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Our History

The School of Humanities and Sciences, formed in 1948, is the youngest of Stanford’s seven schools, although many of its departments date to the university’s founding in 1891.

Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, initially organized Stanford into departments. But by 1916, this system had become too rigid. In 1922, the School of Biology was established, followed by the schools of Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Humanities. In 1948, they were combined to form the School of Humanities and Sciences.

This timeline highlights the history of H&S, both before and after it became a school. Entries and images are taken from the book A Chronology of Stanford University and its Founders and the Stanford Historical Photograph Collection.

Stanford opening day

1891 
Stanford University opens as a coeducational institution. Among its founding departments are Chemistry, Drawing, English Language and Literature, Germanic Languages, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Philosophy (Ethics), Physics, Political Science, Psychology, and Romance Languages.

1892Hopkins Marine Station is established and becomes the first marine laboratory on the Pacific Coast and the second such facility in the United States.

Stanford women's basketball 1896

1899 Women enter the university in growing numbers. Concerned that the institution named for her son would become largely a girls’ school, Jane Stanford amends the Founding Grant to limit enrollment to 500 females, or 40 percent of the student body. The cap of 500 is reached in 1903. By 1932, women make up only 14 percent of the student body and the Board of Trustees return to the ratio that existed in 1899. President Wilbur states, “For over 30 years the most outstanding handicap in the operation of Stanford University has been the limitation on women to 500.” In 1973, the ratio is eliminated altogether.

1907 Professors Payson Treat and Yamato Ichihashi visit China. Afterward, Stanford becomes the first U.S. university to offer courses in Far Eastern studies.

1919 Future Nobel laureate John Steinbeck earns a C in freshman English. Later, he says that his Stanford career (1919-25—he dropped out twice) was a waste except for his English professors Edith Mirrielees and Margery Bailey.

1920 History Professor Yamato Ichihashi, one of the first scholars of Japanese descent to teach in the United States, is appointed to Stanford’s first endowed professorship. Ichihashi raised funds in Japan for the chair in Japanese History and Civilization. During World War II, Ichihashi and his wife Kei are sent to internment camps with 34 Japanese-American Stanford students.

Varian brothers

1937 Physicists and brothers Sigurd and Russell Varian arrive on campus. Working with William W. Hansen, the scientists develop the klystron tube, which paves the way for the airborne radar that will crush Hitler’s Luftwaffe during World War II. The tube facilitates the development of commercial air navigation, satellite communication, and high-energy particle accelerators. 

Stegner and students

1946 Novelist Wallace Stegner establishes the Stanford Writing Program. Alumni now include Edward Abbey, Raymond Carver, Harriet Doerr, Robert Haas, Ken Kesey, Philip Levine, Tillie Olsen, ZZ Packer, and Scott Turow.

1948
 The schools of Biological Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences merge to form the School of Humanities and Sciences.

1952
 Physics Professor Felix Bloch becomes Stanford’s first Nobel laureate.

1957 George Forsythe joins the Department of Mathematics as Stanford’s first faculty member specializing in computing. In 1961, he forms a computer science division, which in 1965 is spun off as a separate department, one of the first in the nation.

1958 Stanford in Germany, the university’s first overseas campus, opens on an estate near Stuttgart. In a harbinger of coed living, 33 men and 30 women, chosen from 197 applicants, eat meals together but live in separate buildings. Friedrich “Willi” Strothmann and Robert Walker, professors respectively of German and political science, conceived the program.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at Stanford

1964 Martin Luther King, Jr., calls for support during a speech at Memorial Auditorium: “In the Mississippi power structure, justice has no meaning.… Civil rights issues cannot be resolved from within the state; help must come from the outside.” He speaks on campus again in 1967, a year before he is assassinated.

1969 
Faculty in sociology, biology, psychology, and medicine join forces to create the Program in Human Biology, one of Stanford’s most popular majors.

African and Afro-American Studies is launched as the first interdisciplinary major of its kind at a major private U.S. university.

1971 Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo conducts the “Prison Experiment,” with students playing the roles of prisoners and guards in a makeshift jail on campus. After five days the experiment is suspended for being too harshly realistic.

Stanford Prison ExperimentStanford Prison Experiment

1973
 Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains is established.

1974 The Center for Research on Women (CROW) is founded. In 1986, it changes its name to the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Today, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as it is now called, is regarded as one of the nation’s most distinguished centers in its field.

1975 Music Professor John Chowning cofounds the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). In 1967, Chowning discovered an algorithm to produce realistic music using digital synthesizers. In 1973, Stanford licensed the Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis patent to Yamaha. The university earns $23 million in royalties by the time the patent expires in 1994.

Sally Ride

1978 Physics graduate student Sally Ride becomes one of the first women named to NASA’s astronaut corps. Ride applied after reading an ad in the Stanford Daily. In 1983, she becomes America’s first woman in space. 

1987 Trustees launch a five-year, $1.1 billion Centennial Campaign, the largest fundraising effort ever in higher education. The campaign raises funds for 39 endowed professorships in H&S.

1990 The Human Genome Project is established by Stanford researchers from the biological sciences, computer sciences and the School of Medicine, collaborating in an international effort to decipher the genetic code of humans.

1991 The university observes its 100th anniversary with four days of festivities, culminating in a ceremony that re-creates opening day in 1891.

1996 Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, a new interdisciplinary program, is launched.

Seven physics nobe prize winners

1998 Stanford’s seven Nobel physicists gather on October 13 to celebrate the life and work of Professor Emeritus Arthur Schawlow. That morning, Robert Laughlin learned that he had won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the fourth in four years for Stanford physicists.

2001
 The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s $400 million gift to Stanford is the largest in the university’s history. Three-quarters of the gift is allocated to H&S and $100 million goes to the Campaign for Undergraduate Education.

2003 The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., selects the Department of Psychology to kick off its Great Schools seminar series, featuring the research of top institutes worldwide. In 1964, the American Council on Education named the department number one in the nation, a ranking sustained today.

2004 Marine Biology Professor William Gilly leads a group of researchers on a boat expedition retracing the 1940 voyage of John Steinbeck and Ed “Doc” Ricketts to study environmental changes in the Sea of Cortez.

2006 President John Hennessy launches The Stanford Challenge campaign to raise $4.3 billion, the largest amount in the university’s history.

2008 Leslie Hume, MA ’71, PhD ’79, is elected president of the Board of Trustees, the first woman to hold the post since Jane Stanford.

Archive of Recorded Sound at Stanford

Chemistry Professor Paul Wender reports in the journal Science that new agents can be tailored to flush HIV into the open, where the immune system and antiretroviral therapies can destroy it.

2009 The Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, one of the largest sound archives in the United States, celebrates its 50th anniversary.