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.”





  • Elbert Cox becomes the first Black person in the world to receive a PhD in mathematics, just 39 years after Cornell awarded its first Ph.D. in Mathematics (1886).


  • Mary Honor Donlon becomes the first woman editor-in-chief of any law review in the U.S. and edits three issues of the Cornell Law Quarterly: November 1919, January 1920, and March 1920.


  • The Rho Psi Society is established and is the first Asian American-based student society and the first club with Greek letters for Asian and Asian American students in the Ivy League. Rho Psi became national in 1925 and international in 1929.


  • Cornell chapter of the NAACP established.


  • Tomás Bautista Mapúa is the first Filipino to earn a degree in Architecture in the United States and the first registered architect in the Philippines.



  • Alpha Phi Alpha, the first Black Greek-lettered fraternity in the nation, is founded at Cornell University.


  • The Cosmopolitan Club is founded and is the first international students’ organization in this U.S., giving many foreign students a home at the university.


  • Sao-Ke Alfred Sze, Cornell’s first Chinese student, graduates. He later becomes the longest-term Chinese minister, China's first ambassador to the U.S., and a founding member of the World Bank.