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The University of Virginia was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was built on land originally owned by America's fifth president, and trustee of the university, James Monroe. Jefferson envisioned the university as a center of knowledge separate from religious influence. Although Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, he became unhappy with the institution because of its emphasis on religion over science.
A New Educational Experience
Jefferson's University of Virginia would prove an entirely different educational experience than of typical universities of the time. First, students could attend any of eight independent schools where they could focus on medicine, law, chemistry, ancient languages, modern languages, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy. The university would become the first to allow students to focus their educations on astronomy, architecture, botany, philosophy, and political science. In most other universities, student choices were limited to law, medicine, or divinity.
Jefferson's Proudest Achievement
The University of Virginia was the first university to be centered around a library instead of a church. The university reflected Jefferson’s strong position concerning a separation of church and state and lacked a school of divinity. Jefferson believed religion stifled education and that the University of Virginia would be a place “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” It held its first classes on March 7, 1825. Jefferson was intimately involved with the university and often hosted dinners for faculty and students at his nearby home, Monticello. Jefferson was so proud of his university, that he included “Father of the University of Virginia” on his gravestone.