In the 1840s, the Universalist Church wanted to open a college in New England. Boston businessman Charles Tufts gave the church a gift of 20 acres of land, valued at $20,000, on the condition it be used for establishing a college. With that, the location was decided. Tufts’ land, which he inherited, was located on one of the highest hills in the Boston area, Walnut Hill, straddling Medford and Somerville.
As local lore has it, when a relative asked Charles Tufts what he would do with his land, and more specifically, with “that bleak hill over in Medford,” Tufts replied, “I will put a light on it.” In 1855, a toast to the new Tufts College was offered at a Universalist gathering in Faneuil Hall. Hosea Ballou II, a Universalist clergyman and the college’s first president, remarked, “For if Tufts College is to be a source of illumination, as a beacon standing on a hill, where its light cannot be hidden, its influence will naturally work like all light; it will be diffusive.”
When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts chartered Tufts College in 1852, the original act of incorporation noted the college should promote “virtue and piety and learning in such of the languages and liberal and useful arts as shall be recommended.” The official college seal, bearing the motto Pax et Lux (Peace and Light), was adopted in 1857, and the student body picked the school colors of brown and blue in 1876. Tufts’ mascot became Jumbo the elephant in 1885, thanks to a bequest from one of the school’s founders, P.T. Barnum (of circus fame). Today, Tufts no longer has a religious affiliation, and students of all religious backgrounds worship in Goddard Chapel, the 1882 Lombardic Romanesque chapel, once called “the most photographed chapel in the country,” that stands at the center of campus.
In Tufts’ early days, the main college building that would eventually bear Ballou’s name served as both home and classroom for seven students who were taught by four professors. By the time of Ballou’s death in 1861, Tufts had 36 alumni, and 53 students enrolled.
Since that time, Tufts has grown from a small liberal arts college to a medium-sized research university. In 1954 “Tufts College” became “Tufts University.” Today, there are just over 5,900 undergraduates at Tufts, as well as top-ranked graduate programs in the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering, medicine, nutrition, and international relations. Among these programs are the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the oldest graduate school of international relations in the United States; the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the only veterinary school in New England; and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the only graduate school of nutrition in North America.