On November 20, 1866, ten members of the First Congregational Society of Washington, D.C., gathered in the home of Deacon Henry Brewster for a missionary meeting. While there, they resolved to establish a seminary for the training of African-American clergymen. By early 1867, the founders had broadened their mission to encompass colleges of liberal arts and medicine.
…for wherever and whenever measures are advanced for the welfare of the people and the direction of the masses there the sons of Howard will be found in the midst of them…
Professor Kelly Miller, President’s Address. In Sixth Triennial Meeting of the College Alumni Association of Howard University, College Chapel, May 18, 1892. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1892. African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Howard University External was incorporated on March 2, 1867, and accepted its first students the following May. Its founders envisioned the institution as a resource for educating and training black physicians, teachers, and ministers from the nearly four million recently emancipated slaves.
The university was named for Major General Oliver O. Howard, a founder of the university as well as a Civil War hero and commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau (1865-72). Howard directed considerable resources towards establishing the university, including the original three-acre campus, the main building, and the old medical school.
Howard University was one of several educational institutions funded by the Freedmen’s Bureau for the purposes of providing education for the freedmen. Congress had established the bureau in 1865 to provide practical assistance to the newly freed slaves. The bureau facilitated the building of 45 hospitals and the education of approximately 150,000 former slaves before it was dismantled in 1872.
Howard University’s distinguished alumni include Vice President Kamala Harris, former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Edward William Brooke, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, playwright Imamu Amiri Baraka, statesman Ralph Bunche, and civil rights leader and attorney Vernon Jordan. Charles Hamilton Houston, vice-dean of the Howard University School of Law from 1929-35, was a key architect of the legal strategy that ultimately overturned the separate but equal standard adopted by the Supreme Court in 1894, bringing an end to the segregation of public facilities in the South. Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case that overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, was one of many lawyers who had studied with Houston at Howard.
- Search the following collections on the term Howard University to find more documents relevant to the university’s history.
- Search on Howard University in the Horydczak Collection to find more images of the university.
- Historic America Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey has 30 images of Howard University’s Founders Library as well as data and caption pages for the photographs.
- Before being appointed commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau by President Andrew Johnson, Oliver Howard, a West Point graduate, fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, and at Antietam, Atlanta, and in the Carolinas. Search for images of these battle campaigns in Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints.
- Search Today in History on the keywords African American, college, or university for features on individual colleges and universities, and persons associated with these institutions. Learn, for example, about W. E. B. Du Bois and John Hope Franklin, distinguished graduates of Fisk University and Fisk’s Jubilee Singers, and about Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee University. Learn also about James Weldon Johnson, a graduate of Atlanta University and a Fisk University faculty member, Patrick Francis Healy, S.J., the African-Irish-American president of Georgetown University, and Amos Alonzo Stagg, football coach at the University of Chicago. Read as well the Today in History entry on Howard University faculty member Ralph Bunche.
- To find out more about the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War, search the digital collections on the keyword reconstructionto find items such as the “Letter from Peter Cooper to President Johnson” which makes a case for national reconstruction. A news article, “Reconstruction in Order,”External documents the south’s resistance to the effort.