Today’s blog post was inspired by @BenjaminMerry who tweeted “Got a letter in the mail inviting me to apply to Lincoln Memorial University. We name schools after objects now?”
Okay here is a history lesson for anyone who might wonder who or what Lincoln Memorial University is named for and how the University came to be (Hint- Abraham Lincoln had a hand in our founding). Benjamin, I guess that means you.
First, I would like to note that Lincoln Memorial University is one of thousands of dots on maps across the country that bears the name of our 16th president. There are automobiles (Lincoln), toys (Lincoln Logs), cities, towns, tunnels, battleships, vessels and forts. There are Lincoln Counties in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Bottom line, LMU is not original. Or is it?
Lincoln Memorial University is nestled in the heart of the Cumberland Gap, where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge. How a college came about in this setting is a testament to President Abraham Lincoln and a group of determined visionaries near the end of the 19th century. During the Civil War this area around the Cumberland Gap remained staunchly loyal to the Federal Government. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln met with General O.O. Howard and expressed his desire to repay that loyalty after the war. Remembering that comment, on February 12, 1897, Howard helped charter Lincoln Memorial University as a living memorial to Abraham Lincoln. The University’s mission would be to provide educational opportunities to the then isolated citizens of Appalachia.
Monuments and memorials to the slain President began popping up immediately following his assassination. And demands for a national monument were voiced well before Congress passed the first bill to provide for planning and funding for the endeavor in 1867. The initial design never gained the support needed to see it through and hope for a national memorial fell into doubt. It wasn’t until December 13, 1910, that a final bill passed. The Lincoln Memorial Commission had its first meeting the following year under President William Howard Taft.
From the time the Civil War ended to 1912 when the national monument for Lincoln got off the ground, many schools, tunnels, roads and memorials here dedicated throughout the Northern Union states. Naturally, the Southern Confederate states were less apt to honor the “Great Emancipator.” But, in Tennessee one remained that Lincoln himself had a hand in creating.
Now, back to Benjamin’s original query: ‘We name schools after objects now?’ Though I am sure that there are some colleges out there named after an object, Lincoln Memorial University is not one of them. In fact, as a member of our communications team, I stress that we always refer to ourselves as Lincoln Memorial University or LMU, just to be sure there is no confusion with the Lincoln Memorial.
That is not to say we aren’t big fans of the Lincoln Memorial, because we certainly are. Every year we have the honor of being the only educational institution to lay a wreath at the wreath laying ceremony in honor of Lincoln’s birthday. The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on the LMU main campus also contains a number of Lincoln Memorial artifacts. Our collection includes a casting used in sculptor Daniel Chester French’s studio during the design of the interior sculptor around 1916. The casting was a working model, never meant for display and is one of a handful of such that exist. Several poses were proposed during the design process and the LMU French casting is actually very close to the final marble figure.
So to answer the great debate of which came first, LMU, with a founding date of 1897, wins over the Lincoln Memorial, with a completion date of 1922. But no matter where we stand in the chronology of entities named after the 16th president, we wear his name proudly.