A Brief History of Dillard University

New Orleans University



Dillard University was born of two institutions that served as equity-building engines in the south – New Orleans University and Straight University.;


Opening its doors in 1935, Dillard University was established to serve as an educational center of excellence in the South. The campus, which remains in its original location, had the unique attribute of being the first HBCU with a sound architectural plan. The new liberal arts university subscribed to the DuBoisian notion of disciplining the mind and stimulating both “the creation of ideas and the development of the higher qualities of the individual.” The University maintained its focus on serving the Black community, as well. While the board chose to no longer continue the work of Gilbert Academy, they continued to serve New Orleans’ Black community through Flint-Goodridge Hospital of Dillard University which opened in 1932. The hospital, led by Albert W. Dent, provided acute care while serving as a training ground for African American physicians. This was significant because African American doctors were not allowed to practice in most hospitals. Eventually, Flint-Goodridge would discontinue operations as a hospital in 1983.


William Stuart Nelson, the first president of Dillard UniversityDillard’s first acting president was Will W. Alexander who served from 1935 to 1936. At the time of his appointment, he was director of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation which actively campaigned against lynching and conducted research studies of issues pertaining to “Negro welfare” and other Southern “problems.” During Alexander’s short tenure, one of his most significant contributions was recruiting an outstanding Black faculty. Drawing from a pool of noted scholars, Alexander assembled a stellar group of educators:  Horace Mann Bond, dean of the university, psychology and education faculty; Charles Wesley Buggs, biology; Byrd Dewey Crudup, physical education; Frederick Douglass Hall, music; Rudolph Moses, English; Lawrence D. Reddick, history; and J.G. St. Clair Drake, sociology and anthropology. Another significant hire was S. Randolph Edmonds who developed the University’s speech and theater program. Regarded by many as the “dean of Black academic theater,” Edmunds work led to the establishment of the first degree-granting theater program at an HBCU.


The new era continued with the appointment of William Stuart Nelson as Dillard’s first president in 1936. A noted educator and administrator in higher education, Nelson became the first African American to lead the institution. During his four-year tenure (1936-1940), Nelson took to heart the missionary ideal of liberal arts education in a manner that would leave a lasting impression on the University’s curriculum. He was instrumental in the implementation of a major arts festival. The gathering created a venue for local artists and national figures to enjoy and debate the nature of African American art, past, present and future. Nelson sought to foster a sense of “cultural enlightenment and participation.” His dedication to the arts laid the foundation for a tradition at Dillard that extends to the present day.



1941-1973   |   1974-2004   |   2005-Present



2601 Gentilly Boulevard
New Orleans, Louisiana 70122

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