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Transylvania University

Transylvania University
Seal of Transylvania University
Motto In Lumine Illo Tradimus Lumen
Motto in English
In That Light, We Pass On The Light
Established 1780
240 years ago
Type Private nonprofit
Affiliation Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Endowment $124.76 million[1]
President Seamus Carey
Students 1,110[2]
Location Lexington, Kentucky, United States
Athletics NCAA Division III, HCAC
Colors      Transylvania Crimson
Nickname Template:If empty
Mascot Pioneers

Transylvania University is a private university in Lexington, Kentucky, United States. It was founded in 1780, making it the first university in Kentucky and among the oldest in the United States. It offers 36 major programs, as well as dual-degree engineering programs, and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.[1] Transylvania's name, meaning "across the woods" in Latin, stems from the university's founding in the heavily forested region of western Virginia known as the Transylvania colony, which became most of Kentucky in 1792.[3]

Transylvania is an aspiring research institution.[4] It has been cited for outstanding value and academic quality by such publications as U.S. News & World Report[5] and Forbes.[6]

Among its impacts, Transylvania is the alma mater of two U.S. vice presidents, two U.S. Supreme Court justices, fifty U.S. senators, 101 U.S. representatives, 36 U.S. governors, and 34 U.S. ambassadors, making it a large producer of U.S. statesmen.[7] It also educated Confederate President Jefferson Davis, prior to his transfer to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Its medical program graduated 8000 physicians by 1859.[8] Its enduring footprint, both in northern U.S. and southern academe, make it among the most prolific cultural establishments and the most storied institution in the South.


Transylvania was the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and was the namesake of the Colony of Transylvania which it aimed to educate good citizens.[9] Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia when the Virginia Assembly chartered Transylvania Seminary. Transylvania University was initially sponsored by the Christ Episcopal Church's rector, the Reverend Moore, and later became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Originally in a log cabin in Boyle County, Kentucky, the school moved to Lexington in 1789.[9] The first site in Lexington was a single building in what is now the historic Gratz Park.

File:Henry Clay.JPG
Henry Clay served as professor of law during the 1800s

By 1818, a new main building was constructed for students' classes. Later, in 1829, that building burned, and the school was moved to its present location north of Third Street. Old Morrison, the only campus building at the time, was constructed 1830–34, under the supervision of Henry Clay, who both taught law and was a member of Transylvania's Board.[10] After 1818, the university included a medical school, a law school, a divinity school, and a college of arts and sciences.[9][11]

File:Original Seal of Transylvania University.jpg
The original seal of Transylvania University

An institution that aided in the creation of Transylvania University at this time was Bacon College, named after Sir Francis Bacon, which would later be known as Kentucky University. Founded by the Christian churches in Kentucky, Bacon College operated from 1837–1851. It was distinct from Georgetown College, a Baptist-supported institution, but Bacon College closed due to lack of funding. Seven years later, in 1858, Bacon College's charter was amended to establish Kentucky University, and the facility was moved to donated land in Harrodsburg.[9][11]

File:John C Breckinridge-04775-restored.jpg
Alumnus John Breckinridge; Democratic U.S. Vice President

Transylvania dominated academe in the bluegrass region, and was the sought-out destination for the children of the South's political and folk leadership, military families, and business elite. It attracted many politically ambitious young men including Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and later, women.[12]

After the Civil War

Following the devastating Civil War, Kentucky University was hit by a major fire, and both it and Transylvania University were in dire financial straits. In 1865, both institutions secured permission to merge. The new institution used Transylvania's campus in Lexington while perpetuating the Kentucky University name.[9] The university was reorganized around several new colleges, including the Agricultural and Mechanical College (A&M) of Kentucky, publicly chartered as a department of Kentucky University as a land-grant institution under the Morrill Act.[11] However, due to questions regarding having a federally funded land-grant college controlled by a religious body, the A&M college was spun off in 1878 as an independent, state-run institution. The A&M of Kentucky soon developed into one of the state's flagship public universities, the University of Kentucky.[11] Kentucky University's College of the Bible, which traced its roots to Bacon College's Department of Hebrew Literature, received a separate charter in 1878.

Transylvania's seminary eventually became a separate institution, but remained housed on the Kentucky University campus until 1950 It later changed its name to the Lexington Theological Seminary. In 1903, Hamilton College, a Lexington-based women's college founded in 1869, merged into Kentucky University.[11] Due to confusion between Kentucky University and its daughter institution, the University of Kentucky, the institution was renamed "Transylvania University," in 1908. In 1988, Transylvania University experienced an infringement on the institution's trademark when Hallmark Cards began selling Transylvania University T-shirts. The product, developed for the 1988 Halloween season, was intended to be a novelty item purporting to be college wear from the fictional Count Dracula's alma mater. When contacted by Transylvania University, Hallmark admitted that they were not aware of the Kentucky-based institution and recalled all unsold product immediately.[13] Transylvania University is now affiliated with the Disciples of Christ (which organized after the university was first founded).[citation needed]

Representation in popular culture

  • Robert Penn Warren set part of his novel, All the King's Men, at Transylvania University.
  • Robert Lowell referred to the university in his sonnet "The Graduate (Elizabeth)." The poem states gleefully that "Transylvania's Greek Revival Chapel/ is one of the best Greek Revival things in the South."


