Arrival at Stanford University

Leland Stanford was known as a prominent Californian politician and leader.  He also provided the initial capital for the Central Pacific Railroad, which was paid back by the California government.  This risky endeavor of building a transcontinental railroad across treacherous mountains and arid deserts was incredibly successful.  The initial investors of the railroad, including Leland Stanford, became incredibly wealthy.  

After the tragic death of his son in 1884, Leland Stanford turned towards creating an educational institution to educate "all the children of California."  He visited Cornell and Harvard to learn more about the leading universities of the time.  Soon after, he used his railroad fortune to establish an endowment of thirty million dollars, formed a Board of Trustees of friends and colleagues, and soon only needed a President to carry the University into the future.  Leland Stanford himself had some very progressive ideas regarding education, believing it should be accessible to all classes of people rather than just the privileged elite.  Stanford hoped to hand the reigns of his university to a capable President and grant him complete freedom to create and execute a viable academic structure, leaving the finances in the hands of the founding Board of Trustees.  Leland Stanford Junior University was constructed on the Stanford stock farm in Palo Alto, California surrounded by nothing but pastures and fields.  By the time the university was ready to open in 1891, Stanford still had not found his ideal President.  (#2 p. 8)

When Stanford was looking for a President to run his university, he first contacted General Francis Walker of MIT followed by Andrew White, President of Cornell University.  White responded,

"Go to the University of Indiana; there you will find the president, an old student of mine, David Starr Jordan, one of the leading scientific men of the country, possessed of a most charming power of literary expression, with a remarkable ability in organization and blessed with good sound sense. Call him." (#3)

Stanford offered the job to Jordan with a salary of ten thousand dollars per year.  Jordan was intrigued by the idea of establishing a prominent educational institution in California, where he had traveled many times to conduct a study Pacific Coast fishes.  At the age of forty, David Starr Jordan accepted enthusiastically the Presidency offer and arrived on campus only a few months before classes began in 1891.  After Jordan had accepted the position, Stanford told a reporter in California, "I might have found a more famous educator, but I desired a comparatively young man who would grow up with the University."  (#1 p.11)  Jordan guided the destinies of Stanford University for over twenty two years.

Years at Stanford University

Jordan at Stanford
Simplicity and freedom characterized the first years of Stanford University.  Tuition was free, so a large portion of the students came from very humble beginnings and worked for their room and board, not unlike Jordan himself while at Cornell. The young President was also in charge of procuring the faculty. His colleagues noted that he surrounded himself with young progressive educators and experts that he knew from Indiana and Massachusetts.  Jordan granted the most power to the major professors to help guide the students through their education, but there was not much emphasis placed on departments, deans, or separate schools within the university.  Since there was no real town very close to the university, its students were not granted many luxuries or temptations.  David Starr Jordan led Stanford according to his Puritan values and Agassiz-inspired educational techniques.

In 1893, the university was on the verge of a crisis.  Leland Stanford died leaving his widow with a complicated estate composed mainly of railroad securities.  The economy was in a deep depression and there was no way to liquidate the securities to help pay off debts and pay the faculty.  Additionally, the United States Government raised a lawsuit against Mrs. Stanford, preventing the payments of a $15,000,000 loan from the Stanfords to the government.  Mrs. Stanford was under great pressure to close the university altogether.  Luckily, a judge ruled that the government should consider the faculty of the university "personal servants of Mrs. Stanford" and therefore could be paid through the late Mr. Stanford's life insurance.  After a long battle all the way through the Supreme Court, the government Mrs. Stanford finally awarded the loan money to her and the university was finally back on solid economic ground.  Throughout the duration of this economic crisis, David Starr Jordan continued to lead the university without falter.  "His courage, energy, and indomitable optimism gave an espirit de corps to the whole University which defied adversity and kept hopes from faltering" (#2 p. 14.)

