Transylvania University

Transylvania University
Transylvania University
Transylvania University Logo
Motto In Lumine Illo Tradimus Lumen
Motto in English In That Light, We Pass On The Light
Established 1780
Type Private Undergraduate liberal arts college
Endowment $112.9 million[1]
President R. Owen Williams
Admin. staff 100
Students 1,110[2]
Location Lexington, Kentucky, USA
Campus Urban
Athletics NCAA Division III
Nickname Transy
Mascot Pioneers

Transylvania University (also referred to as Transylvania or Transy) is a private, undergraduate liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky, United States, affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The school was founded in 1780. It offers 38 majors, and pre-professional degrees in engineering and accounting. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.



Transylvania, meaning "across the woods" in Latin, is most commonly referred to as "Transy." The name stems from Transylvania University's founding in the heavily-forested region of western Virginia known as the Transylvania colony, which became most of Kentucky in 1792.[3]

Transylvania University does not take its name from the Transylvania region in central Romania. However the college does celebrate this unique link to Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, in its celebration of Halloween during "Rafinesque Week".


Early years (1780–1865)

Transylvania University opened in 1780, after the Virginia Assembly adopted a charter establishing Transylvania Seminary.[4] Originally in a log cabin in Boyle County, Kentucky, the school moved to Lexington in 1789.[4] The first site in Lexington was a single building in the historic Gratz Park. In 1829, this building burned, and the school was moved to its present location north of Third Street. Old Morrison, the only campus building at the time, was completed in 1833, under the supervision of Henry Clay, who both taught law and was a member of Transylvania's Board.[5] After 1818, the university included a medical school, a law school, a divinity school, and a college of arts and sciences.[4][6]

The other major institution that aided in the creation of the modern Transylvania University was Bacon College, named after Sir Francis Bacon, which would later be known as Kentucky University. Bacon College existed from 1837–1851, founded by the Christian churches in Kentucky. Bacon College was a new entity separated from Georgetown College, a Baptist supported institution, but Bacon College inevitably closed due to lack of funding. Seven years later, in 1858, Bacon College's charter was amended to establish Kentucky University, and moved to donated land in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.[4][6]

Kentucky University (1865–1908)

Following the devastating American Civil War, Kentucky University was devastated by fire and both it and Transylvania University were in dire financial straits. In 1865, both institutions secured permission to merge. The new institution utilized Transylvania's campus in Lexington while perpetuating the name "Kentucky University".[4]

The university was reorganized around several new colleges, including the Agricultural and Mechanical College (A&M) of Kentucky, publicly chartered as a department of Kentucky University as a land-grant institution under the Morrill Act.[6] However, due to questions regarding the appropriateness of a federally funded land-grant college controlled by a religious body, the A&M college was spun off in 1878 as an independent, state-run institution. The A&M of Kentucky soon developed into one of the state's flagship public universities, the University of Kentucky.[6]

Kentucky University's College of the Bible, which traced its roots to Bacon College's Department of Hebrew Literature, also received its own charter in 1878. The Seminary became a separate institution, although it remained housed on the Kentucky University campus until 1950, later changing its name to the Lexington Theological Seminary. In 1903, Hamilton College, a Lexington-based women's college founded in 1869, merged into Kentucky University.[6]

Due to confusion between Kentucky University and its daughter institution the University of Kentucky, the institution adopted the eldest name in its lineage "Transylvania University" in 1908. This return of its former identity is an example of retrobranding.[4][7]

Modern era (1908–present)

In 1988, Transylvania University experienced an infringement on the institution's trademark when Hallmark Cards began selling Transylvania University T-shirts. The product, developed for the 1988 Halloween season, was intended to be a novelty item purporting to be college wear from Count Dracula's fictional alma mater. When contacted by the actual Transylvania University, Hallmark apologetically admitted that they were not aware of the Kentucky-based institution and recalled all unsold product immediately.[7]

The school is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Originally it was founded by Christ Episcopal Church's rector (The Rev. MOORE), and then became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, followed by the Disciples of Christ (which was founded after Transylvania).[citation needed]


Transylvania University is ranked 88th among the nation's liberal arts colleges according to U.S. News & World Report.[8] The Princeton Review ranked Transylvania 1st among colleges with a "Major Frat and Sorority Scene." [9] In 2009, Forbes ranked it 85th of America's Best Colleges.[10]


The college is located on a 48-acre (19.4-hectare) campus about 4 blocks from downtown Lexington, Kentucky. It has 24 buildings, 3 athletic fields, 4 dining areas, and a National Historic Landmark.[11] The campus is divided in two by North Broadway, with the east side of Broadway containing the university’s academic buildings, and the west side containing the majority of the residential buildings.

