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Throwback Thursday: Stanford cornerstone laid on this date in 1887

May 14 is one of the most important dates in Stanford’s history. Today is the 147th birthday of Leland Stanford Jr., for whom this university was named. Three years after Leland Stanford Jr.’s passing — he died of typhoid when he was 15 in 1884 — the cornerstone of the university was laid by Senator and Mrs. Leland Stanford to honor their son’s 19th birthday. As part of the ceremony, Board of Trustees President Judge Lorenzo Sawyer gave a foundational speech on what values the university should hold. This Daily article from 1952 recalls the speech.

Stanford Cornerstone Laid Sixty-five Years Ago Today

By SALLY SHALER

Sixty-five years ago today, May 14, 1887, the cornerstone of the University was laid by Senator and Mrs. Leland Stanford. It was the nineteenth birthday of Leland Jr., whose monument the University was to be.

The ceremony was simple, but impressive. Judge Lorenzo Sawyer, president of the Board of Trustees and a renowned orator, gave the address.

Describing the University, he said: “Its nature, that of a university, with such seminaries of learning as will make it of highest grade . . . directed to the cultivation and enlargement of the mind.

“Its object, to qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life.

“Its purposes, to promote the public welfare, by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization; to teach the blessings of liberty, regulated by law; and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Following the laying of the cornerstone. building operations were energetically started and the University opened in 1891.

The cornerstone bears a large gold plate with this simple inscription: “Leland Stanford Junior University. May 14, 1887.”

Curiously enough, few students know the location of the cornerstone. It is on the Mathematics Building, next door and to the west of Memorial Church.

About Jeremy Quach

Jeremy Quach is a sophomore Desk Editor for the Student Groups beat and is from Kansas City, Kansas. He can often be found smiling, stuffing his face full of french fries, and mumbling Beatles lyrics to himself. He can be contacted at jquach ‘at’ stanford.edu.