Our Historic Commitment

New York State's leadership for individual equality was ahead of its time.

At a time when the American Equal Rights Association was being formed as a coalition between women's rights and anti-slavery organizations (1866)—and prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868)—university co-founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White were committed to creating a university that was open to all individuals, regardless of race or gender.

In a letter dated February 17, 1867, Ezra Cornell stated young women should be educated in the university as well as young men so that both would have the same opportunities. In 1874, Andrew Dickson White confirmed the university would accept students of color even if the 500 enrolled white students “asked for dismissal on this account.”


  • Charles Chauveau Cook and Jane Eleanor Datcher become the first African Americans to graduate from Cornell after a four-year course of study.

  • George Washington Fields, a former slave, becomes the first African American graduate of the department of Law at Cornell (now known as the Cornell Law School). Fields is one of three African American students to graduate from Cornell University that year.


  • Latin American students from Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Brazil create Alpha Zeta, a “foreigner’s fraternity.” 


  • Suffragist May Gorslin Preston Slosson earns her Ph.D. in Philosophy at Cornell, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to do so and Cornell’s first female Ph.D.



  • Ryokichi Yatabe becomes the first Japanese student to graduate from Cornell University.


  • Elias Fausto Pacheco Jordão, from Brazil, becomes Cornell’s first South American student to graduate and the first Brazilian to earn a degree in the U.S.

  • Sage College opens to house undergraduate women.


  • Andrew Dickson White, co-founder of Cornell University, writes to C.H. McCormick of Newburgh, Indiana regarding the university’s admission of African American students, stating that the university would be “very glad to receive any who are prepared to enter, […] even if all our 500 white students were to ask for dismissal on that account.”


  • Emma Sheffield Eastman becomes Cornell’s first female graduate.

  • Dr. Estevan Fuertes, originally from Puerto Rico, becomes Cornell’s first dean and professor of civil engineering. He leads the construction of Cornell’s first observatory (located on the Arts Quad) and is the namesake of the current (and fourth) Fuertes Observatory built in 1917 on North Campus.

  • Club Brasileiro, Cornell’s earliest known student cultural organization, is founded by Brazilian students. Comprised of over 20 members, the organization publishes a monthly newsletter in Portuguese. 


  • Cornell admits Jennie Spencer, becoming the first co-educational school in the Ivy League, but according to the story, with no lodging available near the campus, she had to withdraw.

  • Kanaye Nagasawa becomes the first Japanese student to enroll at Cornell. 

  • Cornell begins offering Chinese and Japanese language courses.


  • William Bowler, from Haiti, becomes Cornell’s first student of African descent.


  • Ezra Cornell states that he wants to "have girls educated in the university as well as boys so that they may have the same opportunity [sic] to become wise and useful to society that the boys are [sic]."


  • Cornell University is founded.