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Saint Louis University to Celebrate Bicentennial in 2018

Saint Louis University is the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. And soon, it will be the first to celebrate a bicentennial.

1829 building

This painting by SLU alumnus Charles Bosseron Chambers shows the first building constructed by the Jesuits in 1829 in downtown St. Louis. Image from the Saint Louis University Libraries Digitization Center

Although SLU won't mark 200 years until 2018, planning is already underway.

Ellen Harshman, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business and former vice president for academic affairs, has been appointed to lead SLU's bicentennial efforts. Her 43-year career makes her uniquely suited for the job.

"I have been at Saint Louis University for decades, and I've worn a lot of hats here," Harshman said. "That helps me approach this celebration from all angles - academic, social, spiritual and historic. Plus, we've assembled a great team of committed colleagues, representing all constituencies of the SLU community, who are already brainstorming ideas for this milestone anniversary."

Harshman leads a Bicentennial Steering Committee of representatives from throughout SLU, as well as the Jesuit community. They are:

While many academic and social events are still in very early planning stages, a history of SLU has been commissioned that will be published by late 2017. Dolores Byrnes, Ph.D., is writing the book.

"Dolores has been hard at work researching our long and complex history," Harshman said. "She's uncovering great stories and details from our past that have never been told before. I'm certain this history will be a compelling read that sheds new light on how SLU grew to become the outstanding institution it is today."

SLU's downtown campus circa 1852

This image shows SLU’s downtown campus, including the original college church, circa 1852. Image from the Saint Louis University Libraries Digitization Center

In addition to the book, Harshman shared a few other details about bicentennial planning thus far:

"We're hoping that annual lectures, exhibits and events can embrace our 200 years and present topics and speakers who will add to our commemoration of the bicentennial," Harshman said.

Watch for future updates and the Bicentennial website by the end of summer. If you have ideas for the bicentennial, contact any member of the Steering Committee or send an email to