The university is located on a Script error: No such module "convert". downtown campus about four blocks away from the town center of Lexington, Kentucky. It has 24 buildings, 3 athletic fields, 4 dining areas, and a National Historic Landmark.[14] The campus is divided in two by North Broadway, with the east side of Broadway containing the university's academic buildings, and the west side containing the majority of the residential buildings.

Central campus

File:Transylvania Campus.JPG
The Haupt Humanities Building and the Transylvania Lawn

Built in 1833 under the supervision of Henry Clay who was serving as Transylvania's law professor, Old Morrison is the main administration building for the university. The building, designed by pioneer Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock is National Historic Landmark and is featured on the city seal of Lexington. It houses the offices of financial aid, the president, the registrar, communications, accounting, alumni, development, and sustainability. During the Civil War, Old Morrison served as a hospital for Union and Confederate soldiers.[15] Old Morrison was gutted by fire in 1969 but was renovated and reopened in 1971. The building also houses the tomb of Constantine Rafinesque, who was a natural science professor at the university from 1819 to 1826, and Sauveur Francois Bonfils, who taught at the university from 1842–49. A native of France, he was apparently forced to flee due to political discord.[16]

Located adjacent to Old Morrison, the Haupt Humanities building houses the faculties of English, philosophy, history, political science, and classics. Also on the central campus, a state-of-the-art student indoor athletic facility, called the Beck Center, was completed and opened in 2003. The Beck Center facilitates men's and women's athletics and student fitness equipment.

The Mitchell Fine Arts Center is the home of the university's music program and provides offices and classrooms for the drama and music programs. It contains a large concert hall, a small theater, a recital hall, the Morlan Gallery, the Rafskeller (sic – see "Traditions") dining facility, the music technology classroom, and the Career Development Center.[17] The Morlan Gallery in the center hosts six to seven art exhibitions every year during the academic calendar. It primarily serves as a gallery for exhibiting contemporary art including Appalachian Folk art, Chinese art, contemporary African art, sculptural installations, and performance and video pieces. The gallery offers guided tours and lectures for school groups, civic clubs, and senior citizen organizations.[18]

Library and café

File:Horace Holley.jpg
Horace Holley led Transylvania from 1818 to 1827.

Originally completed in 1952 with a dedication from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the main library building was renovated and had an addition added in 1985, and was re-dedicated by then Vice President George H. W. Bush as the Douglas Gay Jr. and Frances Carrick Thomas Library. The Special Collections of the library houses a manuscript collection with letters, diaries, and documents of notable historical figures associated with the university including Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis, Robert Peter, John Wesley Hunt, Daniel Drake, and Horace Holley. The rare books section houses a collection of books relating to the history of horses and natural history, as well as a collection of pre-1800 medical books.[19] The books belonging to the Transylvania Medical Department, which closed in 1859, are now kept in special collections.

The Glenn Building was constructed as a multi-purpose building in 2005 and houses a coffee shop, the admissions offices, and expansion space for the library. It was named in honor of James F. Glenn, a Board of Trustees member who donated $1.1 million for its construction. It utilizes an environmentally friendly geothermal heating and air conditioning system and several mature trees near the site were preserved during construction.[20] The bookstore moved down the street in Spring 2012, across from the John R. Hall Athletic Field, in an effort to further expand the campus into the surrounding community. Formerly located in the basement of Henry Clay Hall but moved to the ground floor of Thomson Hall in 2008, the 1780 Café, formerly referred to as Sandella's, offers students a place to eat after the campus dining center closes for the night.[21]

Residence halls

The newest residential building on campus, Thomson Hall was opened in the fall of 2008. It received Energy Star rating in 2009. It serves as a residential building for upper-class students that meet a certain GPA requirement and features 31 suite style living-units which include study areas, living rooms, kitchenettes, bathrooms, and bedrooms. The building is three stories tall, has Script error: No such module "convert". of space, and cost $5.5 million. Thomson Hall was built to be an environmentally friendly building and it exceeds state insulating value requirements by 28 percent. It has geothermal heating and energy, low flow shower heads, a total energy recovery wheel on outside ventilation, fifty percent recycled material in the parking lot surface, and energy saving lighting.[22]

