Los Angeles was a rough-and-tumble frontier town in the early 1870s, when a group of public-spirited citizens led by Judge Robert Maclay Widney first dreamed of establishing a university in the region. It took nearly a decade for this vision to become a reality, but in 1879 Widney formed a board of trustees and secured a donation of 308 lots of land from three prominent members of the community – Ozro W. Childs, a Protestant horticulturist; former California governor John G. Downey, an Irish-Catholic pharmacist and businessman; and Isaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish banker and philanthropist. The gift provided land for a campus as well as a source of endowment, the seeds of financial support for the nascent institution.
When USC first opened its doors to 53 students and 10 teachers in 1880, the “city” still lacked paved streets, electric lights, telephones and a reliable fire alarm system. Today, USC is home to more than 48,000 students and over 4,400 full-time faculty, and is located in the heart of one of the biggest metropolises in the world.