Transylvania University

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Not to be confused with Transilvania University of Brașov.
Transylvania University
Transylvania University Logo
Motto In Lumine Illo Tradimus Lumen
Motto in English
In That Light, We Pass On The Light
Established 1780
Type Private
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
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 has been cited for outstanding value and academic quality by such publications as U.S. News and World Report[4] and Forbes.[5] In the nineteenth century it educated hundreds of aspiring politicians who reached Congress and other high offices. Its medical program graduated 8000 physicians by 1859.[6]


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.[7] 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.[7] The first site in Lexington was a single building in what is now the historic Gratz Park.

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.[8] After 1818, the university included a medical school, a law school, a divinity school, and a college of arts and sciences.[7][9]

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.[7][9]

Alumnus John Breckinridge; Democratic U.S. Vice President

Transylvania dominated academe in its 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 politically ambitious young men including 50 who became United States senators, 101 Congressman, 36 governors and 34 ambassadors, as well as Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.[10]

After the Civil War[edit]

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.[7] 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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[11] Transylvania University is now affiliated with the Disciples of Christ (which organized after the university was first founded).[citation needed]

Representation in popular culture[edit]

  • 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 48-acre (19.4-hectare) campus about 4 blocks from downtown Lexington, Kentucky. It has 24 buildings, 3 athletic fields, 4 dining areas, and a National Historic Landmark.[12] 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[edit]

Old Morrison
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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

Library and café[edit]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

Residence halls[edit]

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 28,000 square feet (2,600 m2) 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.[20]

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.[21]


University rankings
Forbes[22] 186
Liberal arts colleges
U.S. News & World Report[24] 75
Washington Monthly[25] 122

Transylvania University actively pursues an international admissions process, and includes students from overseas. 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),[26][27] as well as interdisciplinary studies, or the ability of students to design their own majors, such as environmental studies and international affairs.[28]

Student life[edit]

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[edit]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]


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 University of Kentucky.[32]

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.

Fraternities and sororities[edit]

Transylvania has an even Greek life on campus, with four fraternities and four sororities and 70% of the students as members of Greek organizations.[33] 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"[34][35] In 2010, the school was named number 1 in percentage of Greek students on campus.



Rise in scope, outlook on future[edit]

The Transylvania outlook is very much set on enhancing its liberal arts profile to the graduate, research, and medical scope of other leading national institutions. Each new president has added vision to what this mission entails both for the academic community and for the center of the state. Transylvania's potential in its strategic location in Lexington is well-positioned to be Kentucky's lead national, higher education institution. This scope includes maintaining the top-rated undergraduate experience in Kentucky, and growth in undergraduate excellence, recognition, and graduate school admission. Much like the first graduate programs at other institutions were started by admitting the graduating undergraduates of the same institution, Transylvania experiments in expanding programs. In a way that Louisville and University of Kentucky have not sought out, Transylvania's investment toward a global, partnered, and cultural center model, with classically designed buildings for expansion, very much looks to parallel and eclipse similar strategic endeavors on the make of Penn and Berkeley. Indeed, its newest centers of campus life, the fitness center, stadium, and residential spaces, incorporate much Lexingtonian infrastructure and have been integral to its outlook. And as its desired scope has seen increased campaigns, its neighbors can expect its continued expanding to complement its history and potential.

Noted people[edit]

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.[36]



See also[edit]


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

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Coordinates: 38°03′09″N 84°29′38″W / 38.052379°N 84.49387°W / 38.052379; -84.49387