In California's Spanish and Mexican eras there was not much formal education. The nearest university was that of Guadalajara, founded in 1792. The Híjar-Padrés colony of 1834 brought teachers who might have been the province's first permanent residents to hold professional qualifications. Richard Henry Dana Jr. visited that same year on leave from Harvard College. In 1846 the U.S. acquired California. The University of California, whose creation became more urgent as more native sons were born, graduated its first class in 1873.

I want to know about the first person or persons from California that went away to university, or studied at one of the University of California's predecessor institutions (the Contra Costa Academy and the College of California), or another school in the state. The sons of established businessmen like Hartnell, Larkin, and Stearns seem like candidates. Perhaps some brainy kid was even sent to Guadalajara decades before.

  • What do you mean by "the University of California's predecessor institutions?"
    – user2848
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 5:42
  • 1
    The Contra Costa Academy and the College of California.
    – user18968
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 6:38
  • 1
    @AaronBrick: Comments are ephemeral, and subject to arbitrary deletion at any time. Please edit clarifications into the question itself. Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:06
  • I've gone ahead and edited the information from your comment in.
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 15:29
  • Might not some rich kid have been sent to the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México in Mexico City? It's almost a century older than Harvard. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


One of the first students to be sent away for education may have been the son of José de la Guerra y Noriega, Juan José Noriega, who was sent to Liverpool, England for education in 1825. When he returned to California in c.1831 at the age of about 21 he was tutored in higher mathematics by Father Patrick Short who in 1834 jointly with William Hartnell, who had engaged him as Noriega's tutor, founded the first school/college in California. Noriega died in 1833 but in a way his legacy, the relationship between Hartnell and Short, led directly to the foundation of the "Colegio de San Jose".

The explanation for this theory involves William Hartnell, mentioned in this question and also in the following question which provides some of his background:

Who was the first retailer in Monterey, California?

Hartnell had a business associate in Liverpool called James Brotherston who was the co-partner of John Begg of Lima who was the co-partner of McCulloch Hartnell & Co. Brotherston appears to have had the senior role, and referred to McCulloch Hartnell & Co as the "California Establishment". He was by the way John Begg's brother-in-law, being married to his sister, which seems to have been how the business connection started (in Leith, the port of Edinburgh, Scotland). I digress!

It is clear from letters that Brotherston wrote to Hartnell on 7th October 1825 and 20th January 1826 that Hartnell had sent his (then future) brother-in-law Juan Jose Noriega to the care of Brotherston in Liverpool for his "improvement and education". In the first letter Brotherston states his plans for the boy's education including the subjects he will study and the likely costs. The second letter just gives a brief progress report towards the end of a business letter. The following are links to the actual letters in the Vallejo volumes:



Then on 19th March 1827 Juan José Noriega himself wrote to Hartnell from Liverpool and lists the subjects he is studying but doesn't say much else except that he's too busy to write to his sister!


On the 29th October 1828 he writes a longer letter to Hartnell from Stonyhurst College in which he says he has been at three different schools, the previous ones being in Liverpool and Shropshire. It is apparent from this letter that he is becoming homesick for California and talks about his plans for returning there, preferably avoiding Cape Horn.


Bancroft in his "History of California:1825-1840" refers to the above letter and states that he was later educated at the "Mont." school under Hartnell and P.Short. He includes the information that Noriega died in 1833 unmarried. In fact Bancroft is incorrect as the school was not formally founded until 1834, after Noriega's death.

Chapter 5 - 'Schoolmaster' of Dakin's "The Lives of William Hartnell" explains in detail the events surrounding the return of Noriega, the engagement of Father Patrick Short as his tutor, and the subsequent founding of the "Colegio de San Jose".

  • I have edited my answer to include reference to a letter written by the young Noriega which I mentioned in my original answer I remembered seeing but couldn't then trace it. Having since re-discovered the letter's location the link is now included in the answer.
    – macean
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 18:16
  • These are some of the earliest Californians to enroll in formal programs of study, but they don't seem to have been university students.
    – user18968
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 5:04
  • Agreed, which is why I'm still trying to find evidence that Noriega went to university:-).
    – macean
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 9:20
  • Having said that, your question says "went away to university" and "or another school in the state" so why are you excluding students that went away to school? If you read Brotherston's letter he says "I would have sent him to one of the Catholic Colleges" but he had reservations about the quality of teaching. Given the amount of information I've provided, including the actual subjects he was studying from his own letter, it might seem a bit harsh that my answer isn't accepted. If the question was modified to include schools outside of the state then would my answer qualify.?
    – macean
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 10:18
  • Since posting my previous comment I have located another letter that Noriega wrote, now added to the answer. Along with the information from Bancroft I've also added, it probably proves that he didn't go to an actual university.
    – macean
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 13:00

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