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Henry Durant

Death: Died
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Son of Henry Durant and Lucy Durant

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About Henry Durant

Henry Durant (Acton, Massachusetts, June 18, 1802 – Oakland, California, January 22, 1875) was the founding president of the University of California.


Graduate of Yale College. Trained at Phillips Academy, Andover, and the Andover Theological Seminary, he founded the Contra Costa Academy, later chartered as the College of California after leaving his position as headmaster of the Dummer Academy (today known as The Governor's Academy) in Byfield, Mass. The college later disincorporated and merged with the state of California's Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College to create the University of California in 1868 (now the Berkeley campus of the UC system). Durant was elected the first president of the University on August 16, 1870 and resigned only two years later in order to relinquish the position to a younger man (Daniel Coit Gilman). Old age did not keep Durant from being elected the 16th mayor of Oakland, although he only served for three years before dying in office, on January 22, 1875.


Henry Durant, Congregational clergyman, and first President of the University (1870-72), was born in Acton, Massachusetts on June 18,1802. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University, graduating in 1827. While studying for the ministry at the Yale Theological Seminary, he tutored at the university. He was ordained pastor of the Byfield, Massachusetts, Congregational Church in 1883, and, in that same year, married Mary E. Buffett of Stanwich, Connecticut. After 16 years in the ministry, he resigned his pastorate to become head of the Dummer Academy at Byfield, a position which he held from 1849-52.

When California was admitted to the Union in 1850, Durant became absorbed in ideas for the development of higher education in the new land. His decision to come west may have been hastened by the death of his daughter.

Durant arrived in San Francsico by ship May 1, 1853 shortly before a joint session of the Congregational Association of California and the Presbytery of San Francisco at Nevada City. Encouraged by his fellow clergymen at this meeting, he rented a house in the young community of Oakland on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, and on June 6, opened the Contra Costa Academy as a private school for boys. In April, 1855, the school was chartered as the College of California.

In 1860, the College of California began instruction with Durant as professor of Greek and Latin.

In 1867, the College of California offered to disincorporate and give the state its lands and properties in order that the state's resources for higher education could be combined into a true university. When this offer was accepted by the state, it was implemented by a report prepared by a committee of which Durant was a member. This report was expanded in the Organic Act that brought the University of California into being on March 23, 1868.

On August 16, 1870, the Regents elected Durant as first President of the University. He undertook the office with zest, but as his 70th birthday approached in the summer of 1872, he observed that the upbuilding of the new university required the energies of a younger man and resigned his position.

Following his resignation, he engaged in real estate enterprises. He was elected mayor of Oakland and while serving in this office died suddenly on January 22, 1875.

Durant left no writings. His contribution was the unceasing effort which brought into existence the College of California and the University of California.

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Henry Durant's Timeline

Age 73