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Special Collections & Archives: Transy History: Our Name

Materials, documents, and information having to do with the history of Transylvania


Lecture ticket for Robert Peter lecture


Transylvania is an unusual name and we get lots of questions about how we got it.  It literally means "across the woods" in latin.  We were named in the 1780s more than 100 years before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897.  

There were a number of failed fourteenth colonies in the US one of which was the Transylvania Colony founded in 1775. The short lived Transylvania Colony was founded by the Transylvania Land Company and existed south of the Kentucky River. 

Scholars have been unable to find any definitive link between the Transylvania Land Company and the naming of Transylvania Seminary in the 1780s, but certainly the name existed in the area.  John Wright says in a footnote in Transylvania Tutor to the West, "We have no first hand evidence on this matter of the name of Transylvania.  Robert Peter, Transylvania University: Its Origins Rise Decline and Fall, p. 14, surmises that it may have been the classical tradition that suggested the name."


Timeline of name changes

1780 - Seminary chartered in Virginia legislature.  1780 Charter (HathiTrust source)

1783 - Amendment to the original act of the VA legislature increasing the number of trustees and naming Transylvania Seminary.  1783 amendment to the Charter (HathiTrust source)

1785 - First students take classes in David Rice's cabin near Harrod's Run between Danville and Fort Harrod.  Rev. James Mitchell, first "Grammar Master."

1791 - Rev. James Moore appointed "Director" or the first acting President of Transylvania Seminary.

1793 - Gift of a lot in Lexington by the Transylvania Land Company which became the permanent location of Transylvania.

1796 - Kentucky Academy established by Kentucky Legislature; rivalry between Transylvania Seminary and Kentucky Academy ensues.

1798 - Kentucky Academy and Transylvania Seminary merged by consent of trustees of both institutions and an Act of the General Assembly of Kentucky under the name Transylvania University.  Consolidation was made under the original laws which governed Transylvania Seminary as enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia.  See Wright p 30-32.  See Littell's The statute law of Kentucky Vol.2 p.234.

1799 - Trustees institute the Medical Department.

1799 - Law College established with the appointment of Col. George Nicholas.

1817 - Degree of M. D. was first conferred.

1819 - Horace Holley appointed President.

1829 - The University Building is destroyed by fire. The fire destroyed much of the law library and the collections of the Union Philosophical and Whig societies. More than 1500 volumes went up in smoke along with papers.  Much of the collection of scientific apparatus was saved. The building sat on the south side of Third Street at the top of what is now known as Gratz Park.

1832 - Old Morrison is built on the north side of Third Street.  Also known as the main academic building.

1837-1850 Bacon College established in Georgetown, closes in Harrodsburg.
1858   Kentucky University (Harrodsburg) established by legislative act in KY through amendments to the Bacon College charter.
1859-1864 Kentucky University does well in its first year but is decimated by the Civil War with only 14 students in its last year.  Finally closes with the burning of the academic building in Harrodsburg.

1837 - Medical Department splits with Caldwell leading the effort and Yandell, Cooke & Short going to Louisville to start the Louisville Medical Institute.  Dudley, Richardson, Bush, Peter stay at Transylvania.

1839 - Medical Hall is built on the corner of Market and Church, according to Peter.  There is a historical marker for the building on the corner of 2nd and Broadway.

1850 - Medical Department of TU offers classes in Louisville establishing the Kentucky School of Medicine.  This eventually separates from Transylvania (1854?).

1856 - Act passed to reorganize Transylvania and establish a school for teachers, a State Normal School.  Each county could send someone for free.  Act to reorganize TU

1858 - Law Department closes at TU.

1859 - Medical Department closes at TU.

1858-1865  - Academic Department lingers as Transylvania Preparatory School, the equivalent of a high school.

1861-1865 - CIVIL WAR

1862 - Medical Hall and Morrison College (Old Morrison) used as a Union hospital.

1865 - Transylvania University and Kentucky University (Harrodsburg) merge by act of KY state legislature.  The main campus is located at the Transylvania University site in Lexington.  This is the realization of John Bowman's vision for one broad university in Kentucky.  It takes up the name Kentucky University There were initially three colleges in operation as part of KU: College of Arts, College of the Bible, and College of Law.  A preparatory school called the Academy was established as a coordinate agency of the University.  Bowman's vision includes additional colleges to come, including a Commercial College to cover courses in business and an A&M College to take advantage of the federal land grant money available.  Act to consolidate Kentucky University and Transylvania University

1865, October - first classes offered by the new Kentucky University

1866 - Agricultural and Mechanical College added to Kentucky University and classes offered. It is based on the grounds of Ashland (Henry Clay's estate) and Woodlands Estate.

1878 - Disagreements on how best to run Kentucky University comes to a head.

1878 - College of the Bible is chartered as an independent institution and separates from Kentucky University.   From 1912-1938(?) it shares facilities and presidents with Transylvania. Eventually it moves to a new campus in 1950 and becomes Lexington Theological Seminary in 1965.

1878 - KY Legislature also severs the A&M College and renames it State College. 1878 Legislative Act.

1889 - Kentucky University becomes major stockholder in Hamilton Female College. Twenty-seven women matriculate into Kentucky University.

Hamilton College was originally established in 1869 as Hocker Female College by James Hocker.  Changed name to Hamilton Female College in 1878 with donation from  William Hamilton.

1897 - According the the Catalog of Kentucky University 1903-04, page 7, "a medical college in Louisville was made one of the associated colleges of the university ... but was soon discontinued."

1902 - The preparatory Academy begins to phase out and finally closes in 1915.

1903 - Kentucky University assumes full control over Hamilton College making in a junior college for women. 

Many women from Hamilton College transferred to Kentucky University for the A.B. degree after their two years at Hamilton.  See Wright pp. 275-276.  Hamilton College closes in 1932.

1908 - A&M College is renamed State University and officially becomes University of Kentucky in 1916.  Because of the changing name (State University of Kentucky) and confusion that might ensue, Kentucky University changes its name back to Transylvania University.  See Wright pp. 314-316.

1911 - Alma mater song, "Hail, Transylvania!" acquired.  See Wright p. 330.

1914 - Bourbon Female College is merged with Hamilton Female College. Bourbon News, March 10, 1914.

1914-1918 World War I

1914 - Transylvania acquires the property of McLean College located in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.   TU subdivides the property into house lots and sells them.

McLean College was founded as South Kentucky Institute in Hopkinsville in 1849. Originally established as a finishing school for girls with close ties to the Christian Church, it became South Kentucky College in the late 1850s. In 1880 the college's charter was amended to allow the admission of men and the name was changed to South Kentucky College. It was renamed McLean College in 1908. Following a fire in 1912 the school was rebuilt exhausting the resources of the college and its benefactors. As a result of the financial situation and declining enrollment all McLean College property was acquired by Transylvania University in January 1914.    See Wright p. 330 and description of McLean College Finding Aid in TU archives.

1915 - Old College Lot formally given over to the city of Lexington to become Gratz Park. See Wright p. 319.

1916-1969 - Name changed to Transylvania College to reflect a simplification of schools run and degrees offered (p.24, 1934-35 catalog).

1932 - Hamilton Female College closes.  The building continues to be used as a dorm for women.

1939-1945 - World War II

1950 - College of the Bible moves to new campus near University of Kentucky. Separates from Transylvania and becomes Lexington Theological Seminary.

1969-current - Transylvania University

(compiled by Susan Brown)