Stanford University

How Stanford University Got It’s Name

Stanford University, the private research university located near Palo Alto, California, is known around the world for the first class education it provides to roughly 6,800 undergraduate students and about 8,300 graduate students every semester. Interestingly, while the institution of higher learning is a place that literally hundreds of thousands of students dream of one day attending few know the back story that explains how the Northern California school came to be known as Stanford University.

The university, founded in 1891, shares its name with former California governor Leland Stanford, but the story does not end there. The school that now sits in Stanford, California (population approximately 13,000) was founded by Leland Stanford and his wife Jane Stanford in the late ninetieth century as a memorial to honor the untimely death of their son Leland Stanford Junior who died at the age of fifteen.

While traveling with his parents in Italy Leland Jr. was stricken with typhoid (today commonly referred to as Salmonella) which is a form of food poising in which ingested bacteria makes its way through the intestinal wall and into an area of the body where it can cause severe damage to multiple organs. While trouble with Salmonella or typhoid is still prevalent in much of the developing world at strongly endemic rates (death rates are about 10% to 30% in untreated instances) for the illness to cause death in the developed world in the twenty first century is extremely uncommon. Unfortunately for young Leland Stanford Junior the circumstances surrounding his infection did not include the ready access to life saving antibiotics that are common today. The end result was the death of Leland Junior about two months shy of his sixteenth birthday. Today Leland Jr. rests in peace on the Stanford University campus alongside both his mother and father who were eventually put to rest at the Stanford family mausoleum as well.

In addition to serving as a predecessor to eventual famed California governors Ronald Regan and Arnold Schwarzenegger Leland Stanford Senior sat as a United States senator from 1885 until his death at the age of 69 in 1893. It was during his final years alive that he formally founded Leland Stanford Junior University while serving as a US senator from California, an event that took place seven years after the death of his young son. The first student that was admitted to Stanford University in 1891 happened to be Herbert Hoover who would eventually become the thirty-first President of the United States in 1929.

Although nearly everyone refers to Stanford University by the shorted title that simply includes the two previously mentioned words the official full name of the school is Leland Stanford Junior University. In a somewhat clever, albeit insensitive manner, rival schools have been known to jokingly refer to Stanford University as a junior college as a play on the full title and the United States junior college system that prepares students for four year universities.

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