History

Northwestern University is a private institution founded in 1851 to serve the Northwest Territory, an area that now includes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota.

In 1853, the founders purchased a 379-acre tract of land on the shore of Lake Michigan 12 miles north of Chicago. They established a campus and developed the land near it, naming the surrounding town Evanston in honor of one of the University's founders, John Evans. After completing its first building in 1855, Northwestern began classes that fall with two faculty members and 10 students.

Sixteen presidents have presided over Northwestern in the years since. The University has grown to include 12 schools and colleges, with additional campuses in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.

See highlights in Northwestern’s history:

1850

On May 31 John Evans, Grant Goodrich, Henry W. Clark, Andrew Brown, Orrington Lunt, Jabez Botsford, Richard Haney, Richard H. Blanchard, and Zadoc Hall meet above a hardware store at 69 West Lake Street in Chicago and resolve to establish a university under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

1851

On January 28, the Illinois legislature approves Northwestern's Act of Incorporation, granting 36 trustees the power to administer the University's business affairs, organize faculty, adopt by-laws, and grant degrees.

1853

  • Clark T. Hinman becomes University's first president on June 23.
  • The University purchases 379 acres on Lake Michigan for $25,000.

1855

  • The University officially opens on November 5.
  • Northwestern's first building, Old College, is completed.
  • An amendment to University charter forbids the sale of liquor within four miles of campus.

1856

Randolph Foster becomes the University president.

1859

Five students receive bachelor's degrees at Northwestern's first commencement.

1860

  • Henry Noyes becomes the University president.
  • Student Edward Spencer rescues 17 survivors of the Lady Elgin, which sank in Lake Michigan.

1869

  • Erastus Haven becomes the University president.  
  • Trustees vote to admit young women to University classes "under the same terms and conditions as young men." Evanston resident Rebecca Hoag becomes first female to enroll at Northwestern.

1870

  • Chicago Medical College enters into an agreement with Northwestern University to serve as the University's Department of Medicine. 
  • New medical school building opens at Twenty-sixth and Prairie Avenue, adjacent to Mercy Hospital.
  • Women's Hospital Medical College opens.

1872

Dr. Charles Fowler becomes the University president.

1874

Sarah Rebecca Roland is first woman to receive a degree from Northwestern.

1882

The first football game is played against Lake Forest College.

1890

Henry Wade Rogers becomes University president.

1891

The School of Law opens.

1896

Northwestern's first PhDs are awarded; one is in chemistry, and one is in philosophy.

1902

The Rock, originally a drinking fountain, is given as a gift of the class of 1902.

1903

  • President Theodore Roosevelt visits campus.
  • Northwestern wins the first of seven Big Ten football championships.

1908

The School of Commerce opens.

1909

The College of Engineering opens.

1912

  • Kenneth Huszagh is the first Northwestern athlete to participate in the Olympics.
  • "Go U Northwestern," written by Northwestern University marching band member Theodore Van Etten, premieres in the season's final football game.

1917

Northwestern Medical Corps formed. Northwestern men and women serve in various capacities in World War I: 250 students sign up for active service; 800 women mobilized in National Aid and Red Cross work; a total of 3,606 went to war, and 65 died.

1920

Walter Dill Scott becomes the first non-Methodist University president.

1921

Medill School of Journalism is established.

1924

Wildcats becomes the name for Northwestern's athletics teams.

1929

The first Waa-Mu show is performed.

1932

A merger of Northwestern and University of Chicago is proposed and dismissed.

1933

University College is created.

1939

  • Franklyn Snyder becomes the University President.
  • The first-ever NCAA Men's Basketball Championship is held at Northwestern in Patten Gymnasium.

1948

  • WNUR begins broadcasting.
  • Professor Melville Herskovits establishes the Program of African Studies.

1949

  • J. Roscoe Miller is named the University president.
  • Northwestern's first computer is installed on campus in an unused room of the Dearborn Observatory.
  • Northwestern defeats California 20-14 in the Rose Bowl. 

1957

Daily Northwestern staffers first paint the Rock.

1970

  • Robert Strotz becomes the University president.
  • From May 6 to 13, campus is shut down in protest of Kent State shootings; this is the longest the school has ever been closed.

1975

The first Dance Marathon is held.

1979

Women's Basketball wins its first of two consecutive Big Ten titles.

1985

Arnold Weber becomes the University president.

1995

Henry Bienen becomes the University president.

1998

Professor John Pople is awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

2005

The women's lacrosse team wins its first of seven NCAA titles in eight years.

2006

U.S. Senator Barack Obama gives the commencement address.

2007

Northwestern begins offering journalism and communication degrees at its new branch campus in Qatar.

2008

Morton Schapiro becomes the University president.

2010

Professor Dale Mortensen is awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics.