On May 24, 1866, some of the trustees of the private College of California met on their future campus site at a place later called Founders’ Rock. The trustees had been hoping for months to find an appropriate name for their property, which included the proposed campus for their College and adjacent land they were subdividing for residential development.
As they stood at the rock outcropping looking west towards San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, trustee Frederick Billings recalled a poem written in 1726 by George Berkeley, who later became a respected philosopher and the Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. Bishop Berkeley had unsuccessfully endeavored to create a missionary college for both British colonists and Native Americans in the American colonies. His poem, especially the last stanza (see below), expressed his idealism.
Many of the trustees were familiar with George Berkeley’s writings, and the name and poem resonated with them as they stood looking west to the Pacific. That day at lunch at the home of College President Samuel Willey, the trustees apparently continued to discuss “Berkeley.” Later in the afternoon, they met formally in San Francisco (with Billings absent) and voted to adopt the name “Berkeley” for their new campus site.
A dozen years later, in 1878, “Berkeley,” the settled area around the small campus, merged with “Ocean View,” the original community that was established along the waterfront, and they incorporated as one. It was decided to officially use the name “Berkeley” for the entire community.
Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America
by George Berkeley, 1726
The Muse, disgusted at an age and clime Barred of every glorious theme, In distant lands now waits a better time, Producing subjects worthy fame. In happy climes, where from the genial sun And virgin earth such scenes ensue, The force of art by nature seems outdone, And fancied beauties by the true; In happy climes, the seat of innocence, Where nature guides and virtue rules, Where men shall not impose for truth and sense The pedantry of courts and schools: There shall be sung another golden age, The rise of empire and of arts, The good and great inspiring epic rage, The wisest heads and noblest hearts. Not such as Europe breeds in her decay; Such as she bred when fresh and young, When heavenly flame did animate her clay, By future poets shall be sung. Westward the course of empire takes its way; The four first Acts already past, A fifth shall close the Drama with the day; Time’s noblest offspring is the last.