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A Brief History of Transylvania University

Since its founding in 1780 as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, Transylvania has been pioneering new frontiers in higher education.

Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia when that state’s legislature chartered Transylvania in 1780. He later looked to Transylvania as an educational model, writing to a friend in 1820 that “If…we [Virginians] are to go a begging any where for our education, I would rather it should be to Kentucky than any other state, because she has more of the flavor of the old cask than any other.”

Transylvania in 19 century

By the time Kentucky became a state in 1792, Transylvania had already earned the reputation of offering a first-class education.

In its early years, Transylvania included a medical school, a law school, a seminary, and a college of arts and sciences that educated thousands of the young nation’s leaders in government, business, medicine, law, and education.

Henry Clay

Famed statesman Henry Clay was a law professor and a member of Transylvania's Board of Trustees. Transylvania alumni include distinguished public figures such as founder and hero of Texas Stephen F. Austin, abolitionist Cassius M. Clay, U.S. vice presidents John C. Breckinridge and Richard M. Johnson, and Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and Samuel Freeman Miller. Fifty U.S. senators, 101 U.S. representatives, 36 governors, and 34 ambassadors are numbered among Transylvania graduates.

Now in its third century, Transylvania continues to draw inspiration from its history while embracing the present and future as one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.

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