A Century at Stanford

A look at issues and events that shaped campus history

November/December 1998

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100 years ago (1898)
In December, more than five years after Leland Stanford’s death, his estate was released from probate, and Jane Stanford finally gained control of her large inheritance. In anticipation, she had written to Stanford President David Starr Jordan: “Every dollar I can rightfully call mine is sacredly laid on the altar of my love for the University.”

Launching a major construction program that became known as “the Stone Age,” Jane Stanford laid the cornerstone for the first Outer Quad building, the Thomas Welton Stanford Library. It honored a brother of Sen. Stanford, who a year earlier had declined a $300,000 bequest from Leland, telling Jane Stanford to use the money herself. She accepted half and used it for the library (now known as Building 160 and home to the political science department).

Juniors introduced the “Plug Ugly,” an impromptu pageant that turned into a melee between juniors and seniors for control of the Inner Quad. Juniors lampooned seniors and then used their white felt top-hats‹hardened with layers of thick lead paint‹as clubs in the battle that followed.

75 years ago (1923)
Comptroller Almon E. Roth came up with a proposal to subdivide 7,000 acres of the Palo Alto Farm into exclusive suburban estates. Under Roth’s plan, which was never implemented, the University would set aside 1,500 acres in perpetuity for educational purposes and develop the remaining campus land into the finest residential area on the Peninsula.

Problems of Citizenship, a three-term course designed to cover U.S. political, social and economic issues, was introduced as a freshman requirement. It was broadened into History of Western Civilization a decade later.

50 years ago (1948)
The Board of Trustees named J.E. Wallace Sterling, PhD ’38, as Stanford’s fifth president, effective in spring 1949, to fill the vacancy left by the death of Donald B. Tresidder. Born in Canada, Sterling played rugby, football and basketball as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto. After earning a PhD in history from Stanford, he taught at the California Institute of Technology. Sterling served as a CBS news analyst from 1942 to 1948, when he was appointed director of the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, Calif.

Crothers Hall, a two-story dormitory for law students, was dedicated during Homecoming weekend. It was a gift from Judge George Crothers, a member of the Pioneer Class who was a former University trustee and friend of Jane Stanford. Fifty years earlier, Crothers played a key role in correcting inadvertent legal defects in the Founding Grant. He also was a leader in the successful campaign for a state constitutional amendment to exempt certain University lands from property taxes.

Hawthorne Cottage was renamed Casa Espanola and designated a women’s residence where only Spanish would be spoken.

25 years ago (1973)
Genetics professor Stanley Cohen of Stanford and Herbert Boyer of UC-San Francisco demonstrated a practical method for transplanting genes from one species to another, sparking development of the biotechnology industry. Their patent, issued in 1980, generated nearly $190 million for Stanford and UCSF before it expired in 1997.

Catherine Peck, ’35, writes this column on behalf of the Stanford Historical Society.

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