The William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art filed its state charter in the Texas capital May 19, 1891. The original charter stipulated that the institute charge no tuition and would be for “the instruction and improvement of the white inhabitants of the City of Houston and State of Texas.” The institute was founded with a bequest of $4.6 million from the estate of William Marsh Rice, a merchant who arrived in Texas in 1838 and soon thereafter moved to the newly founded city of Houston. In the 1840s and 1850s, he accumulated his wealth by providing supplies to plantation owners and selling cotton and sugar crops, produced in large part by enslaved labor. Rice, too, owned and benefited from their labor. After the Civil War, he took the oath of loyalty to the restored United States and lived thereafter in New Jersey and New York, while keeping a close eye on his many ongoing profitable endeavors in Texas. The childless Rice was murdered September 23, 1900, in New York by his butler and lawyer in an attempt to steal his fortune. After considerable litigation, Rice’s bequest in 1904 was deployed toward the purpose he intended — his namesake institute in the rapidly growing city of Houston. After selecting Edgar Odell Lovett, a mathematician from Princeton University, to serve as the first president, the institute’s trustees sent Lovett on an international trip in search of the best pedagogical practices, ideas and personnel.
From October 10 to 12, 1912, the Rice Institute celebrated its opening with lectures by eminent guests from around the world. President Lovett proclaimed that he and his colleagues planned “to assign no upper limit to its educational endeavor.” With 77 male and female students and a faculty of about a dozen in its opening year, the institute quickly grew in size and importance, led by Lovett and James Addison Baker Jr., who chaired Rice’s Board of Trustees from 1891 to 1941. By the time Lovett stepped down as president in 1946, the institute was a key part of a booming city of more than half a million residents.
From its beginning, the Rice Institute’s goals included graduate programs, with the first doctorate degree awarded in 1918. In the 1950s, under President William Vermillion Houston, who served from 1946 to 1960 (during which the residential college system and the annual Beer Bike competition began in 1957), the institute expanded its ambitions. The graduate offerings steadily developed in the sciences and engineering and came to include the humanities and social sciences. On July 1, 1960, the Rice Institute was renamed William Marsh Rice University. In 1962, Rice celebrated its semicentennial led by President Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer, who throughout his leadership from 1961 to 1968, deepened the university’s commitment to research and guided the founding of the School of Architecture in 1965.
From its founding until the early 1960s, the university prohibited the admission of Black students. Growing national pressure from funding and accrediting agencies, alongside the larger moral and political pressures of the civil rights movement, compelled the Rice trustees to desegregate the university and to begin a legal process to remove racial barriers from its charter. The first Black student to be enrolled in 1964 was mathematics graduate student Raymond Lewis Johnson. In fall 1965, the first two Black undergraduate students arrived — Charles Edward Freeman III and Jacqueline Elizabeth McCauley. These first three students were subsequently joined by an increasing number of Black students who brought further distinction to the university and who continued to push for full acceptance by the rest of the Rice community. That same year, Rice began charging tuition for the first time and launched a $33 million development campaign.
During and after the Cold War, Rice took advantage of the boom in available research funding. President Norman Hackerman, who served from 1970 to 1985, oversaw the debut of the Shepherd School of Music and the Jones Graduate School of Administration (now the Jones Graduate School of Business). In 1975, the Division of Science and Engineering divided into the George R. Brown School of Engineering and the School of Natural Sciences (now the Wiess School of Natural Sciences). The Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences separated into two schools in 1979. In 1985, Rice joined the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of leading research universities in North America.
Rice President George Erik Rupp, who served from 1985 to 1993, led the creation of several interdisciplinary centers. Innovative faculty forged into new fields such as nanotechnology, where Professors Robert F. Curl and Richard E. Smalley shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996. As a result of these continued advancements, Rice has consistently earned a ranking among the nation’s top 20 research universities.
Under the administration of President S. Malcolm Gillis (1993 to 2004), the university dramatically expanded its international character, by welcoming more students from abroad and building partnerships with institutions around the world. At the same time, the university continued to deepen its commitment to its home city of Houston, expanding partnerships with local industry and the Texas Medical Center. The Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies brings thousands of Houstonians to campus each year for learning opportunities and personal and professional development. The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, founded in 1993, provides vital insight to local and national policymakers on the important questions of the day.
For nearly two decades, under the leadership of President David W. Leebron (2004 to 2022), the university continued to expand its local and global footprint under a period of tremendous growth, punctuated by new programs and facilities like the Kinder Institute for Urban Research (2010), the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance (2013), the Doerr Institute for New Leaders (2015), the Moody Center for the Arts (2017), the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (2017), the Brockman Hall for Opera (2022) and the Ion (2021).
In 2019, the university launched a new financial aid policy, The Rice Investment, that deepens and extends its ongoing commitment to need-based scholarships for low- and middle-income students. With the generosity of untold individuals and foundations, Rice’s endowment has kept pace with its burgeoning enrollment and expanding infrastructure and programming. The endowment of $10 million in 1913 grew to $7.8 billion as President Reginald DesRoches, Rice University’s first Black president, took office July 1, 2022.
As its resources have increased, Rice has served a flourishing and diverse student population. For fall 2022, degree-seeking undergraduate students totaled 4,480, alongside 4,085 degree-seeking graduate students. At matriculation, Asian Americans composed 29 percent of the Class of 2026. Students identifying as Hispanic or Latino were 17 percent of that group, and Black students made up 8 percent. A growing segment of undergraduate and graduate students at Rice hail from more than 60 countries around the world. Rice has 749 full-time faculty members and 147 part-time faculty members. Already in the midst of a strategic planning process and a $2 billion fundraising campaign, the university will continue to build and evolve, aiming for a bolder future.