Stanford University's economic woes were not the only issues Jordan faced during his term as President.  Mrs. Stanford eventually forced Jordan to release Dr. Edward Ross, an outspoken political activist, from his appointment as a faculty member in the department of Sociology.  Not only was this action strongly against Jordan's own beliefs on academic freedom, but the academic community criticized the university for this action.  In the early 1900's it became apparent that student drinking and other excesses were a large problem in student life.  Jordan's Puritan upbringing was at odds with the vineyards and other luxuries that characterized the changing California environment.  Additionally, hazing had become a major issue.

Mrs. Stanford died in 1905 and the economic power of the university finally fell to the university's leaders.  Jordan immediately began construction on new academic buildings to help expand the intellectual pursuits of its students.  However in April 1906, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit the bay area causing over three million dollars worth of damage to university grounds and buildings.  Jordan was forced to suspend classes for the rest of the year and asked for the help from colleagues and alumni to help repair the university.

By 1912, Jordan was ready to leave the university and follow his personal goals of world peace. The Board of Trustees granted him the title of Chancellor, which allowed him to still maintain a tie and salary with the university. At the same time, this title allowed the executive power to fall to the new President, Dr. John Caspar Branner.  Jordan's legacy at the university was substantial: enrollment quadrupled, the library doubled its size several times, and academics deemed the faculty that Jordan chose some of the best in the nation.

Later Life: Pacifism and Eugenics

Jordan and Colleagues as part of the Lawyer's Club of Buffalo
Due to his Abolitionist upbringing, strong ties to eugenics, and promoter or individual freedom, David Starr Jordan was a strong public pacifist, especially with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.  He believed that the war was strictly for personal profit and imperialism.  After becoming vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League in 1898, he spoke in front of the National Peace Congress in 1909 regarding the argument in his book The Human Harvest.  They were so impressed with his speech that he was appointed the Director of the World Peace Foundation in 1909.  Under this title, Jordan traveled across Japan and Korea giving lectures emphasizing the biological effects of war and armaments.
(#4 p. 290.)  

After his commission of lectures in Japan, Jordan became chairman of the Commission on Eugenics as part of the American Breeder's Association in 1910.  He personally served as the intermediary between the organization and Mrs. Harriman, who eventually provided the Commission an endowment of land for a eugenics laboratory and an iron structure for the preservation of records.  Jordan notes in his memoirs,
"This gift became the vehicle of important studies of heredity by Drs. Davenport, Henry H. Goddard, Harry H. Laughlin, and several others who have investigated various problems connected with feeble-mindedness, as well as the still more vital one of the origin and maintenance of superior strains. I have had no further connection with the Eugenic Laboratory, though retaining large sympathy with the work." (#4 p. 298.)
Consequently, although Jordan did not accomplish much directly with the Commission on Eugenics, his sympathy and support of the movement is more fully appreciated in his social ideas.

Like most pacifists, Jordan was convinced that the German militarists would never succeed in their war efforts "as compared with the wise, sane common sense of sixty million German people" (#2 p. 26.)  Even after war broke out, Jordan regarded the conflict as "a senseless, aimless struggle" (#2 p. 27.)  However, when Germany invaded Belgium, the Jordan could no longer ignore the outward aggression of the German nation.  See Pacifism for more details on World War I and its effects.  Eventually, after the war was over, Jordan admitted that he had never realized the "deadly possibilities of the ultimatum" (#2 p. 27.) 

David Starr Jordan always had a strong sense of optimism and a passion for a peaceful and healthy utopia.  He longed for a world where freedom, peace, and justice were unhampered. However, he also believed in individual change rather than large scale, government-administered social action.  (#2 p. 35.)

In 1906 he served as vice-chairman on The Carnegie Foundation for the Improvement of Teaching endowed by Andrew Carnegie himself.  Its main work centered on creating a pension or insurance plan for the nation's professors and their families.  (#4 p. 188)

After the war had ended, Jordan withdrew from many of his public activities.  He had been diagnosed with diabetes and auricular fibrillation, a heart disorder.  While he was able to keep his diabetes in check with a strict diet, the fibrillation continued to debilitate the outspoken man.  He finally passed away at the age of 80 on September 19, 1931.