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About Chapman

» Our Story: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

Smiling students covered in flowers

Chapman University has always been a place where potential becomes possibility. Our history is a wealth of unique cultural experiences, connecting us to the past, to our present and ushering us into our future.

A lot has changed since we first opened our doors in 1861, originally in Woodland, California. However, since day one, we've been proudly dedicated to the education of all people, and we stand committed to creating an inclusive and more equitable world of opportunity.

We have chosen Chapman because we have always believed in more: more knowledge, risk-taking, discovery, passion, creativity and exploring unlimited potential. We believe in being exceptional — in creating experiences that last a lifetime and in doing work that changes lives.

We’ve grown from always being different, and we’re still growing. Good things are happening because we make them happen.

We are Chapman. We can do anything.

Join us, be a part of the legend.

  • The Cheverton Award
  • The Four Pillars
  • Pete the Panther
  • a large vase with inscriptionsOne of the oldest awards presented by Chapman, the Cheverton Award was first bestowed upon the university’s top graduate in 1930. The original bronze cup was a gift of the Class of 1929 and remains on permanent exhibit in the Argyros Forum on campus, along with its successor, a silver bowl.

    Upon the trophies are engraved the names of all Cheverton awardees. In addition to academic accomplishments, awardees must demonstrate a “high moral character” and “represent the spirit of Chapman University.” The award is named for Cecil F. Cheverton, Chapman’s sixth president, who served from 1929 to 1941.


  • Fountain with four pillars and water splashAt Chapman, we holistically educate each person through a focus on what we call The Four Pillars: the intellectual, physical, social and spiritual dimensions of life.

    You will see representations of these four pillars around the campus - at the front of Memorial Hall, for example, and at the main entrance to our Leatherby Libraries. The most visual symbolization of the four pillars is the Marion Halfacre Fountain, the dramatic focal point of our Fahmy Attallah Piazza.
  • team mascot hugging childThe earliest incarnation of our beloved mascot "Pete the Panther" got his start in Hollywood.

    Before the 1920s, when we were known as California Christian College in Los Angeles, we had no mascot. We were known to our competing colleges as The Preachers, The Parsons or The Deacons. While respectable, it didn't necessary strike fear into opposing teams.

    Searching for something that was a little grander, we wanted to pinpoint an animal exemplifying power and strength. 

    In the mid-1920s, someone brought a leftover silent film prop to school: it was a paper-mache black panther. 

    That panther lived a good life on campus, getting trotted out for sporting events, student activities and just about anything for which as good excuse could be found. That was until New Years Day in 1934, when the Los Angeles flood struck, wrecking our basement dining hall - and panther storage.

    While the physical form panther took a hiatus from Chapman for a long time, its symbol was not forgotten. After seven decades, our mascot came back in his high-spirited and huggable form, named after Chapman Hall of Fame basketball and baseball player alumnus Julian “Pete” Peterson'41.

Chapman: An Experience, A History

Like any good story, there’s a lot to us. Here’s where we came from and how we got here. If you want all the details, take a look in our library archives.

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+ - From the Start: 1860s

old college campusOn March 4, 1861, at the very hour of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, our earliest incarnation as Hesperian College opened its doors in Woodland, California. In the late 1800s, a public education system didn't exist in California. We were fulfilling a need — and we were doing it for everyone.

Our founding members were a part of the Disciples of Christ Christian Church. Their members placed a high value on educational freedom. Their concept of education was radical and unfamiliar for the times. They believed that men and women of all races and faiths should be served by higher education.

Although a committee of the church approved their proposal for a new college on June 20, 1860, the founders delayed the opening of Hesperian College. They waited until the date of President Lincoln’s inauguration, making a statement about their belief in equality to a country on the brink of the Civil War.

+ - Evolving Identity: Early 20th Century

college graduates holding vinesIn the early days we changed our name, well, a few times: after California’s education system adjusted in the new century and more public schools opened, we became Berkeley Bible Seminary in San Francisco at the dawn of the 20th century.

While the ‘teens and Roaring Twenties were relatively quiet for us (we’ve always been a studious bunch), we moved from San Francisco and shuffled monikers: we answered to California School of Christianity and then to California Christian College.

During that time we were trying to find our path: who were we in this new century? Changing needs in education shifted our model, making the road a little bumpy. Charles C. Chapman stepped in and declared we MUST exist in 1919 and as California School of Christianity, we traded foggy hills for palm trees in Los Angeles.

A few years later in 1923, we kept things fresh and changed our name (again) to California Christian College, or, Cal-Christian for those who knew us.

+ - What’s in a Name: The '30s

Man wearing hat and glassesThe Great Depression spared no one – luckily, we had someone in our corner. Valencia orange magnate Charles C. Chapman never once flagged in dedication to our success, helping us keep the lights on and the doors open in the toughest of hours. He was our first chairman of the Board of Trustees and our greatest champion.

In 1934 we wanted to honor him for being our anchor, so we surprised our greatest friend at Commencement, announcing we’d changed our name to Chapman College.

He was so moved, he cried.

In a letter to the campus publication, The Alumnus, in January of 1935, C.C. Chapman described the impact of the honor:

“Every time my eyes fall upon the printed words ‘Chapman College’ or my ears hear the announcement over the radio or I hear the name spoken by anyone, I experience a thrill. At times this honor seems only a dream.”

