Culture and Recreation


What was the first American university?

It was Harvard, chartered on October 28, 1636, by the Massachusetts general court, which passed a legislative act to found a college. It was not until November of the following year, however, that there was further action; it was then that the general court decreed that the college be built in New Towne, Massachusetts, which in 1638 was renamed Cambridge after England’s Cambridge University, where some colonists had studied. In fall of that year, Harvard’s first professor, Nathaniel Eaton, began classes, at which time the first building was under construction and a library was being assembled. The university got its name not from a founder, but from a newly arrived British philanthropist and colonial clergyman, John Harvard (1607–1638), who left the library some 400 volumes and donated about 800 pounds sterling to the college. The institution was named in his honor in 1639, the year after he died.

The first state university was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; it was founded in 1789. And in 1795 it became the first public institution of higher education in the United States to begin enrolling students.


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