History and traditions - The University of Tulsa
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History and traditions


The University of Tulsa has its roots in the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls, a small boarding school in Muskogee, Indian Territory, which was founded in 1882. In 1894, at the request of the Synod of Indian Territory, the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church elevated the academy’s status and chartered it as Henry Kendall College, a name that honored the first general secretary of the Home Missions Board. The first classes in the new college were held on Sept. 12, 1894.

In the years following, financial difficulties prompted school officials to ask the Synod of Indian Territory to assume control, sell the school’s land and seek a new location. Successfully courted by the business and professional community of Tulsa, which was booming after the discovery of oil at Glenpool, Henry Kendall College moved to Tulsa in 1907, the year of Oklahoma’s statehood. Several years later, a new college, to be named after oilman Robert M. McFarlin, was proposed for the city. Aware that Tulsa was not large enough to support two competing colleges, the Henry Kendall College trustees proposed that the contemplated McFarlin College and Kendall College affiliate under the common name “The University of Tulsa.” McFarlin College never materialized, and a charter for the new University of Tulsa was approved on Nov. 9, 1920, by the Kendall College trustees. By 1928, the articles of incorporation had been amended to create the modern structure as an independent school corporation governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees.

Today, TU operates as an independent, nondenominational university. A top-rated research institution, the university welcomes students from many different faiths and countries. The TU campus fosters a rich, diverse experience for students and faculty regardless of religious or cultural background through a strong belief in mutual respect and understanding.


Most top universities have beloved traditions and TU is no different.

Street painting

A longtime favorite Homecoming tradition at TU is street painting. Campus organizations paint along Case Athletic Complex on East Eighth Street to showcase school spirit through a homecoming theme.

Homecoming Bonfire

It wouldn’t be fall on a college campus without Homecoming and TU kicks it off in style with a bonfire on Dietler Commons. The band plays, cheerleaders rev up the crowd, and representatives from the student body, alumni, faculty and administration light the bonfire together.

Carols and Lights on Sharp Plaza

A beloved tradition in England is also a cherished tradition in the TU family. Everyone gathers at Sharp Chapel for the Festival of Lessons & Carols. The festival is also when the lights are first illuminated, signifying the beginning of the holidays.


Holi, an Indian festival of colors, gives students the opportunity to celebrate the end of winter in India and welcome the spring season with Indian food, music, dance, kites and colors.


Springfest is a chance to grab a blanket, kick back and hear some live music. Recent years have seen some big acts brought to campus, where the concerts have been moved from the commons to the Reynolds Center to accommodate large crowds.

Toilet Bowl

For over 50 years, the residents of John Mabee Hall, also known as “The John,” have organized the Toilet Bowl flag football game each spring. At halftime, the Toilet Bowl queen is crowned; and there’s a big party following the game.

Day of Service

TU Day of Service is a nationwide day of alumni and students volunteering to celebrate the university’s spirit and service in the community. University of Tulsa Alumni Association chapters and clubs partner each year with a philanthropic organization in their community for a day of volunteering.

Ringing the cupola bell

One of the oldest traditions at TU, dating back more than a half-century, graduating seniors ring the cupola bell after completing the last final exam of their TU careers. Many students ring the bell again on Commencement day.