Happy 150th birthday, Leland Stanford, Junior

Monday, May 14, marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of LELAND STANFORD, JUNIOR, the young man for whom Leland Stanford Junior University is named.

Stanford family
The Stanford family (Photo: University Archives)

According to the Stanford Historical Society’s book A Chronology of Stanford University and Its Founders, Leland DeWitt Stanford was born in Sacramento in 1868 when JANE was 39 and LELAND SENIOR was 44. He was their only child. He later asked that his name be changed to Leland Stanford, Junior, in honor of his father.

He was an avid collector of natural history curiosities and artifacts from the Stanfords’ many travels worldwide. They were initially on display in the family’s San Francisco home.

His collections eventually formed the basis of the Stanford Museum, now the Cantor Center for Visual Arts. Portraits of the Stanford family, including Leland Junior, are featured in the Cantor Center’s Stanford Family Room.

Leland Junior died at age 15 of typhoid fever in Florence, Italy. Today, he is interred with his mother and father in the mausoleum located in the Arboretum. The Stanfords’ decision to found a university in his memory is a well-known cornerstone of our history.

Stanford alumna THERESA JOHNSTON, writing in a 2003 edition of Stanford magazine, wrote that their son was “clearly the adored center of his parents’ world.”

The article continues, “Tucked inside gray archival boxes in Green Library, Leland Junior’s carefully preserved letters and his drawings of ships and trains hint at an energetic and likable kid who loved animals and the outdoors, took special care of his playmates and fretted about his aging parents’ health. He also had an insatiably curious intellect that Stanford admission deans would have appreciated.“

Read more about the young man for whom Stanford University was named in Johnston’s article in the July/August 2003 Stanford magazine.