In 1862, American missionaries in Lebanon and Syria, under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, asked Dr. Daniel Bliss to withdraw from the evangelistic work of the mission to establish a college of higher learning that would include medical training. It was felt that this college should have an American educational character, be administered independently from the mission, and be maintained by its own funds.
Bliss travelled to the United States in the summer of 1862 to raise money for this new enterprise. By August 1864 he had raised $100,000, but because of inflation (this was the time of the US Civil War), it was decided that he should leave the dollar fund to appreciate and raise a sterling fund in England to start the operations of the college. After raising £4,000 in England, he returned to Beirut in March 1866. (He had been gone for almost four years.)
On April 24, 1863, while Bliss was raising money for the new school, the State of New York granted a charter under the name of the Syrian Protestant College (SPC).
Daniel Bliss was the first president of the college and one of seven members of the original faculty that included also David Stuart Dodge, Edwin Rufus Lewis, Harvey Porter, George Edward Post, Cornelius Van Alen Van Dyck, and John Wortabet.These seven individuals are recognized as AUB's “founders." (Other individuals taught courses in the early days of the college including Nassif al-Yaziji, who taught Arabic, and Asad al-Shadudi, who taught mathematics.) AUB celebrates Founders Day on December 3 each year.
The college opened with its first class of 16 students on December 3, 1866. The original language of instruction was Arabic. (The language of instruction at the college became English in fall 1879. English became the language of instruction in the medical department several years later, in 1883.)
SPC graduated its first class in 1870: Kaisar Ghureiyib, Ibrahim Khairallah, Ibrahim Msawar, Naum Mughabghab, and Yaqub Sarruf. The first medical class graduated in 1871. SPC was originally located in Zuqaq el-Blat. It moved several times as the college grew and needed more space. Bliss found the site where AUB is currently located while on a horseback ride. The cornerstone for College Hall, the first building on campus, was laid in 1871.
On November 18, 1920, the board voted to change the name from Syrian Protestant College to the American University of Beirut.
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