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Transylvania Trivia

How much do you know about Transylvania University? Find the surprising answers to the questions listed below. Want to know more? Learn about our history.

  • Who was Transylvania’s first graduate?

    Robert Barr, class of 1802. Transylvania now inducts alums into the Barr Society on the occasion of their 50th reunion.

  • An internationally famous house in Washington, D.C., is named after its former owner, a Transylvania graduate. Who is this Transylvanian, and what is the house?

    Francis Preston Blair and Blair House. Since 1942, Blair House has been the official President’s Guest House, playing host to foreign heads of state. Blair graduated from Transy in 1811 and became a nationally prominent journalist and politician. He was the most influential member of President Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” an informal circle of advisers, and the editor of the Globe, the organ of the Jackson administration. He purchased what became Blair House in 1836 and lived there with his family for many years. His son, Montgomery Blair, also attended Transy and was later appointed Postmaster General by President Lincoln.

  • When did Transylvania’s prestigious William T. Young Scholars program begin?

    The program began in 1982 as the Thomas Jefferson Scholars. The program was renamed in 1988 in honor of William T. Young, the founder and principal supporter. The merit scholarships cover tuition and fees for four years.

  • How did Transylvania’s Kappa Lambda Society of Hippocrates influence the entire medical community?

    Members of the secret, idealistic fraternity, founded in 1819 for students of the Medical Department of Transylvania University, helped found the American Medical Association in 1847 and devised its Principles of Medical Ethics.

  • What catastrophe delayed the construction of Old Morrison in the summer of 1833?

    A cholera epidemic. Doctors, including members of the Medical Department of Transylvania, were unable to stop the spread of the disease that killed over 500 Lexingtonians out of a population of 6,000.

  • Which U.S. president once recommended Transylvania over Harvard and why?

    Thomas Jefferson, working in his retirement to create UVA, wrote to friend Joseph Cabell, saying, "If our legislature does not heartily push our University, we must send our children for education to Kentucky or Cambridge. The latter will return them to us as fanatics and tories, the former will keep them to add to their population. If however we are to go begging anywhere for our education, I would rather it should be to Kentucky than any other state, because she has more of the flavor of the old cask than any other."

  • In 1862, President Lincoln appointed which Transylvania alum to the Supreme Court?

    In 1862, Lincoln appointed Samuel Freeman Miller to the Supreme Court, where he would serve as an associate justice until his death in 1890. Miller graduated from the Transylvania medical school in 1838 and practiced medicine for nearly 10 years before turning to the study of law.

  • What medical volumes in Special Collections were frequently signed and annotated by students in the Transylvania Medical Department, 1799-1859?

    John and Charles Bell’s comprehensive multi-volume treatise The Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Body, published from 1703-1804, contained graffiti in the form of student signatures, comments about professors, declarations of love, and portraits doodled on the end pages.

  • When were women first admitted to Transylvania?

    The curators unanimously approved admission of women on April 27, 1889. Laura Clay, daughter of Cassius M. Clay and a leader in Lexington’s women’s rights movement, presented the curators with a petition, and they asked the presidents of 10 other colleges and universities that had already become coeducational for their advice. The minimum age of women students was 14, and because there were no dormitories for them, female applicants were admitted only if they could find a home in the city or vicinity "where they can be under protecting and controlling family care."

  • What famous American launched Transylvania’s $1.5 million fund-raising campaign in 1954?

    On April 23, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower spoke from the steps of Old Morrison, saying: "It seems to me that everybody who in the past has graduated from this institution, or who today is privileged to serve it, or to be here as a student, has a great heritage of tradition which cannot fail to enrich his life as long as he shall live." Other dignitaries on the stage included Senator John Sherman Cooper and Transylvania alum Governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler.

  • What are Transylvania’s connections with famous 19th century statesman Henry Clay?

    Henry Clay, born April 12, 1777, was a member of the Transylvania Board of Trustees and taught in the law school. Known as the Great Compromiser, Clay represented Kentucky in both the House of Representatives and Senate. He served as Secretary of State and a leader in the Whig Party. He ran three unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency, but remained extremely influential in American politics.

  • Who was Transylvania’s opponent in the first recorded college football game in the South, played on April 9, 1880?

