Florida State changes its founding date by six years

Florida State University students didn’t expect they would be celebrating a sesquicentennial at the same time as Northwestern. But after Florida State’s president changed the university’s founding date in March from 1857 to 1851, celebrate they will.

For more than 50 years, Florida State’s founding date was 1857. President Talbot D’Alemberte made the switch because he thought 1851 seemed more accurate, said Mark Riordan, assistant director of media relations at Florida State.

The new founding date is when Florida’s legislature chartered the creation of two seminaries in the state, the East Florida Seminary and the West Florida Seminary. The West Florida Seminary has gone through different names and founding dates, but has been known as Florida State since the late 1940s. Until recently, its founding year reflected the date when West Florida Seminary began classes.

East Florida Seminary also went through an identity crisis and today is the University of Florida, founded in 1853, the year that East Florida Seminary began classes.

During the early 1900s, both schools considered their founding dates to be 1905, said Carl Van Ness, university archivist at Florida. But in 1935, then-Florida President John James Tigert III wanted the university’s founding year moved back and settled on the year that East Florida Seminary was founded.

Following suit, the university that would become Florida State changed its founding date to 1857, the day that West Florida Seminary opened, Van Ness said.

Florida and Florida State have had an ongoing rivalry, and Florida State’s most recent founding date change makes it the oldest university in the state.

“It’s our fault, we started it,” Florida’s Van Ness said.

Of the latest Florida State founding date change, Van Ness said: “It looks kind of tacky.”

In response to accusations that Florida State changed its date to be older than Florida, Riordan said that was not the case. Both schools were created at the same time and one could not be older than the other, Riordan said.

NU’s founding year of 1851, however, has remained constant. Like Florida State, it is based on when the university was charted by the state of Illinois and officially came into existence.

Monica Metzler, director of NU’s sesquicentennial festivities, said more than one year can be used as the founding date for a university.

“You don’t start a university over a weekend,” Metzler said.

Starting a university is a large, long project, which makes a founding date difficult to determine, Metzler said.

NU had several different dates it could have chosen from besides 1851. For example, classes did not begin at NU until 1855.

“I understand (Florida State’s) dilemma of picking and choosing a date, but I think it goes a bit too far to officially claim that you are changing your founding date,” Metzler said.