Transylvania University

City: Lexington

County: Fayette

State: Kentucky

Transylvania University is a private, independent, co-educational institution of higher learning in Lexington, Kentucky. During the American Revolution, Presbyterians pushed the Virginia General Assembly to establish an educational institution in the Kentucky region west of the Appalachian Mountains, and in 1780, the General Assembly chartered a public seminary of learning for the area. In June 1783, the General Assembly amended the original charter, and the trustees named the institution the Transylvania Seminary. Transylvania Seminary became the first institution of higher learning in the Ohio River valley and west of the Appalachians. Instruction began in 1785, and in 1789, the institution moved to Lexington. A dispute between rival factions of Presbyterians on the board of trustees prompted some of the trustees to form a rival institution in Pisgah, but in 1799, the trustees agreed to merge the two institutions to form Transylvania University. The trustees added law and medical departments, and in 1802, the institution awarded it first baccalaureate degrees. Beginning in 1818, Transylvania moved into a period of growth and achievement under the helm of Horace Holley, a Unitarian minister and educator from Boston. From 1818 to 1828, the institution experienced a steady increase in enrollment, and its faculty and academic programs were recognized as among the finest in the United States. Transylvania recruited distinguished faculty under Holley's leadership, and its graduates included Cassius M. Clay, Jefferson Davis, and others who would become leaders in business, politics, and the military. Holley's departure in 1827 began a long period of decline for the institution. Political hostility and indifference in the Kentucky General Assembly added to the institution's difficulties. The liberal arts program gradually diminished in size and quality, and the law and medical department were hampered by faculty departures and the founding of new law and medical institutions. By the beginning of the Civil War, the medical department had ceased offering instruction. The onset of the war forced the law school to suspend classes, and the liberal arts school was forced to hold classes in local churches after the Union Army transformed the college buildings into a field hospital. In 1865, Transylvania merged with Kentucky University, a college affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, and remained the liberal arts college of Kentucky University from 1865 to 1908. In 1908, it resumed using the name Transylvania when the state A&M College became the University of Kentucky.

American Council on Education, comp. and ed., American Universities and Colleges 12th ed. (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1983), 736; John D. Wright, Jr., Transylvania: Tutor to the West, rev. ed. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1980), 4-8; John D. Wright, Jr., William W. Kelly, and William T. Young, Transylvania University: Pioneering a Third Century (New York: The Newcomen Society in North America), 8-11.