The History of the University of Denver


Since its founding in 1864, DU has played an integral role in the cultural, social, economic and educational life of the city it calls home.

Beyond its local contribution, the University is known nationally and internationally for preparing students to blaze trails in government, business, education, health care, sports, law, the arts—wherever there is a need for principled leadership, critical assessment and creative thinking.



Making History

In 1864, John Evans—governor of the Colorado Territory, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, founder of Northwestern University and namesake for the 14,264-foot Mount Evans—founded the University of Denver as Colorado Seminary. He did so with the backing of local businessmen and the Methodist Church.

A practicing Methodist, Evans believed that Christianity was intricately linked to education and that education was directly responsible for developing strong character. As he sought financial and moral support for the Colorado Seminary, he turned to his fellow churchmen, several of whom became trustees of the fledgling institution.

Although the trustees welcomed their connection to the Methodist Church, they were intent on creating an institution hospitable to people of various denominations. In drafting the Colorado Seminary's official charter, the trustees noted that "No test of religious faith shall ever be applied as a condition of admission."

Today, the University's vision, values, mission and goals complement the principles and traditions of the Methodist Church. In keeping with this legacy, the University of Denver welcomes students and employees of all faiths and backgrounds.

The University further embraces its Methodist roots by honoring an outstanding faculty member with the annual United Methodist Church Teacher/Scholar Award. The accolade recognizes those who demonstrate exceptional teaching, concern for students, and commitment to high standards in their personal and professional lives. In fall 2012, the winner was Corinne Lengsfeld, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Lengsfeld heads the biofluids laboratory at the University of Denver and enlists her students on a number of important research projects, including efforts to improve pulmonary drug delivery to patients on mechanical ventilators and to develop wearable sensor technologies.

The seminary had to close its doors temporarily after a few years in the unstable economic landscape of Denver's gold rush. But in 1880, the seminary re-opened as the University of Denver under Chancellor David Hastings Moore in a small building downtown. This time, it was for good, and DU's first graduate, John Hipp, took his diploma in 1884. University administrators eventually began looking for a quieter location, finding it several miles south of Denver on land donated by Rufus "Potato" Clark, a reformed alcoholic and potato farmer. The University Park campus was born in 1890 at the corner of what is now University Boulevard and Evans Avenue.


Memorable Events at DU

In the last century and a half, DU has seen its share of triumphs and setbacks, high points and low ones:

  • DU produced its first Rhodes Scholar, Stanley Kuhl Hornbeck, in 1904. Since then, seven more DU students have earned the honor, most recently in 2005.
  • In 1908, DU became one of the first universities in the country to open a college of business. Over the years, the business program has become one of the best in the nation.
  • Like other college campuses around the country, DU saw its enrollment expand rapidly after World War II, when returning soldiers took advantage of the GI Bill. To accommodate all of the new students, the University erected Quonset huts and launched a mini building boom.
  • DU landed front and center on the sports pages in 1954 when the ski team won its first national championship. By 2008, the ski team had claimed 19 national championships, more than any other team in the country.
  • DU made national headlines in 1970 with Woodstock West, a student protest against the Vietnam War and the killings of four students at Kent State.
  • In the early 1990s, the University began extensive planning for the coming century. A capital campaign raised $273 million for improvements to campus infrastructure and new buildings, research centers, scholarships and professorships. The University ultimately invested $450 million in its campus over the course of a decade, and when the new century dawned, DU was well positioned to advance its role in the local, national and global arenas.

Rich with beauty and tradition, University Hall—which was built in the 1890s—lives alongside buildings from the 1930s, 1950s and early 21st century. All are shaded by hundreds of trees. In fact, the entire campus is designated as an arboretum.



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