Our Place in History

You probably wouldn’t have guessed that Boston University began as a Methodist seminary in Vermont. Originally named the Newbury Biblical Institute, the school moved to New Hampshire in 1847 and was chartered as Boston University in 1869 after three trustees successfully brought the school to Massachusetts.

  • In 1875, BU professor Alexander Graham Bell received a year’s salary advance to pursue his research. The following year, he invented the telephone in a BU lab.
  • BU established the nation’s first academic program in public relations in 1947.
  • In 1965, Boston University established the nation’s first combined cancer research and teaching laboratory at its Medical Center.
  • In 1971, Boston University began a collaboration with the Framingham Heart Study, the largest project to study the root causes of cardiovascular disease, following three generations of participants in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. BU continues this collaboration today.
  • In 1985, Professor Charles DeLisi initiated what would become the Human Genome Project.

Women’s Rights

  • BU was the first university to open all divisions to female students (1872).
  • Boston University Medical College was the first coeducational medical college in the world (1873).
  • BU was the first American university to award a PhD to a woman, classical scholar Helen Magil (1877).

Civil Rights

  • Rebecca Lee, the first black woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. (and perhaps the world), graduated in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College, which became a part of Boston University.
  • African-born Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, an 1897 graduate of the School of Medicine, became the nation’s first black psychiatrist and the first person in the U.S. to perform significant research on Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • In 1953, Howard Thurman became Dean of Marsh Chapel, the first black dean at a predominantly white university.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received his PhD in Theology from BU in 1955. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he presented his manuscripts, records and personal papers to the University’s Mugar Memorial Library.

Interested in learning more about our history?

The Boston University Timeline covers everything from the origins of Rhett the Terrier to our first Rhodes Scholar.