John L. Patterson (1861 - 1937)
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John Letcher Patterson has been called one of the University’s greatest friends. He is credited by many as having started the University on the path to attaining the stature it enjoys today. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, he was a graduate of the University of Kentucky, Harvard, University of Louisville and Transylvania College. Before coming to UofL, he taught school in Lexington and Louisville and established a preparatory school in Louisville.
Dr. Patterson joined the University of Louisville as a Professor of ancient languages in 1907. Dr. Patterson became Dean in 1908 of what was then called the College of Liberal Arts. In his first year as Dean, he sought funding from the City of Louisville, and he secured substantial funding from private donors. In 1910, Dr. Patterson started an initiative to make the College of Liberal Arts into the keystone of the University. To advance his goal, Dr. Patterson established the first library in 1911, constructing the shelves by hand, contributing books from his own library and securing donations from former pupils and friends.
By 1915, Dr. Patterson had organized the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and had added courses in economics, art and sociology. The University received accreditation by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States that same year. In 1922, Dr. Patterson was made chancellor of the University. Even while in that role, he continued to target his efforts toward enhancing the College of Arts and Sciences graduate studies. He also served as UofL’s Acting President following the sudden death of President Colvin in 1928.
Dr. Patterson was also known for his devotion to his field of study and the quality of his scholarship and teaching. He received international acclaim for his arrangement of the “Song of Solomon,” which he patterned after a Greek drama.
Although Dr. Patterson had no children of his own, he “adopted” the students of the College. His home was regularly open to them. Often, he personally and anonymously gave financial aid to students in need. He truly believed in the right of all to have an education.
Even after his death, he had an impact on making quality education accessible to those who sought it--his will named the University of Louisville students as beneficiaries of the bulk of his estate in the form of no-interest loans.