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Stanford University Archives: Suggested Readings for Stanford History

The Stanford University Archives is the official repository for records of Stanford University and serves as its institutional memory.

Suggested Readings in Stanford History

The University

The archival record of the Stanford community-letters and diaries, committee minutes, reports and other official records, monographs and journal articles, photographs, ephemeral publications, and scrapbooks--is voluminous and provides a wealth of material for study. The collection is available to the public in the Stanford University Archives.

Unfortunately, few analytical accounts of Stanford community life exist outside the realm of dissertations. Works written by those inside the community are rarely critical and are as much a reflection of the community image as they are a source of information. Works by authors looking in from the outside, in turn, are superficial and rarely understand Stanford's philosophical foundations and intrinsically Western nature. However, the following works provide background useful to any study of the Stanford community principally from 1885 to 1945.

Allen, Peter C. Stanford: From the Foothills to the Bay (Stanford: Stanford Historical Society/Stanford Alumni Association, 1980), 228 pp. 

  • This well-written and colorful overview of Stanford, past and present, is aimed at the general public and summarizes notable points in Stanford's history, including faculty accomplishments and the development of schools and departments.

Bartholomew, Karen, Brinegar, Claude, and Roxanne Nilan. A Chronology of Stanford University and its Founders (Stanford, CA.: Stanford Historical Society, 2001).

  • A chronological listing and concise description of key events and interesting moments in the development of Stanford University, from the birth of Leland Stanford in 1824 through 2001. With photographs.

Cavalli, Gary, Stanford Sports (Stanford: Stanford Alumni Association, 1982), 224 pp.

  • The large format and color photographs overshadow a readable and balanced history of men's and women's sports of all kinds. Includes a very useful listing of Stanford athletic awards and records.

Davis, Margo and Roxanne Nilan. The Stanford Album (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 301 pp.

  • A photographic history of Stanford,1885-1945. Photographs are drawn from collections of Stanford University Archives and from private collections.

Elliott, Ellen Coit, It Happened This Way (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940), 332 pp.

  • In this autobiography by the articulate Cornell-educated wife of Stanford's first registrar, Elliott proves to be a keen and outspoken observer of early campus life.

Elliott, Orrin Leslie, Stanford University: The First Twenty-Five Years (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 624 pp.

  • Detailed and reliable account of the university's first years, its founding, philosophy, and culture, as well as of student life and key events, by Stanford's first registrar and close friend and colleague of the first president.

Jordan, David Starr, The Days of a Man: Being Memories of a Naturalist, Teacher and Minor Prophet of Democracy (New York: World Book Company, 1922), 2 vols., 906 pp.

  • This autobiography of Stanford's charismatic and gregarious first president describes his life in higher education, science, and American reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Nash, George, Herbert Hoover and Stanford University (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1988), 241 pp.

  • Much of Stanford's administrative development is revealed in the story of Hoover's growth from outgoing undergraduate to anonymous donor to highly influential trustee. Hoover's contributions to and impact on the campus are meticulously documented. 

Turner, Paul V., Marcia E. Vetrocq, and Karen Weitze, The Founders and the Architects: The Design of Stanford University (Stanford: Dept. of Art, Stanford University, 1976), 96 pp.

  • Key study of the relationship between Jane and Leland Stanford and the men employed to design a memorial to their son, and of the resulting campus design. Well documented, with a wealth of photographs, drawings, and maps.

Wilbur, Ray Lyman, The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur, 1875-1949. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960), 687 pp.

  • An alumnus of the class of 1896, in his career as physician, dean, and university president, Wilbur never strayed far from Stanford. His autobiography portrays Stanford's growth from the perspective of a powerful administrator.


The Stanford family

The professional and personal papers of the Stanford family, preserved in the Stanford University Archives, include correspondence, interviews and news articles, documents, photographs, monographs, and journal articles about the family and their many business and philanthropic interests. In addition, the following titles provide background about Leland Stanford, Jane Lathrop Stanford and Leland Stanford Jr. essential to the study of their roles in creating and building Stanford University and to the development of the broader concept of a "Stanford family" of alumni, faculty, and staff.

Clark, George T., Leland Stanford: War Governor of California, Railroad Builder, and Founder of Stanford University (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1931), 491 pp.

  • This first sympathetic biography of Stanford based on both documentation and extensive interviews resulted in the preservation of additional family papers. Especially valuable is the final chapter, "Building a University," in which Leland Stanford's plans throughout 1884-91 are painstakingly documented. 

Nagel, Gunther, Iron Will: The Life and Letters of Jane Lathrop Stanford, 2nd ed. (Stanford: Stanford Alumni Association, 1985), 224 pp.

  • As yet the only biography of Jane Stanford, this work evolved from the story told in Mrs. Stanford's correspondence. Though a sentimental account, it offers Mrs. Stanford's views and experiences in her own words. 

Osborne, Carol, Museum Builders in the West : The Stanfords as Collectors and Patrons of Art, 1870-1906 (Stanford: Stanford University Museum of Art, 1870-1906 ; Stanford: Stanford University Museum of Art, 1986), 139 pp.

  • This well-written and thoughtful study of Jane and Leland Stanford as art patrons and collectors places the establishment of the university and Jane Stanford's continued interest in the development of the museum in the larger context of the Stanford's lives and interests. It also provides a balanced view of Leland Stanford, Jr.'s interests and talents, and his contributions to his parents' interests in art, archaeology, and education.

Tutorow, Norman, The Governor : the Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford, a California Colossus (Spokane, Wash. : Arthur H. Clark Co., 2004), 2 volumes.

  • Seeking to present a broader portrait than that of railroad baron and politician, Tutorow describes a life of many careers including that of the California wine grower ahead of his time and of innovative horse breeder and trainer. This biography counters the more superficial portraits presented by Hubert Howe Bancroft (History of the Life of Leland Stanford, 1952) and Oscar Lewis (The Big Four, 1938).


News Service publications

Bartholomew, Karen. The Design of a University (special section, Stanford Observer, April 1987), 12 pp.