+ - War and Change: The '40s

domed huts on a college lawnDuring World War II, we gave it our all — literally. When our students left to fight, nurse, build or otherwise aid the war effort, we rented our entire campus on North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles to the U.S. Navy for the duration of WWII. We kept one faculty member on and a handful of students who took up lodgings at Whittier College for three years.

After the war, the massive influx of returning men and women swamped our L.A. campus and we added “Quonset hut” homes on our lawn to house postwar student population influx.

While we were thrilled to fill our classrooms again, there simply was not enough space to accommodate everyone. Then we got word of an abandoned high school campus in Orange County.

+ - Mid-Century Modern: The '50s

Smiling students at a lunch counterWe packed up and moved south from bustling and glamorous L.A. to the peaceful, blossom-scented orchards of Orange County. Housing was a little tight at first, but the community of Orange helped our students, offering up bedrooms and apartments until we got settled.

Education, even in the changing times of the middle century, was a formal event for our students. Thursday nights had a dress dinner followed by candlelight singing on the spacious lawn.

We held our first Homecoming event in 1957 on the Orange campus – but without a football game.

We gave our campus a facelift, painting the buildings a spruced-up, modern coral color – which we found out dried to Pepto-Bismol pink.

We grew into our new community and opened our first adult-learner education program at El Toro Marine Air Station in 1958. That grew to become a network of more than 20 campuses, mostly on or near military bases, called Chapman University College (now known as Brandman University).

+ - Changing Times: The '60s, '70s and '80s

two men sitting on couchWe kicked off the 1960s with a speaker for our Artist Lecture Series who was then not quite a household name: Martin Luther King Jr. on Dec. 10, 1961. He discussed history, the ethos of non-violence, civil rights milestones and also current events of the time like the Freedom Riders, school desegregation and a new African commonwealth that would later become Tanzania.
Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.'s Lecture »

In 1965 we acquired what is now the Semester at Sea program, then called World Campus Afloat, and we gave it degree-granting qualifications. This sea-faring education program operated for 10 years aboard the ships The MS Seven Seas and The SS Ryndam.

The 1970s and 1980s were somewhat quiet, excepting students protesting the Vietnam War. It was almost all business and economics for us. Our business school, now the Argyros School of Business and Economics, was founded in 1976.

The A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research, founded in 1979, created a model used to forecast economic direction. Two young professors, James Doti (now President Emeritus) and Esmael Adibi, hosted an economic forecast that became an important mainstay of the Orange County business community.

The Association of University Business and Economic Centers presented us with the “Award for Excellence” for the Chapman College Economic and Business Review in 1987.

It wasn't all work — that same year the tennis team took the NCAA (Div II) championship.

+ - A New Era: The '90s to Present-Day

president shaking hands with manThe '90s were pretty good for us — nothing succeeds like striving for excessive greatness.

In 1991 James L. Doti graduated from economics professor to becoming the 12th president of Chapman College. We revived an old tradition: we changed names again and became, as you know us now, Chapman University.

We brought back football in 1994 after a 62-year hiatus. We founded our school of law, now the Fowler School of Law, in 1995. Our school of film and television, now Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, opened in 1996.

 The new turn-of-the-century ushered in vast campus expansion: The Leatherby Libraries, the Fish Interfaith Center, the Marion Knott Studios of Dodge College, the College of Performing Arts, the Erin Lastinger Athletics Complex, the Crean College of Health and Behavior Sciences, the Rinker Health Science Campus, Musco Center for the Arts, the School of Pharmacy and our largest endeavor yet, the Schmid College of Science and Technology's new home in the Keck Center for Science and Engineering.

Our faculty and students have been soaring — theoretical physics professor Yahkir Aharonov, Ph.D. was awarded the President's National Medal of Science and Civil Right activist, and University friend, Syliva Mendez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 2016 Daniele C. Struppa was inaugurated as our new president, stepping up to lead our University and its great minds from all over the world.

As we get bigger, we're also getting better. We're ambitious, we're confident — and we're comfortable with that.

At every stage, in every era, we find growth. Whether it's a test of our ethos, our endurance, our will to survive, our growth in spirit or our growth in offerings, we keep moving forward. 

Chapman at a Glance

  • Location: Orange, Calif.
  • Founded: 1861 as Hesperian College in Woodland, Calif.
  • Mascot: Pete the Panther
  • Chapman Colors: Cardinal & Grey
  • 8,542 students
  • 110 areas of study
  • 14:1 student to faculty ratio

Building with columns and sunshine

A Namesake Story

man and family

Perhaps because Charles C. Chapman couldn't afford college for himself in his youth, he devoted himself to keeping student's dreams alive and our doors open in the toughest of times.

After we renamed in his honor, Chapman wrote to the University that:

“Every time my eyes fall upon the printed words—Chapman College—or my ears hear the announcement over the radio or I hear the name spoken by anyone, I experience a thrill.  At times this honor seems only a dream.”

To learn and read more about Charles C. Chapman, visit our archive in the Leatherby Libraries.


Global Citizens Plaza
Quick Rankings

  • 6 in the Western region - U.S. News and World Report 
  • 378 Best Colleges - Princeton Review 
Emmett Ashford

Chapman Greats: Emmett Ashford '41

Alumnus Emmett Ashford '41 was the first black umpire in organized baseball, paving the way for future generations with his impact on the sport. Read more here »
Ship on the water

Semester at Sea

Started at Chapman in 1965 and originally known as University of the Seven Seas and World Campus Afloat, Semester at Sea has taken thousands of students and educators around the globe.