new university was blazoned in evergreen letters and behind the speakers the illustrious names of CORNELL and WHITE appeared in large white letters against artistically draped red flannel, on which stars cut out of silver paper were pinned at pleasing intervals. Thus, entirely unintentionally, the Cornell colors were established for all time, on the first Cornell banner.

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Ithaca Journal coverage of the first inauguration
The inauguration of the first president of Cornell, Andrew Dickson White, took place on October 7, 1868.


Order of Exercises for Cornell University's first presidential inauguration
Inauguration of Cornell University,
October 7, 1868
Program annotated by Andrew Dickson White

But Gov. Fenton was afraid of Methodists & Baptists & other sectarian enemies of the university and levanted the night before - leaving the duties to Lieut. Gov. Woodford who discharged the duties admirably.