—USC — University of Southern California —
Los Angeles was a rough and tumble frontier town in the 1870s, when a group of public-spirited citizens first dreamed of establishing a university
in the region. Led by Judge Robert Maclay Widney and members of the region's
Methodist Episcopal Conference, those who were eager for the region to advance
enthusiastically supported the idea. Twice
during the decade, prominent citizens came through with land for the new university, but both times the donors died before the transactions could be carried out. A faltering economy further delayed the project. But during the last years of the decade, the economy began to improve, and the Methodist Episcopal Conference revived in earnest its plans for a university in Southern California.
In 1879, three civic leaders—Ozro W. Childs, a Protestant horticulturalist; John G. Downey, h Irish-Catholic pharmacist who had served as governor of
California from 1860 to 1862; and lsaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish banker and philanthropist—deeded 308 lots to the Board of Trustees, located in an area designated "West Los Angeles," near the intersection of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard. Sales of the lots were to create an endowment to provide seeds of financial support for the institution. A portion of the land, located within the original land grant establishing
"El Pueblo de la Reina (Reyna) de Los Angeles," was to be reserved for the actual campus.
Some 1,000 people—10 percent of the population of Los Angeles—turned out on September 4, 1880 to witness the laying of the cornerstone for USC's first building. By the time that building (now known as Widney Alumni House) opened its doors, many of these people had joined Childs, Downey and Hellman as USC's first benefactors. Judge Widney was the first president of the USC Board of Trustees, and the Rev. Marion McKinley Bovard was the university's first president.