On May 18, 1891, Massachusetts-born businessman William Marsh Rice chartered the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art as a gift to the city of Houston, where he made his fortune. The terms of the charter required that work on the new institute would begin only after Rice’s death.
In 1907, the trustees of the Rice Institute acted upon the recommendation of Woodrow Wilson (then president of Princeton) and named astronomer and mathematician Edgar Odell Lovett the first president of Rice. Lovett called for the establishment of a university “of the highest grade,” “an institution of liberal and technical learning” devoted “quite as much investigation as to instruction.” [We must] “keep the standards up and the numbers down,” declared Lovett. “The most distinguished teachers must take their part in undergraduate teaching, and their spirit should dominate it all.”
The Rice Institute opened on Sept. 23, 1912, the anniversary of Mr. Rice’s murder, with 77 students enrolled in that initial academic year taught by a dozen faculty. An international academic festival celebrated the opening three weeks later, a spectacular event that brought Rice to the attention of the entire scholarly world. Four years later, at the initial commencement, 35 bachelor's degrees and one master's degree were awarded, with the first doctorate conferred in 1918.