Founding and early history – 19th century
The university was founded as the Medical College of Louisiana in 1834 partly as a response to the fears of smallpox, yellow fever and cholera in the United States. The university became only the second medical school in the South, and the 15th in the United States at the time. In 1847, the state legislature established the school as the University of Louisiana, a public university, and the law department was added to the university. Subsequently, in 1851, the university established its first academic department. The first president chosen for the new university was Francis Lister Hawks, an Episcopalian priest and prominent citizen of New Orleans at the time.
The university was closed from 1861 to 1865 during the American Civil War. After reopening, it went through a period of financial challenges because of an extended agricultural depression in the South which affected the nation’s economy. Paul Tulane, owner of a prospering dry goods and clothing business, donated extensive real estate within New Orleans for the support of education. This donation led to the establishment of a Tulane Educational Fund (TEF), whose board of administrators sought to support the University of Louisiana instead of establishing a new university. In response, through the influence of former confederate general Randall Lee Gibson, the Louisiana state legislature transferred control of the University of Louisiana to the administrators of the TEF in 1884. This act created the Tulane University of Louisiana. The university became privatized, and is one of only a few American universities to be converted from a state public institution to a private one.
In 1884, William Preston Johnston became the first president of Tulane. He had formerly succeeded Robert E. Lee as president of Washington and Lee University after Lee’s death. He had moved to Louisiana and become president of Louisiana State University.
In 1885, the university established its graduate division, later becoming the Graduate School. One year later, gifts from Josephine Louise Newcomb totaling over $3.6 million, led to the establishment of the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College within Tulane University. Newcomb was the first coordinate college for women in the United States and became a model for such institutions as Pembroke College and Barnard College. In 1894 the College of Technology formed, which would later become the School of Engineering. In the same year, the university moved to its present-day uptown campus on historic St. Charles Avenue, five miles by streetcar from downtown New Orleans.
A view of Gibson Hall
in 1904, located on the uptown campus of Tulane University.
With the improvements to Tulane University in the late 19th century, Tulane had a firm foundation to build upon as the premier university of the Deep South and continued this legacy with growth in the 20th century. In 1901, the first cornerstone was laid for the F.W. Tilton Library, endowed by New Orleans businessman and philanthropist Frederick William Tilton (1821–1890). During 1907, the school established a four-year professional curriculum in architecture through the College of Technology, growing eventually into the Tulane School of Architecture. One year later, Schools of Dentistry and Pharmacy were established, albeit temporarily. The School of Dentistry ended in 1928, and Pharmacy six years later. In 1914, Tulane established a College of Commerce, the first business school in the South. In 1925, Tulane established the independent Graduate School. Two years later, the university set up a School of Social Work, also the first in the southern United States. Tulane was instrumental in promoting the arts in New Orleans and the South in establishing the Newcomb School of Art with William Woodward as director, thus establishing the renowned Newcomb Pottery. The Middle American Research Institute was established in 1925 at Tulane “for the purpose of advanced research into the history (both Indian and colonial), archaeology, tropical botany (both economic and medical), the natural resources and products, of the countries facing New Orleans across the waters to the south; to gather, index and disseminate data thereupon; and to aid in the upbuilding of the best commercial and friendly relations between these Trans-Caribbean peoples and the United States.”
University College was established in 1942 as Tulane’s division of continuing education. By 1950, the School of Architecture had grown out of Engineering into an independent school. In 1958, the university was elected to the Association of American Universities, an organization consisting of sixty-two of the leading research universities in North America. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine again became independent from the School of Medicine in 1967. Originally established in 1912, it was arguably one of the first public health schools in the United States. Tulane’s School of Tropical Medicine also remains the only one of its kind in the country. On April 23, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., spoke at Tulane University’s Fogelman Arena at the invitation of Congressman F. Edward Hebert, a representative of Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District. During the historic speech, Ford announced that the Vietnam War was “finished as far as America is concerned” – one week before the fall of Saigon. Ford drew parallels to the Battle of New Orleans, saying that such positive activity could do for America’s morale what the battle did in 1815.
During World War II, Tulane was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission.
A detailed account of the history of Tulane University from its founding through 1965 was published by Dyer.
Gibson Hall today. Facing historic St. Charles Avenue
, it is the entry landmark on the uptown campus.
In July 2004, Tulane received two $30 million donations to its endowment, the largest individual or combined gifts in the university’s history. The donations came from Jim Clark, a member of the university’s board of trustees and founder of Netscape, and David Filo, a graduate of its School of Engineering and co-founder of Yahoo!. A fund-raising campaign called “Promise & Distinction” raised $730.6 million as of October 3, 2008, increasing the university’s total endowment to more than $1.1 billion; by March 2009, Yvette Jones, Tulane’s Chief Operating Officer, told Tulane’s Staff Advisory Council that the endowment “has lost close to 37%”, affected by the late-2000s recession.
In April 2010, the Tulane admissions office reported that it had received 44,000 applications for the class of 2014, breaking the previous record set by the class of 2013. While unable to confirm it officially, the admissions office stated that “it appears that we have the most applications for the upcoming fall semester of any private university in the country.”
As a result of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and its damaging effects on New Orleans, most of the university was closed for the second time in its history—the first being during the Civil War. The closing affected the first semester of the school calendar year. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine’s distance learning programs and courses stayed active. The School of Medicine relocated to Houston, Texas for a year. Aside from student athletes attending college classes together on the same campuses, most undergraduate and graduate students dispersed to campuses throughout the U.S. The storm inflicted more than $650 million in damages to the University, with some of the greatest losses impacting the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library and its collections.
