The institution now known as Bradley University was founded in Peoria, Illinois, in 1897 by Lydia Moss Bradley in memory of her husband Tobias and their six children.
The Bradleys had amassed a fortune of about $500,000 through successful dealings in real estate, railroads, a distillery, flour mill, sawmill, the Peoria Pottery Company, and other enterprises. After Tobias' death in 1867, Lydia Bradley proved to be wise in business dealings, and through real estate and farm investment her holdings grew to more than two million dollars. She was a generous philanthropist, supporting the Universalist Church, Children's Home, Bradley Home for Aged Women, and Bradley Hospital (now Saint Francis Medical Center), and donating 130 acres of land for the Peoria Park District.
The Bradleys had discussed establishing an orphanage in memory of their deceased children. After some study and travel to various institutions, Mrs. Bradley decided instead to found a school where young people could learn how to do practical things to prepare them for living in the modern world. As a first step toward her goal, in 1892 she purchased a controlling interest in Parsons Horological School in LaPorte, Indiana, the first school for watchmakers in America, and moved it to Peoria. She specified in her will that the school should be expanded after her death to include a classical education as well as industrial arts and home economics: "...it being the first object of this Institution to furnish its students with the means of living an independent, industrious and useful life by the aid of a practical knowledge of the useful arts and sciences."
In October 1896 Mrs. Bradley was introduced to Dr. William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago. He soon convinced her to move ahead with her plans and establish the school during her lifetime. Bradley Polytechnic Institute was chartered on November 13, 1896. Mrs. Bradley provided seventeen and a half acres of land, $170,000 for buildings, equipment, and a library, and $30,000 per year for operating expenses.
Contracts for Bradley Hall and Horology Hall (now Westlake) were awarded in April and work moved ahead quickly. Fourteen faculty and 150 students began classes in Bradley Hall on October 4--with 500 workers still hammering away. (The Horological Department added another eight faculty and 70 students.) Bradley Polytechnic Institute was formally dedicated on October 8, 1897. Its first graduate, in June 1898, was Cora Unland.
The Institute was originally organized as a four-year academy (similar to a high school) and a two-year college. At the time there was only one other high school in Peoria. By 1899 there were 400 pupils at Bradley, and instruction was offered in biology, chemistry, food work, sewing, English, German and French, history, Latin and Greek, manual arts, drawing, mathematics, and physics. Pleased with its progress, that year Mrs. Bradley transferred to the school the rest of her estate, including nearly 1,000 different pieces of property, reserving its use and profits during her lifetime. She died on January 16, 1908.
The Institute continued to grow and develop to meet the educational needs of the region. Its facilities were in great demand during World War I to train automobile and tractor mechanics. In 1920 the Institute dropped the academy and adopted a four-year college program. Enrollment boomed when servicemen returned from World War II, and in 1946 the Graduate School was established and the name was changed to Bradley University.
Men's NCAA National Titles
Women's NCAA National Titles