On November 11, 1885, Leland and Jane Stanford signed the Grant Founding and Endowing The Leland Stanford Junior University. A memorial to their only child, Leland Stanford Jr., who died of typhoid at the age of 15, the university was established to educate young people to pursue useful careers. Construction of the university began with the laying of the cornerstone in the Inner Quadrangle on May 14, 1887, which would have been Leland Jr.’s nineteenth birthday. Another four years passed before the doors were opened to students on October 1, 1891. Two dormitories, the Inner Quadrangle, and a scattering of other buildings welcomed the more than 500 students and 15 faculty members that first year.
The estate was released from probate in 1898 and the following year, after selling her railroad holdings, Mrs. Stanford turned over $11 million to the university trustees. What Dr. Jordan termed "six pretty long years" had come to a close. During that time, "the future of a university hung by a single thread, the love of a good woman," Dr. Jordan said.
Over the next several years, Jane turned her attention to the physical expansion of the campus with a major building campaign. The Outer Quadrangle was completed, a separate chemistry building was constructed and the magnificent Memorial Church was built. As Mrs. Stanford's tribute to her husband, the church was erected as the centerpiece of the Inner Quad. The location had been reserved for its construction from the beginning.
In 1903, 10 years after Senator Stanford's death, Mrs. Stanford relinquished to the university trustees control over the university's affairs that were given to her, the surviving founder, in the Grant of Endowment. The trustees elected her to their numbers and made her their president. Mrs. Stanford, satisfied now that she had built well and adequately, turned with vigor to the academic program. She addressed the board:
"Let us not be afraid to outgrow old thoughts and ways and dare to think on new lines as to the future work under our care."
But it was not for her to follow this path. Jane Stanford died on Feb. 28, 1905, while on vacation in Honolulu. She was 76. Although an autopsy revealed evidence of heart disease that may have caused a heart attack, there are persistent stories that suggest she may have been poisoned. After funeral services in Memorial Church, students conveyed the casket to the family mausoleum in the Arboretum.
Digital images from the Stanford University Archives represented on this site may be viewed freely. These images may not be reproduced or used for any purpose without permission. For permission requests please contact the Office of the University Archivist
Questions or comments? Email the Web Manager