    Transylvania took part in the first recorded college football game in the South, against Centre College on April 9, 1880, in Lexington. A newspaper account of the day listed Transy as the winner, 13-3/4 points to 0.

  • What Transylvania professor and surgeon pioneered sanitary practices that helped make his procedures among the most successful of the time?

    Benjamin Winslow Dudley, who served as professor of anatomy and surgery in the Transylvania Medical Department until 1850. He insisted that he and his assistants wash patients’ bodies or injuries with water that had been boiled. All bandages, operating tables, and instruments were scrubbed with boiled water and soap before use.

  • What emeritus professor is nationally known as a private press printer?

    J. Hill Hamon, who taught biology from 1968-96, produces books that have been recognized for their beauty of graphic design and perfect execution on his Whippoorwill Press. Hamon was also a photographer, paper maker, calligrapher, musician, geologist, and writer.

  • Each year, Transylvania students volunteer as part of Alternative Spring Break. When was ASB started at Transylvania?

    Since the inception of Transylvania’s Alternative Spring Break in 1993, students have spent their week of vacation volunteering for outreach and service programs outside of Lexington. Some ASB projects have included providing disaster relief in Mississippi, the Midwest, and North Carolina; building low-income housing in Tennessee; and working with migrant farm workers in Florida.

  • How did Transylvania acquire the 14-inch-diameter hairball that is housed in the Moosnick Medical and Science Museum?

    In 1848, the year he graduated from the Medical Department, George Rogers Clark Todd gave the university an "Immense Hairball" from the stomach of a buffalo. Todd was the youngest brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln. The museum later received a second, smaller hairball from Thomas J. Clay, grandson of statesman Henry Clay.

  • What early Transylvania first lady’s poetry was set to music and published?

    Mary Austin Holley was a lifelong poet and published The Texan Song of Liberty in 1836. Her husband, Horace Holley, was president of Transylvania from 1818-1827. She was a cousin of Transylvania graduate and hero of Texas, Stephen F. Austin.

  • What 19th century Transylvanian’s botanical specimens are housed at Harvard, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Royal Botanical Gardens of Victoria, Australia?

    Charles Wilkins Short, class of 1810, meticulously prepared his specimens, and they were so highly regarded that five prominent botanists named species after him. Short served as Dean and Chair of Materia Medica and Medical Botany in Transylvania’s medical department from 1825-37.

  • Why is the white ash tree located near the library on Transylvania’s campus, known as the Kissing Tree?

    To past generations of Transylvanians, the Kissing Tree was a favorite spot for couples to steal a kiss or two. There was a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon and on many college campuses, kissing in public was strictly against the rules. Somehow, a tacit agreement evolved at Transylvania that when sweethearts were under the Kissing Tree, administrators would look the other way while they stole a kiss. For more on the Kissing Tree, click here.

  • In the 1920s, 30s, and early 40s, before WWII brought Transylvania’s venerable football program to an end, how was campus notified of a win at an away game?

    If Transylvania won an away football game the campus community was notified by the blowing of the steam whistle at the Power Plant. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, Transylvania suspended the football program "for the duration," but for a variety reasons, many financial, the program was never resumed. For more on the last seasons of Transylvania’s football program, see the Fall 2006 Transylvania magazine.

  • What prominent Lexintonian and Gratz Park neighbor donated her book bindery to Transylvania?

    Lucy Shropshire Crump, Transylvania class of 1926, restored or repaired more than 200 books in Transylvania’s Special Collections. When she retired in 1990, she donated her Boxwood Bindery to the university. Crump was affectionately known as the Mayor of Gratz Park.

  • When was Old Morrison devastated by fire?

    Fire was discovered in the basement on January 27, 1969. It gutted the center of the historic structure, but the wings, which housed administrative offices and records, were not seriously damaged. The price tag for restoration was $1.1 million, and the building was rededicated May 9, 1971.

  • What Transylvanian is credited with putting Appalachian literature on the map?

    John Fox Jr.’s novel The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was one of the first in American literature to sell a million copies, as did his second novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. He was named American Author of the Year in 1904.

  • What early nineteenth-century Transylvania professor drove a horseless carriage through Louisville, in 1824, propelled by a steam engine using newly patented spiral-tube technology?

