In the 1840s, the Universalist Church wanted to open a college in New England. Boston businessman Charles Tufts gave the church a gift of 20 acres of land, valued at $20,000, on the condition it be used for establishing a college. With that, the location was decided. Tufts' land, which he inherited, was located on one of the highest hills in the Boston area, Walnut Hill, straddling Medford and Somerville.
Tufts College was founded in 1852 by a group of Universalists who had for years worked to open a non-sectarian institution of higher learning.
By 1830, Universalist efforts to build an institution of higher learning were increasing in both frequency and strength. Many Universalist ministers and laymen alike felt that their community needed a school that intertwined theological and liberal arts courses. Their opponents, however, feared the creation of a theological institution, as they felt it would create clerical domination, and prevent uneducated but devoted Universalists from becoming clergymen.
In 1835, at the annual General Convention, Thomas Jefferson Sawyer, a prominent Universalist, put forth a recommendation calling for the question of establishing a Theological Seminary to be put to the denomination at large. The resolution was adopted, and for the next four years, Sawyer's colleague, Reverend Thomas Whittemore, worked tirelessly to drum up support, both through columns in the Universalist paper, "The Trumpet," and through speeches.
By this time it had become clear that a Universalist theological college was a necessary step for the advancement of the religion. Hosea Ballou 2nd, a prolific writer and well-known minister, served as a teacher for many young Universalists interested in joining the clergy. The demand for his teaching had become so great that he had begun to teach classes instead of individual students. This high demand illustrated the need for an official school, planned for either upstate New York or the Boston, Massachusetts, area.
At the Massachusetts State Convention in 1840, attendees authorized the creation of a board of trustees to raise funds, find a site, and erect the buildings for a Universalist college. The committee included both Hosea Ballou and his son, Hosea Ballou 2nd. After the creation of the board, serious fundraising began, with a goal of $50,000 set for the campaign. Due to a lack of popular support and internal tension on the board, the first effort eventually failed.
In 1847, another fundraising drive began, this time with a goal of $100,000. Otis Skinner, another prominent Universalist, was selected to head the fundraising team. By 1851, Skinner and his team had reached the goal. By this time, the trustees had also selected the site of the future college. Earlier in the decade, Charles Tufts had donated $20,000 worth of Medford land to the trustees with the stipulation that the college be built on the site. This caused a rift among the trustees. Some felt that the college belonged in New York, others voted for Springfield, and even Hosea Ballou 2nd felt that the Tufts location was too close to Harvard and Boston. The question was put to a vote, and eventually the Medford site prevailed.
On April 22, 1852, Massachusetts granted a charter to the Trustees of Tufts College for the establishment of an institution of higher learning. The now official Trustees attempted to elect Thomas Jefferson Sawyer as the first president of Tufts, but his salary demands were too high. By 1853, Hosea Ballou 2nd had been selected as the institution's first president. By the fall of 1854, Tufts College, though not yet formally opened, had begun operation. On August 22, 1855, the college held a formal opening, and the first formal term saw over thirty students enrolled.
Tufts College continued as a liberal arts institution until the fall of 1869, when the Divinity School officially opened. In his will, benefactor Sylvanius Packard had earmarked $300,000 for Tufts, but stipulated that part of the trust must go to the establishment of a Professorship of Christian Theology. Hoping to remain a non-sectarian school, Tufts instead opted to found a separate and quasi-independent Divinity School. In 1906, the Divinity School was renamed the Crane Theological School, and continued operation until 1968.
The next major event in early Tufts history was the decision to become a co-educational institution. After ten years of debate, the Trustees finally decided to bring women to Tufts College in 1892. Although men and women originally took classes together, Tufts provided separate housing and dining facilities. By the first decade of the twentieth century, however, many administrators were becoming more and more opposed to co-education. Tufts had seen a drop in male enrollment, and many worried that it was because of the presence of women in classes. Women had also begun to dominate academically. In 1906, for example, all five seniors elected to Phi Beta Kappa were female. The co-education question was solved in 1910 using funds from an 1895 grant. Cornelia Marie Jackson had left half of her estate to Tufts to improve facilities for women, including a stipulation that a building be constructed and named The Cornelia M. Jackson College for Women. In 1910, the Trustees decided to use Jackson's funds to create a coordinate college. Jackson was to be separate from Tufts, with female only classes, dormitories, and dining halls. The Trustees felt it was the best way to improve male enrollment without alienating women. Male and female students remained segregated until 1913, when classes were again made co-educational.
Soon after Tufts became co-educational, an opportunity for a new branch of the college appeared in Boston. In 1893, seven faculty members from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, dissatisfied with their employer, left the school and with the backing of Tufts College formed the Tufts School of Medicine. The downtown Boston school soon spawned another branch. In 1899, Tufts acquired the Boston Dental College, and the renamed Tufts School of Dental Medicine began operation in close coordination with the Tufts School of Medicine.
Tufts continued its expansion into the twentieth century. In 1933, with a bequest from trustee Austin B. Fletcher, Tufts opened the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. The school, opened with the collaboration of Harvard University, became the first graduate school of international affairs in the United States. It also brought tremendous prestige to Tufts, which was quickly gaining a reputation as an excellent school.
Expansion continued into the 1940's, when Tufts allied with the Bouve-Boston School of Physical Therapy and Physical Education in 1942. In 1945, Tufts formed alliances with both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston School of Occupational Therapy. In 1951, Tufts began operating the Boston Nursery Training School as a separate entity under the College of Special Studies. In 1955, the school was renamed the Eliot Pearson Children's School.
1955 brought another important change for Tufts. A petition from the Trustees dated January 20, 1955, and approved on January 28, officially changed the name of the school to Tufts University. The name change, one of President Nils Y. Wessell's original goals, was cited as both an official recognition of an already established event, and also as a recognition of a desirable direction for Tufts to move in.
List of Presidents (A * indicates Acting President)