In a city with such a significant university presence, it seems fitting to remember the contribution that Benjamin Franklin made on the landscape of higher education in the United States.
Through the years, the founding fathers have provided a popular option for college & university names: Thomas Jefferson University, James Madison University, Franklin & Marshall College. And lest we forget the numerous homages to George Washington – The George Washington University, Washington & Lee University, Washington University in St. Louis, Washington & Jefferson College, Washington College. Yet interestingly, each institution was established by an unrelated party and named in the founding father’s honor (with Ben & George possibly donating some money to a few of their namesakes). One university which was established by a founding father bears what seems to be a much more egalitarian name: The University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin.
Initially established as The Academy and College of Philadelphia in 1749, the first class of twelve students graduated eight years later in 1757 (I bet the 250 year class reunion a few years ago was something!). Benjamin Franklin had a vision for an institution which would not emphasize the training of clergymen, but would instead focus on the education of a business and governing class. After a number of name changes, board of trustee shake-ups and administration squabbles, the current University of Pennsylvania was formed. Unlike other American Colonial Colleges, Franklin’s University of Pennsylvania was the first institution of higher education to offer a modern liberal arts curriculum. Over 250 years later, the University remains one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher education.
Exploring the history of Benjamin Franklin’s University is aided by the University of Pennsylvania Archives. Similar research is possible for Ann Arbor’s University at its own archives: Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
To learn other exciting details about Benjamin Franklin, visit Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World, on display through July 8th.
The Ann Arbor District Library also makes exploring the history of our own city possible through sites such as The Making of Ann Arbor and The Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program which can be found on AADL’s Local History Page.