The Founding of Tufts University

Charles TuftsIn the 1840s, the Universalist Church wanted to open a college in New England. Boston businessman Charles Tufts gave the church a gift of 20 acres of land, valued at $20,000, on the condition it be used for establishing a college. With that, the location was decided. Tufts' land, which he inherited, was located on one of the highest hills in the Boston area, Walnut Hill, straddling Medford and Somerville.

As local lore has it, when a relative asked Charles Tufts what he would do with his land, and more specifically with "that bleak hill over in Medford," Tufts replied, "I will put a light on it." In 1855, a toast to the new Tufts College was offered at a Universalist gathering in Faneuil Hall. Hosea Ballou 2nd, a Universalist clergyman and the college's first president, remarked, "For if Tufts College is to be a source of illumination, as a beacon standing on a hill, where its light cannot be hidden, its influence will naturally work like all light; it will be diffusive."

Hosea BallouWhen the Commonwealth of Massachusetts chartered Tufts College in 1852, the original act of incorporation noted the college should promote "virtue and piety and learning in such of the languages and liberal and useful arts as shall be recommended." The official college seal, bearing the motto Pax et Lux (Peace and Light) was adopted in 1857, and the student body picked the school colors of brown and blue in 1876. (The colors were not made official, however, until a 1960 vote of the Board of Trustees.)

Ballou HallIn Tufts' early days, the main college building that would eventually bear Ballou's name served as both home and classroom for seven students, who were taught by four professors. By the time of Ballou's death in 1861, Tufts had 36 alumni, and 53 students enrolled.

To learn more about the history of the university, Tufts Digital Collections and Archives has compiled a selection of resources, including the online-only Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History; Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College, 1852-1952 (Beacon Press) and Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts University Since 1852 (MassMarket Books), both by the Tufts historian Russell E. Miller, in addition to historical photographs.

Interactive Timeline

Travel from 1852 to the present day in an instant, learning about all of the milestones in Tufts' history along the way. View the timeline.

Jumbo the Elephant, Tufts' Mascot

Tufts' official mascot, Jumbo the elephant, has been ranked among the most singular in college athletics by The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and is the only college mascot found in Webster's Dictionary. Learn more about this elephant's tale.

Tufts in Song

In 1990, the Tufts Alumni Association and the Department of Music collaborated to create "Tufts in Song," a 10-song album of Tufts standards sung a cappella by a cast of 42 alumni singers. Featured here are "Tuftonia's Day," the Tufts fight song, and "Dear Alma Mater," the school song.

Tuftonia's Day (1912) Tuftonia's Day (1912) by tuftsuniversity

Dear Alma Mater (1898) Dear Alma Mater (1898) by tuftsuniversity