Tulane 101: The origins of New Orleans’ oldest university 2018-07-25T12:35:21-05:00

Project Description

Tulane 101: The origins of New Orleans’ oldest university


The story of Tulane University begins in 1834, when the Medical College of Louisiana was founded to treat smallpox and diseases that came into New Orleans through the port. In 1847, the school became the University of Louisiana, a public institution. Paul Tulane, a philanthropist from Princeton, N.J., became part of the story in 1884, when he gave $1 million — the equivalent of $26.3 million today — “for the promotion and encouragement of intellectual, moral and industrial education.” The university was renamed in his honor and converted to a private school.


Tulane, New Orleans’ oldest institution of higher education, has 12,002 students, according to university figures for the 2017 spring semester. It also boasts 5,960 full-time employees, making it the largest private employer in the city.


  • In addition to its Uptown and downtown campuses in New Orleans, Tulane operates the F. Edward Hébert Research Center near Belle Chasse and the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington. The university’s School of Continuing Studies also has satellite campuses in Elmwood Business Park and in Biloxi, Miss., and Madison, Miss., although it plans to shut the Madison campus at the end of this semester.
  • Paul Tulane (1801-1887) became acquainted with — and impressed by — New Orleans during a three-year tour of the South in the early 1820s. He established a dry-goods and clothing business in New Orleans and invested in real estate in New Orleans and New Jersey.
  • For 120 years, the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for Women was part of Tulane. The undergraduate college — the first women’s coordinate college within an American university — was closed in 2006 as part of the university’s restructuring after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Katrina and the ensuing flood shut down the Uptown campus from late August 2005 until early January, and the medical school moved to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston for the rest of the 2005-06 academic year. Total damage at Tulane’s campuses amounted to about $650 million.
  • The school’s athletic teams were originally referred to as “The Olive and Blue,” after the school colors. In 1920, a football song titled “The Rolling Green Wave” was published in the university newspaper. The “Green Wave” name stuck, and it’s what the school’s teams are known by today.
  • According to university figures, tuition for a full-time first-year student in the 2017-18 academic year will be $52,960. If that student lives on campus, fees for such expenses as room, board and books will amount to about $17,000 more.


In addition to sending thousands of graduates into the world to work in a broad array of specialties, Tulane has made it a point to take an active role in shaping its hometown. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Scott Cowen, the president who engineered Tulane’s comeback after the devastating storm, made service in the community a requirement for graduation. He also was involved in forming the organization that bears his name — the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives — to develop innovative approaches to revitalize New Orleans’ public schools. In so doing, Tulane is ensuring that, in addition to being a part of New Orleans’ history, it is also a key part of the city’s future.