The other residence halls on campus are Poole, Hazelrigg, Clay, Davis, and Forrer. Poole houses upperclass students in large rooms. Hazelrigg offers upperclass students a mandated 24 hour quiet time, single rooms, and a location on the academic side of campus. Clay and Davis halls are connected and are the men's halls on campus. Clay is for first-year men and Davis is for upperclassmen. Davis' four floors are divided for the four active fraternities on campus. Forrer houses first-year women on its top two floors and upperclassmen on the bottom two. Forrer is divided by sorority as well, and also offers a division for independent women.[23]


University rankings
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Transylvania actively pursues selective and international admissions. Transylvania presently offers 38 majors and 37 minors spread among four divisions: Fine Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences & Mathematics and Social Sciences. It offers such majors as Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication (WRC),[28][29] as well as interdisciplinary studies, or the ability of students to design their own majors, such as environmental studies and international affairs.[30]

Student life

File:Old Morrison Commencement.JPG
Old Morrison decorated for students' commencement exercises

The weekend before classes start in the fall used to be known as Orientation Weekend. During this time new students would move in before upperclassmen, and were given the opportunity to learn about the campus and customs of Transylvania. Starting in the fall of 2012, this period was extend to a 3-week period with an introduction to liberal arts education. This is called August Term. Students take part in a short introductory course and various community building exercises including the long-standing traditions of the first-year serenade and greet line. The serenade, which originally had the first-year women on the steps of Old Morrison with the first-year men serenading them from below, now breaks students up based on their August Term class for a sing-off. The greet line starts as a large arch made up of every member of the first-year class (and various faculty, staff, and upper classmen campus leaders). Every member of the line goes down and shakes hand with all other members, introducing themselves along the way.

Rafinesque Week and traditions

The university's name (Transylvania in Romania is the home of the fictional Dracula) and the on-campus tomb of two 19th-century professors contribute to a week-long celebration of Halloween by students called "Rafinesque Week" in honor of the 19th-century botanist, inventor, and Transylvania professor Constantine Rafinesque. The university ends October with a unique combination of activities including a lottery for four students to win the chance to spend the night in Rafinesque's tomb.[31] In honor of Professor Rafinesque, the downstairs grill in the Mitchell Fine Arts Building is called the "Rafskeller" – a pun on the word Rathskeller.

Transylvania is also known for the Kissing Tree, a white ash tree that is estimated to be approximately 260 years old – 35 years older than the university itself. In the 1940s and 1950s, the administration turned a blind eye to students kissing in public near the tree, at a time when it was frowned upon elsewhere on campus.[32] Today, with the rules on public displays of affection slackened, students refer to the tree as the Kissing Tree. In 2003 The Chronicle of Higher Education included the Kissing Tree among the most romantic places on college campuses in America, and it was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article about romance on college campuses.[33]


Transylvania University student-athletes compete under colors crimson and white at a variety of venues throughout the country; maintain successful results; and often compete against larger institutions including the Ohio University.[34]

The Pioneers participate as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III, primarily of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC). Men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, equestrian, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis and track & field; while women's sports include basketball, cheerleading, cross country, equestrian, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field and volleyball.

Philanthropists have increased sizable gifts to the university in its present period more so than ever before, and coaches at Transylvania University have been continually recognized for athletic achievements.


The campus, home to the Transylvania ensemble band which includes modern bluegrass and live folk song, is also home to several exhibitions that change by season. Transylvania was honored with an international Gold Award for Transylvania Treasures, its publication dedicated to showcasing the rare and valuable items in Transylvania University's special collections and medical and science museum, and now is considered a treasure in its own right, concluding a prestigious national competition sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.[35]

Fraternities and sororities

Transylvania has an even Greek life on campus, with four fraternities and four sororities and 70% of the students as members of Greek organizations.[36] Each chapter is represented on either the Interfraternity Council (fraternities) or the Panhellenic Association (sororities). In its 2011 edition of "The Best 373 Colleges", the Princeton Review named Transylvania number 1 on its list of colleges with "A Major Frat or Sorority Scene"[37][38] In 2010, the school was named number 1 in percentage of Greek students on campus.


  • Delta Sigma Phi – Beta Mu Chapter, founded in 1941
  • Kappa Alpha Order – Alpha Theta Chapter, founded in 1891
  • Phi Kappa Tau – Theta Chapter, founded in 1917
  • Kappa Sigma – Alpha Omicron, founded September 7, 1894 (dormant)
  • Phi Kappa Psi - Kentucky Alpha Chapter founded in 1865 (closed 1866)
  • Pi Kappa Alpha – Kappa Chapter, founded in 1868 (suspended 2013, reinstated 2014, suspended again and reinstated 2015)
  • Beta Theta Pi - Epsilon Chapter, founded in 1842 (closed 1847)


