When was Duke Founded?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of Duke building with a brick facade.

When was Duke Founded?

When was Duke founded? Duke University was founded in the year 1838 and is traced back to a little school that opened its doors in Randolph County, North Carolina. It was initially known as the Union Institute Academy and served as a preparatory school for young men.

In 1851, the state of North Carolina allowed the institution to operate as a teaching college and gave it the name Normal College. In the year 1859, the institution underwent another transition when it decided to seek financial support from the Methodist Church. Trinity College is the new moniker for the educational institution following the announcement of the new affiliation.

Braxton Craven served as the institution’s principal and later president from 1842 to 1882, during which time he oversaw the transformation of the establishment from a humble schoolhouse into a full-fledged college. Shortly before he passed away, he was instrumental in establishing the Cherokee Industrial School at Trinity College.

This school was one of many that were established in the United States with the intention of “westernizing” indigenous students; in this particular instance, the students were boys and young men from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The School at Trinity only operated for a short period of time. It is essential to point out that in the years leading up to the Civil War, Craven was responsible for the enslavement of multiple people of African descent, as did a number of the institution’s teaching members and trustees.

John F. Crowell, who served as president of Trinity College from 1887 until 1894, proposed that the institution be relocated to a more urban area in the hopes of attracting a larger number of students, teachers, and donors. The board agreed to move the college after being encouraged to do so by Crowell. In 1892, after a heated competition between several cities in the region, Trinity University opened its doors in Durham.

Signage of Duke University placed on a tree.

The local tobacco barons Washington Duke and Julian S. Carr were instrumental in Trinity’s acquisition of both land and financial resources. In 1897, in response to a request made by Washington Duke, the school began accepting women as regular students, becoming one of the earliest examples of a co-educational institution. In recognition of Carr’s dedication to Trinity College, a wing of the campus was renamed in his honor in the year 1930. Due to the severe white supremacist ideas and behaviors that he held, his name was scrubbed from the list in 2018.

Trinity was able to flourish in its new site, and in 1924, the institution underwent yet another transformation as a result of philanthropic contributions. James Buchanan Duke, son of Washington Duke, established the philanthropic organization now known as the Duke Endowment, which in turn provided financial support to the college. In order to honor his father, the board of trustees of Trinity College decided to rename the institution Duke University.

The newly acquired monies allowed for the creation of a brand new campus, which was designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer to be in the Gothic style. Julian Abele, a Black architect whose involvement in constructing the architecture of Duke University was largely disregarded during his lifetime, served as the principal designer of both the West Campus and the re-envisioned East Campus. Both of these campuses were designed by Abele. In 2016, the primary quadrangle located on West Campus was honored by having its name changed to the Abele Quad.

This transformation from a simple college into an intricate university was supervised by President William P. Few, who served from 1910 until 1940. In 1930, the grounds of the all-male Trinity College moved to the East Campus, which is now known as the Woman’s College. The Trinity College campus continued to be located on the West Campus at this time. In 1972, both the college for men and the college for women at Trinity College were amalgamated into what is today known as the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

Other schools include the School of Religion and Graduate School, which was established in 1926; the School of Medicine and Hospital, which was established in 1930; and the School of Nursing, which was established in 1931. The Law School was first formed in 1904, and it underwent a reorganization in 1930. 1938 was the year that saw the opening of what is now known as the Nicholas School of the Environment, and 1939 was the year that saw the university establish what is now known as the Pratt School of Engineering.

When the building that is now known as the Fuqua School of Business opened its doors in 1969, the final of James B. Duke’s hopes and dreams for the institution came true. In 2005, Duke University opened its tenth school, which was called the Sanford School of Public Policy. The school was given its current name in honor of President Terry Sanford, who served as the former governor of North Carolina. During the 1970s and 1980s, President Sanford supported several initiatives that helped build Duke University’s reputation for academic excellence, thereby increasing the university’s national and international profile.

Part of the history and how Duke was founded, it is vital to also know that after a long period of segregation, Duke University began accepting Black students in 1961 for its graduate and professional programs and in 1963 for its undergraduate program.

