Douglas Founds Baptist Seminary - The University of Chicago

A deeply religious man, but one also dedicated to the enterprise of higher education, Stephen Douglas founded a Baptist Seminary in Chicago which was called the University of Chicago in 1857.

However, the University was largely destroyed by fire in 1886, leading to its closing. The Old University of Chicago was replaced in 1890 by a newly chartered university, funded largely by the Rockefeller family. The current University of Chicago later added the alumni from the previous incarnation to its graduation rolls, thereby linking to two separate institutions. Currently, the old Stephen Douglas founded seminary's sole remnant is a brick which is located between Weiboldt Hall and the Classics Building on the Hyde Park campus of the University.

Douglas's involvement in agriculture was matched by a strong amateur interest in science, technology, and education. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Smithsonian Institution from its creation in 1846, and he secured passage of an amendment that made the Smithsonian library a federal depository for books, maps, and other printed materials. Douglas was later appointed a Regent of the Smithsonian, and he and Joseph Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian, became close friends.

Douglas made his most significant gift for the advancement of learning in his home city of Chicago. In 1856, he offered ten acres of his Oakenwald estate worth $50,000 as the site for the University of Chicago, an institution being organized by local Baptists. The gift was immediately criticized by Douglas's political foes as an effort to increase the value of his property or curry the political support of the Baptists. Douglas offered to withdraw the gift and subscribe $50,000 to locate the University on another site. But the president and trustees refused to be swayed, and in 1858 Stephen and Adele Douglas gave the land to the University of Chicago. A predecessor of the present University of Chicago, this institution served the community for thirty years before closing for financial reasons. [ See related exhibition text: The University and the City: A Centennial View of the University of Chicago ].