The identity of California as we it know today began during the 19th century when California experienced a period of transformation. This era marked a move away from its origins as a Spanish colony, then a Mexican province, followed by a brief period as an independent republic before becoming the 31st state in the United States in 1850. Its earliest inhabitants were Native American populations who were gradually outnumbered, first by European colonists and later by American settlers attracted to the West during the California Gold Rush of the mid-1850s. As peoples and cultures collided the need of both local and immigrant Catholic families to educate their children spurred the founding of Santa Clara College, now Santa Clara University, by Jesuits in 1851.
The school is the state’s oldest operating institution of higher education, and has evolved along with the Santa Clara Valley. It was founded on the grounds of Mission Santa Clara, which had been operated by the Franciscans from 1777 to the 1830s, when the California missions were secularized. The site was offered to the Jesuits in 1851 with the condition that they institute a college to educate the increasing number of Catholic settlers moving into the area.
The college became a university in 1912 with the addition of graduate schools in Engineering and Law. In 1925 a Business school was added; later graduate programs include the School of Education and Counseling Psychology, started in 2001, and the Jesuit School of Theology, which merged with SCU in 2009. In 1962 the school became the first Catholic University in California to admit both men and women. The school’s name changed from the University of Santa Clara (USC) to Santa Clara University (SCU) in 1985, partly to avoid confusion with the University of Southern California.
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