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The creation of a university in Virginia

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

There is no doubt that knowledge had a special place in Jefferson's life. If his abundant correspondence shows his intellectual curiosity, from anthropology to agriculture to the arts, his personal library consisted of approximately 6,500 books. Thomas Jefferson, after his second presidency, set about creating a university in Virginia with a philosophy of education that was avant-garde for its time.

"Among my many visions, I also envisioned a university free of Church influence.

I firmly believed that education would generate a stable society, which would have to provide publicly funded schools accessible to students from all walks of life, based solely on ability. I was already thinking of my own university in the various letters I used to write to some of my acquaintances, but it was only after my presidency that I founded the University of Virginia.

I was also the principal designer of the buildings, planned the university's curriculum, and was the first chancellor at its inauguration. I loved the classical architectural styles, which I thought best represented the new American democracy.

I developed the whole thing around the green area I called "The Lawn", which was surrounded by the Academical Village, with student accommodation divided into pavilions.

My temple of knowledge revolved around study and not religion.

The Rotunda building, with its library, was the centre of it all, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. However, study was not to be carried out on books alone; I arranged a large area with gardens and plants surrounded by serpentine walls. We had to get our hands dirty and understand the earth, from which everything originated and on which our great country was also founded. The agricultural world could not stay away from the academic world and I myself set an example. My vision of the United States of America also embodied doctrine in every pillar.."

Among the famous students of this university, Edgar Allan Poe.

Its great originality was that it was a secular university. Education in the United States as a whole was in the hands of religious congregations. And Jefferson wanted from the start to build a state university, but one that was not linked to any denomination.

By Enrico, author of the tour "Jefferson. Building the future."

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