During the year 1968, a significant student movement known as the Vigil advocated improved working conditions and higher wages for hourly employees, the majority of whom were people of color. The Allen Building Takeover was a student protest that took place in 1969 and is now known as the Allen Building Protest. The protesters demanded better services and treatment for black students. The uprising led to the establishment of a department that would later become known as the Department of African and African American Studies.

The faculty of Duke University is responsible for producing influential scholarships in a wide variety of academic fields and professional fields. Robert Lefkowitz, a professor at Duke, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012, and Paul Modrich, a professor at Duke, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2015. Researchers from Duke University have led the way in mapping the human chromosome and researching potential treatments for HIV and AIDS.

Two students talking in a desk with a laptop.

In addition, Though we’re trying to know “When was Duke founded?”, the faculty at Duke conducts research on critical societal problems, creating high-impact scholarship on subjects including election districting and public health. The writers of books written by members of the faculty have been recognized with accolades ranging from the National Book Award to the Pulitzer Prize.

Their works include both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry. Fifty faculty members from Duke University are also members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. During their time at Duke, students have several opportunities to collaborate with prominent faculty members in research labs and on projects, ensuring that they gain valuable practical experience.

Over the course of the past few decades, international programs have grown, which has increased the number of international students attending Duke University in Durham and more chances for Duke students to study abroad. The Duke-NUS Medical School was established in 2005 through a collaborative effort between Duke University and the National University of Singapore.

At Duke Kunshan University, doctoral programs were the first to begin operation in 2014, followed by undergraduate programs in 2018. Duke Kunshan University (DKU) is a joint venture between Duke University and Wuhan University in Kunshan, China.

Since Duke was founded in 1838, the university has undergone significant transformations, and similar to other traditionally white educational institutions, it continues to struggle with problems relating to racism, sexism, and other inclusion and equality issues.

More than half of the current student body is comprised of students of color and students from different countries and regions. Even Duke’s birthplace of Durham has experienced expansion and transformation, and the two institutions now work together on issues ranging from community service to the revitalization of downtown.

What is Duke Known for?

Outside of the classroom, interdisciplinary work is encouraged by the academic philosophy of the institution. Because of this, Duke University provides its students with a conducive environment in which to investigate the world around them, including academics, athletics, and the arts.

Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering are the names of the undergraduate schools that are offered by Duke University. At Duke University, approximately 80% of first-year students are associated with the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, while the remaining 20% are associated with the Pratt School of Engineering.

It is the foundation of a Duke education since it was founded in 1838 that each and every student spends at least some of their time studying within the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Students gain transferable skills such as critical thinking, the ability to look at issues from a variety of angles, thoughtful analysis, and effective communication by participating in these classes. These competencies are applicable in a wide variety of academic disciplines and professional arenas.

Young woman using a laptop while sitting.

The academic programs that can be pursued at Duke University include a total of 53 majors, 52 minors, and 23 different certificates. The majors at Duke include a diverse array of topics, ranging from African and African American Studies to Visual Arts. Approximately twenty percent of undergraduates at Duke University seek a double major; nevertheless, double majors between the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering are unusual.

Undergraduate students often choose to participate in the 4+1 program offered by the Pratt School of Engineering. Students who enroll in the 4+1 program can earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in the field of engineering in as little as five years combined. Every single master’s degree that Pratt has to offer can be completed through this program.

Program II is unique to Duke. Program II is not your typical major; rather, it is an individualized degree path that gives students the opportunity to investigate a particular area of scholarship. Frequently, this is an area of emerging knowledge or interdisciplinary scholarship that is not covered in any of the existing majors. Students collaborate with faculty members to devise curricula that can lead to either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science degree at the program’s conclusion.


The sport of basketball penetrates practically every part of life at Duke and holds a central place in the traditions of the university. Duke’s games versus its rival, UNC, which is located just eight miles down the road, are some of the most exciting times of the year. On the basketball court, Duke and UNC have competed against one another for close to a century and do so a minimum of twice per year. The men’s basketball team at UNC is now ranked third in terms of victories, and the squad at Duke is currently ranked fourth, just below UNC.