Noted people

Amongst Transylvania's prominent alumni are two U.S. vice presidents, John C. Breckinridge and Richard Mentor Johnson, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices, John Marshall Harlan and Samuel Freeman Miller.[7]



See also


  1. ^ a b According to the Transylvania University Official Website
  2. ^ According to the Transylvania University Official Website, for the student body in fall 2010 [1]
  3. ^ "Transylvania University's Name". Transylvania University. Retrieved November 19, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Research Opportunities with Transylvania University". Transylvania News & Events. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  5. ^ Best Colleges, Transylvania University"
  6. ^ Forbes – "America's Top Colleges"
  7. ^ a b Transylvania University History. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  8. ^ John, Jr. Wright, ed. Transylvania: Tutor to the West (2nd ed. 1980)
  9. ^ a b c d e "Transylvania and the Christian Church" (PDF). Transylvania University. Retrieved November 19, 2008. 
  10. ^ "Old Morrison, Administrative Building". Transylvania University. Retrieved November 19, 2008. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "The Early History of Transylvania University: An Archetype of Restoration Movement Institutions of Higher Education" (PDF). James M Owston. 1998. Retrieved November 19, 2008. 
  12. ^ John R. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (2004) p 47
  13. ^ "Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher Education" (PDF). James M Owston. 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  14. ^ Transy Campus. Retrieved 11/1/2010
  15. ^ Old Morrison Administration Building. Retrieved 10/29/2010
  16. ^ Boewe, Charles "Who's Buried in Rafinesque's Tomb?" The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 111, No. 2 (Apr. 1987) pg 220
  17. ^ Mitchell Fine Arts Center. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  18. ^ About Morlan Gallery. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  19. ^ J. Douglas Gay Jr./Frances Carrick Thomas Library Special Collections. Retrieved 10/29/2010 [2]
  20. ^ The Glenn Building. Retrieved 11/29/2010
  21. ^ 1780 Cafe information page. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  22. ^ Thomson Hall Information Page. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  23. ^ "Transylvania Housing Options Page". Transylvania University. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  24. ^ "America's Top Colleges". LLC™. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2014-United States". ShanghaiRanking Consultancy. Retrieved August 15, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings". America's Best Colleges 2012. U.S. News & World Report. September 13, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  27. ^ "The Washington Monthly Liberal Arts Rankings". The Washington Monthly. 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Academic Majors, Minors, and Preprofessional Studies". Transylvania University. 16 January 2015. 
  29. ^ "Quick Facts". Transylvania University. 16 January 2015. 
  30. ^ Self-designed Majors and Minors. University publication. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
  31. ^ "Barefootin' it for Rafinesque, Transylvania University Magazine, Fall 2005" (PDF). Transylvania University. Retrieved November 19, 2008. 
  32. ^ The Kissing Tree. Transylvania University Campus Information
  33. ^ Shellenbarger, Sue "What is Love? Student Eschew Campus Romance," Wall Street Journal Jan 31, 2008. Retrieved on October 11, 2010 [3]
  34. ^ Transylvania University Athletics. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  35. ^ "Arch Story". Transylvania News & Events. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  36. ^ [4]
  37. ^ "Top Ten Schools with the Most Intense Greek Life." Microsoft Encarta.[dead link]
  38. ^ "Top 10 Schools With the Most Intense Greek Life". The Princeton Review, via Encarta. Retrieved November 19, 2008. [dead link]
  39. ^ Bevins, Ann (1973). "Abram-Buford – James K. Duke House" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  40. ^ a b "Trivia". Transylvania University. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  41. ^ "Governor's Information: Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin". Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. Retrieved May 3, 2007. 
  42. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2012). The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military. ABC-CLIO. p. 717. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  43. ^ "Thomas James Churchill(1881-1883)". Old State House Museum. Retrieved August 14, 2012. 

Further reading

  • McGlothlin, William J. "Rev. Horace Holley: Transylvania's Unitarian President, 1818-1827," Filson Club History Quarterly (1977) 51#3 pp 234–248
  • Peter, Robert. The history of the medical department of Transylvania University (1905) online.
  • Peter, Robert, and Johanna Peter. Transylvania University: Its Origin, Rise, Decline, and Fall (1896) online
  • Sonne, Niels Henry. Liberal Kentucky, 1780-1828 (University of Kentucky Press, 1968)
  • Wright, John, Jr., ed. Transylvania: Tutor to the West (2nd ed. 1980)
  • Zerfas, L. G. "Medical Education in Indiana As Influenced by Early Indiana Graduates in Medicine from Transylvania University" Indiana Magazine of History (1934) 30#2 pp 139–48 online

External links

Coordinates: 38°03′09″N 84°29′38″W / 38.052379°N 84.49387°W / 38.052379; -84.49387{{#coordinates:38.052379|-84.49387|region:US_type:edu|||||| |primary |name= }}