Academic buildings

Mitchell Fine Arts Center

The Mitchell Fine Arts Center is the home of the university’s music program and provides offices and classrooms for the drama and music programs. It contains a large concert hall, a small theater, a recital hall, the Morlan Gallery, the Rafskeller (sic - see "Traditions") dining facility, the music technology classroom, and the Career Development Center.[12]

Morlan Gallery

The Morlan Gallery hosts six to seven art exhibitions every year during the academic calendar. It primarily serves as a gallery for exhibiting contemporary art including Appalachian Folk art, Chinese art, contemporary African art, sculptural installations, and performance and video pieces. The gallery offers guided tours and lectures for school groups, civic clubs, and senior citizen organizations.[13]

J. Douglas Gay Jr./Frances Carrick Thomas Library

Originally completed in 1952 with a dedication from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the building was renovated and had an addition added in 1985 with a re-dedication from then Vice President George H. W. Bush.

The Special Collections of the library houses a manuscript collection with letters, diaries, and documents of notable historical figures associated with the university including Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis, Robert Peter, John Wesley Hunt, Daniel Drake, and Horace Holley. The rare books section houses a collection of books relating to the history of horses and natural history, as well as a collection of pre-1800 medical books.[14] The books belonging to the Transylvania Medical Department, which closed in 1859, are now kept in special collections.

Residential buildings

Thomson Hall

The newest residential building on campus, Thomson Hall was opened in the fall of 2008. It received Energy Star rating in 2009. It serves as a residential building for upper-class students that meet a certain GPA requirement and features 31 suite style living-units which include study areas, living rooms, kitchenettes, bathrooms, and bedrooms. The building is three stories tall, has 28,000 square feet (2,600 m2) of space, and cost $5.5 million. Thomson Hall was built to be an environmentally friendly building and it exceeds state insulating value requirements by 28 percent. It has geothermal heating and energy, low flow shower heads, a total energy recovery wheel on outside ventilation, fifty percent recycled material in the parking lot surface, and energy saving lighting.[15]

1780 Café

Formerly located in the basement of Henry Clay Hall but moved to the ground floor of Thomson Hall in 2008, the 1780 Café offers students a place to eat after the campus dining center closes for the night. It is open from 7 p.m. until midnight, Sunday through Thursday.[16]

Other buildings

Old Morrison

Old Morrison

Built in 1833 under the supervision of Henry Clay who was serving as Transylvania’s law professor, Old Morrison is the main administration building for the university. The building, designed by pioneer Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock is National Historic Landmark and is featured on the city seal of Lexington. It houses the offices of financial aid, the president, admissions, the registrar, communications, accounting, alumni, development, and sustainability. During the Civil War, Old Morrison served as a hospital for Union and Confederate soldiers.[17] Old Morrison was gutted by fire in 1969 but was renovated and reopened in 1971. The building also houses the tomb of Constantine Rafinesque, who was a natural science professor at the university from 1819 to 1826, and Sauveur Francois Bonfils, who taught at the university from 1842-49. A native of France, he was apparently forced to flee due to political discord.[18]

Glenn Building

The Glenn Building was constructed as a multi-purpose building in 2005 and houses the campus bookstore, a coffee shop, and expansion space for the library. It was named in honor of James F. Glenn, a Board of Trustees member who donated $1.1 million for its construction. It utilizes an environmentally friendly geothermal heating and air conditioning system and several mature trees near the site were preserved during construction.[19]

Student activities

Fraternities and sororities

Transylvania has a thriving Greek life on campus, with four fraternities and four sororities on campus. Over half of the students are members of a Greek organization.[20] Each chapter is represented on either the Interfraternity Council (fraternities) or the Panhellenic Association (sororities). In its 2011 edition of "The Best 373 Colleges", the Princeton Review named Transylvania number 1 on its list of colleges with "A Major Frat or Sorority Scene" [21] In 2010, the school was named number 1 in percentage of Greek students on campus.




