[MUSIC PLAYING] COREY EARLE: Hi. I'm Corey Earle, class of 2007.
To understand Cornell University, it's important to understand its two visionary founders, Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White. Ezra was born in Westchester County in 1807, the son of a potter. He was a hardworking and mechanically-minded young man who arrived in Ithaca in his early 20s. He held a number of odd jobs as a carpenter and mechanic around town, and eventually ended up managing the flour and plaster mills owned by Jeremiah Beebe, the namesake of Beebe Lake.
To better support his family, though, he purchased the patent rights to a plow, enabling him to sell it in Georgia and Maine, and he walked on foot between the two states. And it was while in Maine that actually his luck took a turn for the better. And he ended up walking to a friend into a friend's office, and the friend had been asked to develop a plow that would lay telegraph cable underground and then bury it back up.
Ezra took on this challenge and designed this plow, and was promptly hired by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, to lay telegraph cable throughout the Northeast. Ezra realized, though, that the insulation of the cable was defective. And he had the bright idea of putting the cable above ground on poles instead of burying it underground. And at this point, Samuel Morse was so pleased with him that Ezra was hired to oversee the connection of all the cities in the Northeast with telegraph cable.
When the telegraph industry became commercially successful, Ezra became a wealthy man because he'd been paid in stock, in large part, for his efforts. And it was at this point that he began to focus on philanthropic efforts while also balancing a successful career as a farmer and politician. One of his first acts of philanthropy was actually to endow the Ithaca Public Library in 1863. It was as his friend Andrew Dickson White who suggested that he consider creating a new university.
Now Andrew Dickson White came from a very different background. He grew up in an affluent family and was considered one of the most well-educated individuals in the country. White attended Geneva College but felt that his time there was wasted, and transferred to Yale University, where he graduated with high honors.
He then studied at a number of universities throughout Europe, especially in France and in Germany. And he thought that the European model of education was much better than what was being done at Yale and at Geneva. In Europe there were laboratories, and there was actual discussion taking place with professors instead of just memorizing textbooks and repeating back what professors said in class. So White was dreaming of a truly great university that could be created in the United States that took some of this European style of education.
He eventually returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he taught history, and then ended up back in New York State, where he joined the Senate.
Now Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White were both in very different aspects of the Senate. Ezra Cornell was the oldest member of the Senate. White was one of the youngest members of the Senate. Ezra was chairing the Committee on Agriculture, while White was chairing the Committee on Literature or Education, two areas that didn't necessarily interact very often.
But it just so happened that at this point, the New York State Senate was considering the Moral Land Grant Act. The Moral Land Grant Act had been passed in 1862 as the first piece of federal education legislation. And what it did, basically, was to provide land to every state of the union that could be used to finance a college or university that taught agriculture, mechanic arts, and military tactics. The Act had been passed during the Civil War.
But there was a need in the country for practical education like agriculture and mechanic arts, engineering, which was the reason the piece of legislation was passed. Despite intense political opposition, and thanks to a lot of political finagling by Ezra and Andrew Dixon White, New York State's portion of the Land Grant Act went to the establishment of the Cornell University, along with $500,000 of Ezra's own money. And thus Cornell University became the land grant institution of New York state.
One of the things that made Cornell University so unique at its founding in 1865 was its motto. Ezra Cornell said, I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study. These two aspects of the motto, any person and any study, were incredibly radical at the time. Remember that Cornell was founded in 1865.
I like to break down the any person aspect into five different elements. First of all, it's any gender. It didn't say any man. It said any person. Although there were some small co-educational schools and a number of small women's schools, Cornell was the first major institution that was coeducational. One of the early women graduates from Cornell was Anna Botsford Comstock, for instance, who went on to have a very successful career as a nature educator and joined the faculty at Cornell, and was actually named one of the 12 greatest women of our time in the 1920s.
A second element of the motto was any ethnicity. It didn't say any white male, it said any person. And from the 1870s, there were students of a variety of ethnicities at Cornell. Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity for African-Americans, was founded at Cornell University in 1906. And one of the first black graduates and founders of Alpha Phi Alpha was Vertner Tandy, the first registered black architect in the state of New York.
Third element of the motto was any nationality. There were a number of international students in the early years at Cornell, and the entering class actually had students from Japan, students from Brazil, students from throughout Europe. And Cornell's early presidents prided themselves on saying that Cornell was the most cosmopolitan university. The first Chinese graduate from Cornell, Alfred Sze, actually went on to have a very notable career as a diplomat and was ambassador to the United States from China.
The fourth element of the motto was any religion. And this was perhaps the most controversial aspect of its founding. Most major universities, up to this point in the United States, were affiliated with one particular sect or religion, whether it was a Methodist university or a Protestant university. But Ezra Cornell and Android Dickson White both felt very strongly that Cornell should be a nonsectarian university, that people of any faith and even no faith should be allowed to attend Cornell.
The fifth element of the motto was any socioeconomic status. Ezra came from a poor family and felt particularly strongly that anyone should have access to a world class education, regardless of their financial background. And Ezra actually created one of the first work study programs in the country. Many of the early students worked on campus in order to pay for their tuition, whether it was serving food at a dining hall or actually constructing the buildings. McGraw Hall, for example, was built by many of the early students at Cornell, and they'd carry the stone up the slope and actually lay the foundation and do the carpentry work on the building to pay for their tuition.
The second half of the motto is the any study aspect. Cornell was one of the first universities in the country that provided practical education alongside a classical education. And this was really representative of its two founders. Ezra Cornell was the practical farmer and mechanically-minded engineer, while Andrew Dickson White was the classically educated scholar. And from the start, the two sides were considered academic equals.
Cornell was also a pioneer in a number of academic subjects. We had the first college of veterinary medicine and granted the first doctor in Veterinary Medicine. We had the first department of electrical engineering, the first four-year programs in hotel administration and labor relations, in forestry, even. We had the first chair of musicology and the first chair of American history.
So you can see across the board, Cornell was a pioneer in a variety of different academic subjects. And still today, Cornell prides itself on holding true to its motto of any person in any study.
Cornellians often ask, how did Cornell University become known as the Big Red? From the start, actually, the colors red, or Cornellian, and white have been associated with the university. Historian Morris Bishop actually dates the association of the colors with the university to the first inauguration day, which was held on October 7, 1868. At this event there were two banners hanging on the wall behind the speakers. These were large red banners with white letters that actually had the names of the founders on them, Cornell and White. So from the very start, the colors red and white began to be associated with the university.
Within a few months of its founding, the student newspaper the Cornell Era, ran an article pointing out the similarity between the word Cornellian and the word carnelian, which was a reddish gemstone. And the article actually called for the establishment of carnelian as Cornell's official color. And the rest is history.
The term Big Red, though, didn't come along until 1995. And it actually comes from a song. At the time, the crew on campus was especially popular, and most students knew the crew song and would sing it at crew races. But the football team didn't have a song that had caught on yet. So they held a contest for students to establish a new football song.
The winner of the contest was Romeyn Berry, class of 1904, who would go on to be the graduate manager of athletics at Cornell, the equivalent of the modern day athletic director. But the title of this winning song was "The Big Red Team". And the term Big Red caught on, and Cornell, from then on, became known as The Big Red.
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Learn about Cornell University founders Ezra Cornell and A.D. White, and the origins of the university motto and colors.