Stanford University Not Named After Controversial Governor

To the Editor:

In Troy Duster’s recent essay, “What to Do With a Man on Horseback” (The Chronicle, August 14), he states: “As governor of California, Leland Stanford signed appropriations bills to finance Indian extermination. His name would later grace the university he founded.” Duster then includes Stanford with Yale and Brown and other universities whose names are connected with slave trading and Native American extermination.

Duster’s statement about Stanford needs clarification. Stanford’s founding and official name is Leland Stanford Junior University, not Leland Stanford University. Leland Stanford and his wife Jane Lathrop Stanford had one child, Leland Stanford Jr., born May 14, 1868 in Sacramento. In 1884, while the Stanford family was on a European vacation, 16-year-old Leland Jr. contracted typhoid fever, most likely from contaminated water. After ups and downs over two months, Leland Jr. died in Florence, Italy, on March 13, 1884.

After returning to California, Leland and Jane decided to build a university as a tribute to their son. They donated a large fortune that included the 8,180-acre Palo Alto stock farm that became the campus named Leland Stanford Junior University in honor of their son. Stanford opened in October 1, 1891. Quotes attributed to Leland Stanford about founding the university include: Leland Stanford told his wife “the children of California shall be our children.” Leland Stanford Junior University was founded “to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization.”

As Leland Stanford Jr. was not in any way connected with the actions of his father, Stanford University should not have been included in Professor Duster’s list of universities with names that have dark pasts.

Robert Metcalf
Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences
California State University at Sacramento

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