The tradition that is most well-known off the court at Duke is called Last Day of Classes, or LDOC for short. It is a campus-wide party that takes place on the last day of classes and features music, the arts, and socializing. Performers who have graced the stage at LDOC in the past include the likes of Run DMC, The Roots, Wilco, Ludacris, Beck, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar.

When Cascada’s song “Everytime We Touch” is played, Duke students immediately stop whatever they are doing and begin singing, applauding, and dancing. This is one of Duke’s more unusual and more recent traditions. These phenomena got their start with the basketball team, but now the entire university participates in the ritual.

Extracurricular Activities

New students at Duke University run the danger of feeling detached and isolated due to the school’s long and storied history. Students at the institution are afforded a plethora of options to engage in social interaction with one another, which is a fortunate development.

Hoof’N’Horn is a student-run musical theater ensemble, and as such, it is considered to be one of the more humorous groups at Duke. Hoof’N’Horn has been bringing together students who have a passion for performance ever since it was founded in 1936.

The organization puts on two musicals each year, some of which are old standards like “The Wizard of Oz,” while others are more recent hits like “Into the Woods” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Female student holding her books in the school campus.

HackDuke is an annual charity coding event where computer whizzes may put their abilities to good use by contributing to the cause. Participants join together to brainstorm fresh approaches to enhancing their communities through the use of technology. Participants, in the process of launching their coding and design projects, try to make technology more approachable and helpful.

These two examples hardly scrape the surface of the myriad opportunities that are available at Duke. Students have the opportunity to get engaged in a group or event that caters to their particular interests and hobbies.

What Majors is Duke Known for?

Since Duke was founded in 1838, this private, non-profit university is consistently listed among the top 10 colleges in the United States and is well-known for the great programs that lead to a variety of degrees at all levels of education, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional. The Bachelor of Arts degree at Duke University can be earned in 71 different majors. Every program is conducted at the location itself. The following is a list of the top 10 majors that can be pursued at Duke University.

Bioengineering and Biomedical Science

Due to the fact that Duke University is recognized as one of the universities that place the most emphasis on research, it is a leader in the fields of bioengineering and biomedical science. The university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering works closely with Duke Medicine Clinical to provide students with one of the most comprehensive educational opportunities available in this area.

Students walking in the school campus.

The faculty of the Duke Department of Biological and Molecular Engineering is actively involved in a wide variety of research projects that aim to improve human health, ranging from the development of the first engineered blood vessels to the creation of the world’s first real-time, three-dimensional ultrasound diagnostic system.


At Duke University, the Department of Economics is both the largest and most prominent. Additionally, the program is often considered to be among the very best in the United States. Along with econometrics, microeconomic theory, and macroeconomic theory, as well as applied economics, the economics department of the school focuses on applied economics and also collaborates with prominent corporations in each of these areas.

Electrical and Electronics Engineering

Duke University’s Department of Electrical Engineering is now regarded as the sixth best in the United States. The study of electronics, its applications, and electromagnetism can be made significantly more effective thanks to the excellent programs and state-of-the-art infrastructure provided by the university.

Political Science

Students will learn to think critically and independently through the study of political science, which will better prepare them for careers in government and non-governmental organizations, consulting, journalism, communications, polling firms, finance, and business management, among other potential fields of employment.

Public Policy

Demand for the public policy program at Duke University has skyrocketed in recent years as a direct result of the growing shortage of qualified political leaders and policymakers. The public policy programs offered by the university are interdisciplinary in nature and are intended to educate future generations of capable leaders.


Trying to understand Duke’s founding opens a window into the history of one of America’s leading private research universities. Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University’s establishment is not just a chronological milestone but a reflection of a legacy that emphasizes academic excellence, interdisciplinary collaboration, and groundbreaking research. The answer to this question marks the genesis of an institution that has been instrumental in shaping modern education and research across various disciplines, from medicine and law to the humanities and engineering.

Knowing how Duke was founded resonates with scholars, students, and researchers alike, as it leads to an understanding of an institution that has continuously strived to push the boundaries of knowledge. Tracing the founding date of Duke allows us to appreciate how it evolved from its humble beginnings into a world-renowned university that has made significant contributions to society. By exploring the answer to this question, we unravel the rich history of a university that has become synonymous with innovation, community engagement, and educational leadership.

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