At a glance

Special Collections & University Archives


Stanford Stories from the Archives: 1891–2016

Logo version of poster design for Stanford Stories exhibition

To celebrate the university’s 125th anniversary the Stanford University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, presents Stanford Stories from the Archives, featuring letters, photographs, publications, objects, and ephemera that show the evolution and unique aspects of student life on the Farm. The primary exhibition and three smaller satellite shows will be mounted in Green Library and the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

Opening October 6, 2016, exhibit cases in the Green Library Rotunda explore specific topics central to the Stanford experience: Student Traditions, Activism, Housing, Overseas Study, and Fieldwork. Those in the adjacent 2nd floor Peterson Gallery examine student life decade by decade beginning with the Pioneer Class. The south lobby of Green Library’s east wing features a display of “Stanford Athletic Firsts.” Beginning October 20, 2016, “Stanford Innovators” will be on display in the Bender Room, and the Arrillaga Alumni Center will feature “Incomparable: The Stanford Band.”

By exploring the decade-by-decade cases reaching back to 1891, viewers will witness how profoundly changed student life today is compared to the University’s early years. Back then, co-founder Jane Stanford invited students to socialize in her home (“Only students expected / Dancing,” she wrote in a handwritten letter to President David Starr Jordan in 1903), enrollment was tuition-free, and cars were politely discouraged beyond the entrance gates to prevent the horses from spooking. Racial and ethnic diversity was minimal: the vast majority of students were of Caucasian descent (the Pioneer class boasted a single African American and a handful of Japanese American students, all male), and a curfew and strict code of conduct regulated the lives of coeds. The ban on automobiles was lifted in 1914, tuition in the amount of $40 per quarter was introduced in 1920, and the student body gradually diversified, in large part due to student activist demands beginning in the 1960s. Social regulations for female students endured into the mid-1960s, when a rent strike forced the university to allow off-campus housing for women.

Despite the significant differences between Stanford student life of yore and of today, similarities abound, especially concerning student engagement with and responses to natural and world events: earthquakes, floods, wars, and racial, sexual, and economic injustices to name a few. As evidenced by the holdings of the University Archives, then as now, Stanford students get involved. On display are a student pass-card for participation in San Francisco relief efforts following the 1906 earthquake and fire, a WWI volunteer ambulance corps application and arm patch for those who served on the front lines, and photographs of WWII military training in the heart of campus, as well as students picketing on the library lawn against nuclear testing in the late 1950s. Vietnam War-era opposition to conscription and weapons research, civil rights,  activism, and the beginnings of sexual liberation and gender politics are represented in artifacts such as a 1966 mimeographed flier voicing impassioned opposition to selective service testing, a handwritten letter from the student-initiated Stanford Sexual Rights Forum to Stanford News Service Director Bob Beyers, informing him of the group’s intention to demand access to birth control and support the rights of homosexuals, and a typescript of the “ten demands” issued by members of the Black Student Union following the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Traditions and student amusements, entertainment, and creative endeavors get exposure throughout the exhibit, but a strong current of social activism, and of students taking charge of charting the direction of their own educations, runs through the Stanford Stories from the Archives: 1891–2016 exhibit in Green Library’s Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda.

The curatorial team for the primary exhibit has selected for display documents, photographs, and audiovisual clips, by turns charming and alarming by contemporary standards, that reflect the attitudes of their time, attest to the comparative simplicity of campus life a century or even a half-century ago, invite discussion, and challenge viewers—in looking back at how things were and how and why they’ve changed—to consider what’s ahead.

The Archives has partnered with graduate students in the Documentary Filmmaking program to create a short virtual reality film titled “Moments of Innovation: A Stanford Virtual Experience,” which weaves Stanford past and present into a unique visual experience. The movie will be viewable on YouTube and on an Oculus Rift in the David Rumsey Map Center, located on the 4th floor of Green Library Bing Wing and open weekdays from 1-5 p.m. 

An online version of Stanford Stories from the Archives will be live at as of October 6, 2016.

Subtext to the telling of these stories is a request that alumni and other members of the Stanford community consider donating—or loaning for selective scanning—materials related to their time on the Farm: scrapbooks, photographs, letters, fliers, audio and video recordings, among other formats. Student life represents one of the most difficult aspects of the Stanford experience to document, and as the steward of Stanford’s institutional memory, the University Archives proactively collects these ephemeral stories and materials. “Help ensure your story is told as part of the larger Stanford story” is a prevailing theme of the main exhibit and its satellites. To learn how to share your materials with the Archives, please visit or email

A public reception is planned for Wednesday, October 6 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Green Library Bing Wing Rotunda.

Exhibit cases are illuminated daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open; hours vary with the academic schedule. To confirm library hours, call 650-723-0931 or go to

For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

The exhibition is free and open to the public; first-time visitors and those without Stanford ID must register at the entrance to Green Library before entering the building.