    Joseph Buchanan, who was educated at Transylvania from 1806-07 and began teaching in the Transylvania Institutes of Medicine in 1809. Remembered today as the greatest American psychologist before William James, Buchanan also claimed to have isolated a way to use combustion to drive an engine without steam, possibly anticipating modern air engines.

  • What Transylvania graduate pioneered the use of robotics to train obstetric healthcare professionals?

    Paul Preston ’79, an anesthesiologist at Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco Medical Center, is a leader in healthcare safety training, using robotics to simulate emergencies that may occur during labor and childbirth. He was featured in U.S. News & World Report and an Associated Press article that was picked up by newspapers across the country. Click here to read article.

  • What former professor’s book is the definitive history of Transylvania?

    John D. Wright Jr’s Transylvania: Tutor to the West, traces the college from its chartering in 1780 to its status in the 1970s. Wright was a history professor at the university from 1950-86.

  • What former professor’s book is the definitive history of Transylvania?

    John D. Wright Jr.’s Transylvania: Tutor to the West, traces the college from its chartering in 1780 to its status in the 1970s. Wright was a history professor at the university from 1950-86.

  • What is the newest academic honor society at Transylvania?

    Alpha Lambda Delta, which is a national honor society for students who have maintained a 3.5 or higher GPA and are in the top 20 percent of their class during their first year or term of higher education.

  • What Transylvania alum wrote two plays that have been performed in New York City, one of which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie?

    Maurine Dallas Watkins, class of 1918, is the author of Chicago, a satirical 1926 play that has been the basis for all the stage and movie versions that have appeared since then, including the 2002 Academy Award-winning movie. In 2009, So Help Me God!, a long-forgotten play that Watkins wrote 80 years prior, opened at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City. Watkins was a Hollywood screenwriter from 1930-40. Among her many credits is the 1936 MGM film Libeled Lady, starring Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.

  • In December, students participate in what holiday tradition at Transylvania that began in 1991?

    Transylvania students host approximately 60 local children for Crimson Christmas. The children, from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lexington, enjoy games and crafts with the Transy students before a visit from Santa Claus who delivers stockings and gifts.

  • What is the significance of the cabin that sits near the library on Transylvania’s campus?

    The cabin was one of the first buildings in Lexington. It is the cabin of Robert Patterson, one of the first settlers of Lexington and an early trustee of Transylvania. He later helped settle Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. For more information, click here.

  • 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of what famous book, a first edition copy of which is in Transylvania’s special collections holdings?

    Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published on November 24, 1859. Transylvania’s special collections holds a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species, along with first edition copies of several of Darwin’s other books. The year 2009 also marked the 200th birthday of Darwin. For more information, click here.

  • What 1823 artifact is the centerpiece of the anatomical collection in Transylvania’s Moosnick Medical and Science Museum?

    A rare Medical Venus. Organs and tissue from as many as 200 cadavers were used in casting the life-sized dissectible wax figure of a woman. Benjamin Winslow Dudley and Charles Caldwell, professors in the Transylvania Medical Department, purchased the Venus in Florence, Italy, along with books and other apparatus for the college—many of which are still housed in the museum. To learn more about the Venus click here.

  • What famous architect designed Old Morrison, Transylvania’s administration building?

    Gideon Shryock. Transylvania’s trustees commissioned the 29-year-old to design the building and oversee its construction in 1831. The estimated cost of the Greek Revival structure was $30,000. Shryock also designed the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky.

  • What famous theologian spoke at a dedication event for Old Morrison, Transylvania’s administration building, when construction was completed in 1833?

    Lyman Beecher, father of author Harriet Beecher Stowe, highlighted a convention of teachers held on November 6, 1833 with a speech on “The Dignity and Importance of the Profession of Teaching.”

  • What is the “curse of Rafinesque” that was supposedly placed on Transylvania?

    Nineteenth century naturalist Constantine Rafinesque came to teach at Transylvania in 1819 but was fired by university president Horace Holley in 1826. Raf wrote that he left the college with curses on it and Holley, starting the legend of the curse. In 1827, Holley died, and in 1829, the main building on campus (then in Gratz Park) burned. Remains thought to be Rafinesque’s were moved from Philadelphia to Transy’s Old Morrison building in 1924, but in 1969, Old Morrison was damaged by fire. Does the curse still exist? For more on Rafinesque, click here.