Rafinesque Week

Thanks to Transylvania’s unusual name and the on-campus tomb of two 19th-century professors, Halloween has become a week-long celebration at Transylvania. Known as Rafinesque Week in honor of the 19th-century botanist, inventor, and Transylvania professor Constantine Rafinesque, the college ends October with a unique combination of activities including ghost stories, a haunted house, a flag football tournament, and a lottery for four students to win the chance to spend the night in Rafinesque’s tomb.[22]

In honor of the colorful professor, the downstairs grill in the Mitchell Fine Arts Building is called the "Rafskeller" instead of the traditional Rathskeller.

Orientation Weekend

The weekend before classes start in the fall is known as Orientation Weekend. During this time new students move in before upperclassmen, and are given the opportunity to learn about the campus and customs of Transylvania. They take part in community building exercises including a serenade of the first-year women by the first-year men on the steps of Old Morrison and a greet line, where every first-year student goes down the line and shakes hands with every other first-year student.

Kissing Tree

Just outside of the library, there stands a white ash tree estimated to be approximately 260 years old, 35 years older than the university itself. In the 1940s and 1950s, the administration turned a blind eye to couples kissing in public here, at a time when it was frowned upon elsewhere on campus. The romance of the site developed further as a tradition of couples kissing under the tree grew.[23] Today, with the rules on public displays of affection slackened, the tradition isn’t as significant as it once was, but alumni from the 1940s and 1950s remember what the tree represented for them. Students today still refer to the tree as the Kissing Tree. In 2003 The Chronicle of Higher Education included the Kissing Tree among the most romantic places on college campuses in America and it was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article about romance on college campuses.[24]

Notable alumni

Notable faculty

  • Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, a professor of botany at Transylvania University in 1819, teaching French and Italian as well. His tomb is on campus. Each Halloween, students celebrate "Rafinesque Week," which includes bonfires, mock awards, ghost tours of campus and as the culmination of the week, four students chosen from a lottery will spend the night in the tomb of Rafinesque in Old Morrison, the school's administration building.

Popular culture

  • Transylvania University is the setting for part of the novel All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren.
  • The university was immortalized in Robert Lowell's sonnet "The Graduate (Elizabeth)". The poem states glibly that 'Transylvania's Greek Revival Chapel/ is one of the best Greek Revival things in the South.'

See also


  1. ^ According to the Transylvania University Official Website the endowment as of November 2010 [1]
  2. ^ According to the Transylvania University Official Website, for the student body in fall 2010 [2]
  3. ^ "Transylvania University's Name". Transylvania University. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Transylvania and the Christian Church". Transylvania University. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  5. ^ "Old Morrison, Administrative Building". Transylvania University. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "The Early History of Transylvania University: An Archetype of Restoration Movement Institutions of Higher Education". James M Owston. 1998. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  7. ^ a b "Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher Education". James M Owston. 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-09. 
  8. ^ "Transylvania University - US News & World Report". US News & World Report. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  9. ^ "Top 10 Schools With the Most Intense Greek Life". The Princeton Review, via Encarta. Retrieved 2008-11-19. [dead link]
  10. ^ "America's Best Colleges". 
  11. ^ Transy Campus. Retrieved 11/1/2010
  12. ^ Mitchell Fine Arts Center. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  13. ^ About Morlan Gallery. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  14. ^ J. Douglas Gay Jr./Frances Carrick Thomas Library Special Collections. Retrieved 10/29/2010 [3]
  15. ^ Thomson Hall Information Page. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  16. ^ 1780 Cafe information page. Retrieved 10/28/2010
  17. ^ Old Morrison Administration Building. Retrieved 10/29/2010
  18. ^ Boewe, Charles "Who's Buried in Rafinesque's Tomb?" The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 111, No. 2 (Apr. 1987) pg 220
  19. ^ The Glenn Building. Retrieved 11/29/2010
  20. ^ [4]
  21. ^ "Top Ten Schools with the Most Intense Greek Life." Microsoft Encarta.[dead link]
  22. ^ "Barefootin’ it for Rafinesque, Transylvania University Magazine, Fall 2005". Transylvania University. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  23. ^ The Kissing Tree. Transylvania University Campus Information
  24. ^ Shellenbarger, Sue "What is Love? Student Eschew Campus Romance," Wall Street Journal Jan 31 2008. Retrieved on 11-10-2010 [5]
  25. ^ "Governor's Information: Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin". Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 

External links

Coordinates: 38°03′09″N 84°29′38″W / 38.052379°N 84.49387°W / 38.052379; -84.49387

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