FACT CHECK: Is This Story About The Origins Of Stanford University True?

Hannah Hudnall | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on Facebook claims Leland Stanford and his wife established Stanford University after being denied the ability to erect a memorial for their deceased son on Harvard University’s campus.

Verdict: False

Both Stanford University and Harvard University have confirmed the story is fabricated. The photo in the Facebook image does not show the actual Stanford family.

Fact Check:

The post shows a vintage picture of what appears to be an elderly couple, followed by a lengthy caption underneath the picture. The caption tells the story of a couple that allegedly approached Harvard to request a memorial for their deceased son, who had been studying at the campus before being killed. The president of the university purportedly turned down the request, prompting the couple to contemplate starting their own university.

“Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about,” the caption stated in part, attributing the story to Forbes Magazine founder Malcolm Forbes.

The story has been debunked by both Harvard and Stanford University. Stanford Magazine published an article in 1998 titled “Truth and Lies at Harvard” addressing the fabricated tale.

“The account, of course, is wrong — and, in places, absurd,” the article reads in part. “[Leland Jr.] never enrolled at Harvard. His parents did visit Harvard President Charles Eliot, but only to get advice on endowing a university.”

A September 2001 article from Harvard Magazine also briefly debunked the lore, stating that the story is “a canard.” The piece also references Stanford’s magazine article, adding that it hoped to be “an end to Harvardians wilting in confusion.”

Check Your Fact could not find any credible evidence linking the fabricated story to the founder of Forbes Magazine. It does not appear on the Forbes website. (RELATED: Do These Viral Photos Show The Stanford Law Professor Who Testified At The Impeachment Hearings?)

The picture of the couple included in the Facebook post does not show the actual Stanford family. A reverse image search revealed the photo, found on the Museum of Modern Art’s website, was taken by German photographer August Sander in 1912 and is titled “Farming Couple–Propriety and Harmony.” The image was taken almost 20 years after Leland Stanford died, according to Britannica.

A real photo of the Stanford family, showing the three members dressed in fancy garments, can be seen on Stanford University’s “History of Stanford” page. The Stanford family members do not closely resemble the pair in the image on Facebook.

Hannah Hudnall

Fact Check Reporter