Within the circle of elite American schools to which it belongs, Stanford University is unique for being situated in the West. While that may not raise eyebrows today, there was a time when no one would think of equating America’s grand early colleges with a comparative newcomer set up far from the nation’s traditional centers of learning and culture. Railroad baron Leland Stanford created the university in 1885 as a memorial to his deceased son, and aimed from the beginning to “make it of the highest grade.” He donated money and three of his California ranch properties for the campus, and devoted himself to improvement and expansion until his death in 1893. His widow, Jane, continued to nurture the institution, but tax and legal battles flowing from her husband’s passing threatened to bankrupt both her and the university. At one point she journeyed to London to auction off her jewelry to secure the money necessary to keep the school open. In the end, Leland Stanford’s stipulation that the school not sell the land he had given it resulted in a bonanza, as California’s population boom drove up rents, bringing handsome financial returns to the university that enabled a rapid climb to high achievement..
- Leland Stanford profile in Philanthropy Hall of Fame, philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/hall_of_fame/leland_stanford