John Evans (1814–1897) founded the Colorado Seminary in 1864, which later became the University of Denver (DU). He also founded Northwestern University in 1854. Evans was a physician, railroad builder, educator, lawyer, state legislator and a territorial governor.
John Evans was born on March 9, 1814 in Waynesville, Ohio. He graduated from Lynn Medical College in Cincinnati in 1838. Evans began practicing medicine in Attica, Indiana in 1838 and specialized in obstetrics. He became the leader in the movement to establish the first state hospital for the insane in Indiana. In 1845 the hospital was opened and Evans was appointed the first superintendent of the hospital. That same year Evans was asked to present a series of lectures at Rush Medical College in Chicago. In 1848 he joined the faculty of Rush Medical College as Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, a position he held until 1857. He was elected to the Chicago City Council in 1852 where he championed public schools and a juvenile justice center. Evans founded Northwestern University in 1855 in Evanston, Illinois. In 1862 he was appointed the second Governor of the Colorado Territory by President Abraham Lincoln. He founded the Colorado Seminary (University of Denver) in 1864 and was elected to the United States Senate in 1865.
John Evans opened the Colorado Seminary in 1864 as an educational institution under the Methodist Church. He modeled Colorado Seminary after the charter he created for Northwestern University. In 1868, the operation of the Seminary was suspended due to monetary constraints. Evans bought and maintained the seminary building after the institution was closed. In 1879 Evans initiated a plan to re-open the Seminary. A new Board of Trustees was set up and Evans was elected President. In 1880 he donated the Seminary property to the new Board of Trustees. On June 24, 1880, the University of Denver was added to the Colorado Seminary name as the degree granting institution by an action of the trustees.
On October 4, 1880 the Colorado Seminary, popularly known as the University of Denver, re-opened with 30 students. The institution ranged from primary grades to academic (university) departments. The university started with a College of Liberal Arts, College of Music, College of Fine Arts and the Colorado Seminary. Over time other colleges were added, such as the College of Medicine in 1881, the Dental College and School of Pharmacy in 1887, the Haish School of Manual Training in 1888, followed by the Law School in 1892 and the School of Theology in 1893. Evans served as president of the University of Denver Board of Trustees from 1879 to 1897.
Evans wrote papers for the Illinois Medical and Surgical Journal, now known as Northwestern Medical and Surgical Journal. One of his articles was entitled “Observations on the Asiatic Cholera and Its Communicable Nature,” (1849). He was also one of the founders of the Illinois Medical Society. From 1848 he was active in founding the Illinois General Hospital of the Lakes, which later became Mercy Hospital of Chicago. In 1866 he had one of his papers reprinted to support his request to the U.S. Congress for the establishment of quarantine regulations to control the spread of cholera. The paper was entitled “Cholera is Subject to No Boundaries Except Those That Prevent Human Intercourse.” His efforts were adopted by Congress and led to a national quarantine law.
Evans was named president of the Denver Pacific Railroad and Telegraph Company after he procured from Congress the passage of the Denver Pacific Land Grant that gave Colorado railroad rights. He was instrumental in the development of the Denver, Texas, and Gulf Railroad. The City of Denver named Mt. Evans (14,260 ft.) after him through an 1895 legislative act in honor of his contributions to the railroad industry. The City of Evanston, Illinois was also named after him because of his influence on the life of the city and the founding of Northwestern University. Evans was one of the organizers of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade. He was also instrumental in the move of Colorado’s capitol from Golden to Denver. Evans died in 1897. Upon his death, his assets were split almost evenly between Northwestern University ($180,000) and the University of Denver, with more than $150,000.
Biographical Files: John Evans, Special Collections (Denver: University of Denver Penrose Library).
John Evans, Who’s Who in American History, in the Penrose Digital Library, http://search.marquiswhoswho.com/executable/SearchResults.aspx?db=E (accessed July 29, 2010).