Facing a budget shortfall, the Board of Administrators announced a “Renewal Plan” in December 2005 to reduce its annual operating budget and create a “student-centric” campus. Addressing the school’s commitment to New Orleans, a course credit involving “service learning” became a requirement for an undergraduate degree. In 2006 Tulane became the first Carnegie ranked “high research activity” institution to have an undergraduate public service graduation requirement. In May 2006, graduation ceremonies included commencement speakers former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who commended the students for their desire to return to Tulane and serve New Orleans in its renewal.
Tulane’s primary campus is located in Uptown New Orleans on St. Charles Avenue, directly opposite Audubon Park, and extends north to South Claiborne Avenue through Freret and Willow Street. The campus is known colloquially as the Uptown or St. Charles campus. It was established in the 1890s and occupies more than 110 acres (0.45 km2) of land. The campus is known both for its large live oak trees as well as its architecturally historic buildings. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978. The campus architecture consists of several styles, including Richardsonian Romanesque, Elizabethan, Italian Renaissance, Mid-Century Modern, and contemporary styles. The front campus buildings use Indiana White Limestone or orange brick for exteriors, while the middle campus buildings are mostly adorned in red St. Joe brick, the staple of Newcomb College Campus buildings. Loyola University is directly adjacent to Tulane, on the downriver side. Audubon Place, where the President of Tulane resides, is on the upriver side. The President’s residence is the former home of “banana king” Sam Zemurray, who donated it in his will.
Tilton Memorial Hall, home to the Departments of Economics and Political Economy.
The centerpiece of the Gibson Quad is the first academic building built on campus, Gibson Hall, in 1894. The schools of Architecture and Social Work are also located on the oldest section of the campus. The middle of the campus, between Freret and Willow Streets and bisected by McAlister Place and Newcomb Place, serves as the center of campus activities. The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life, Fogelman Arena, McAlister Auditorium, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, and most of the student residence halls and academic buildings populate the center of campus. The Howard-Tilton Memorial Library has been under construction since Spring 2013. Two additional floors and various other cosmetic renovations are expected to be finished by Spring 2014. The facilities for the Freeman School of Business line McAlister Place and sit next to the Tulane Law School. The middle campus is also home to the historic Newcomb College Campus, which sits between Newcomb Place and Broadway. The Newcomb campus was designed by New York architect James Gamble Rogers, noted for his work with Yale University‘s campus. The Newcomb campus is home to Tulane’s performing and fine arts venues.
Newcomb Quad on Tulane’s Uptown campus
The back of campus, between Willow Street and South Claiborne, is home to two residence halls, Reily Recreation Center and Turchin Stadium, the home of Green Wave baseball. In January 2013, ground was broken on Tulane’s Yulman Stadium between Reily Recreation Center and Turchin Stadium. Tulane Green Wave Football had played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Tulane Stadium‘s demolition in 1980. They now play in Yulman Stadium, opened in September 2014.
After Hurricane Katrina, Tulane has continued to build new facilities and renovate old spaces on its campus. The newest dorm building, Weatherhead Hall, was completed in 2011 and houses sophomore honor students giving it the nickname “SOHO” amongst students. Construction on Zimple House, a Residential College, began in January 2013 and was completed by Summer 2014. The Lallage Feazel Wall Residential College, was completed in August 2005 and took in its first students when Tulane re-opened in January 2006. The Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life was renovated to be a green, environmentally friendly building and opened for student use in January 2007. In 2009, the university altered McAlister Drive, a street that ran through the middle of the uptown campus into a pedestrian walkway renamed McAlister Place. The area was resurfaced, and the newly added green spaces were adorned with Japanese magnolias, irises and new lighting. Coincidentally, in late November 2008 the City of New Orleans announced plans to add bicycle lanes to the St. Charles Avenue corridor that runs in front of campus.
- Tulane University Health Sciences campus, located in the downtown New Orleans Central Business District between the Louisiana Superdome and Canal Street in 18 mid/high-rise buildings, which houses the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and the main campus of the Tulane Medical Center;
- Tulane University Square, 80,000 square feet (7,400 m2) of space and 6 acres (24,000 m2) of surrounding land, is located on Broadway and Leake Avenue adjacent to the Mississippi River.
- Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, La., one of eight such centers funded by the National Institutes of Health;
- F. Edward Hebert Research Center, near Belle Chasse, La., which provides facilities for graduate training and research in computer science, bioengineering, and biology;
- Satellite campuses of the School of Continuing Studies, Tulane’s open admissions school of continuing studies, located in downtown New Orleans, in Elmwood, Louisiana, in Biloxi, Mississippi, and in Madison, Mississippi.
- Houston; Cali, Colombia; Santiago, Chile; Shanghai, China; and Taipei, Taiwan where the business school offers an executive MBA program. Tulane also has signed an educational affiliation agreement with International University in Geneva.
- Tulane Law School offers classes through a European summer abroad program, utilizing many prestigious universities throughout several countries. In 2009, the school had programs in England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Tulane hosted an Environmental Summit at its law school in April 2009, an event that all students could attend for free. Many students from Tulane’s two active environmental groups, Green Club and Environmental Law Society, attended. These student groups push for global citizenship and environmental stewardship on campus. In 2007 Tulane made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, getting students involved by providing an Energy Smart Shopping Guide and electronics “greening” services from IT. In 2010 Tulane completed its renovation of 88-year-old Dinwiddie Hall, which was subsequently LEED Gold certified. A new residential college, Weatherhead Hall, opened in 2011 as housing for sophomore honors students. The residence – colloquially known as SoHo – has also applied for LEED Gold certification. Tulane received an “A-” on the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card, garnering an award as one of the top 52 most sustainable colleges in the country.
Organization and academics