  • What 19th century botanist is said to be buried in Transylvania’s Old Morrison administration building?

    Constantine S. Rafinesque, a native of Constantinople and a naturalist ahead of his time, taught at Transylvania from 1819-1826. He died in Philadelphia in 1840 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1924, his grave was located and remains thought to be his were reinterred at Transylvania, in a tomb in Old Morrison.

  • What Transylvania professor was a pioneer innoculator for smallpox in the U.S.?

    Dr. Samuel Brown. He was a professor of medicine at Transylvania in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Dr. Brown founded the Kappa Lambda Society of Hippocrates, a medical fraternity at Transy that was one of the earliest professional fraternities in the country. Its members later helped found the American Medical Association.

  • When did Transylvania become affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)?

    In 1865. Transylvania originally operated as a non-denominational public institution and at various times was affiliated with the Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

  • What Transylvania landmark is on the seal of the city of Lexington?

    Old Morrison, the University’s administration building, is in the center of the city’s official seal. The U.S. Government designated the building as a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1966. For more information about Old Morrison, click here.

  • In 1999, which Transylvania team went undefeated (23-0) until the championship game of the national tournament?

    The 1999-2000 women’s soccer team went to the very brink of Transylvania’s first national team championship before losing to Westmont College 3-0 in the NAIA finals in Miami, and claiming the national runner-up trophy. The team was honored September 26, 2009, during halftime of the Transy-Defiance.

  • What beloved Transylvania professor was known for striking a “Burt Reynolds” pose on his desk when he thought his students’ attention was flagging?

    Monroe Moosnick, who devoted 50 years to Transy, beginning in 1946 as a chemistry professor. He also served as department chair, curator of the medical museum that bears his name, alumni coordinator, and special assistant to the president. Moosnick died in 1995 at age 76. For more information about the Moosnick Museum click here

  • What Transylvanian led the effort to organize the Kentucky Independent College Foundation?

    Frank Rose, president from 1951-57, garnered cooperation among presidents of eight private colleges to establish the Foundation, which was dedicated to soliciting support from Kentucky industries and businesses.

  • What long-standing Transylvania traditions do incoming students participate in during orientation weekend?

    Serenade and greet line. First-year students gather on the steps of Old Morrison, where the men and women take turns singing to each other. Then they line up to introduce themselves to each other.

  • When and where was the nation’s second law school founded?

    When it was organized in 1799, Transylvania’s law school was the second permanently operating law school in the United States. The law school’s founder, George Nicholas, also drafted the Kentucky Constitution.

  • What alum shared a bomb shelter with General George Patton during a German air raid?

    Cecil Sanders, a 1936 graduate. He was also a friend of President John F. Kennedy.

  • What 1853 graduate of Transylvania’s law school was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Hayes?

    John Marshall Harlan was appointed by President Hayes as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1877. He is most notable as the lone dissenter in the infamous Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

  • What Transylvanian was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition?

    George Shannon. He was later a student at Transylvania and went on to practice law in Lexington.

  • What was Transylvania’s tuition, set by the trustees in November 1784, for the first classes, which began in February 1785?

    Tuition was set at four pistoles (Spanish gold coins). In the west where men with goods to sell looked down the river to New Orleans, the Spanish appeared a more significant factor, and Spanish gold was the best currency available.

  • Where and when were Transylvania’s first classes held?

    In February 1785, the first Transylvania students trudged through snow to reach classes, which were held in a small log cabin.

  • Who is Christopher Greenup and what is his connection to Transylvania?

    Christopher Greenup, one of Kentucky’s first two representatives to the U.S. Congress in 1792, was one of Transylvania’s early trustees. He was also elected governor of the state in 1804.

  • What’s Transylvania’s connection to Kentucky’s first governor?

    Isaac Shelby, Kentucky’s first governor and a noted military leader in the American Revolution, was one of Transylvania’s early trustees.

  • How many existing U.S. colleges were founded before Transylvania?

    Fifteen. Founded in 1780, Transylvania is the 16th oldest college in the nation, and the first west of the Allegheny Mountains.

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