In 1846, the "school preparatory to the University" opened in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Lewisburg. Known originally as the Lewisburg High School, it became, in 1848, the Academical and Primary Department of the University at Lewisburg.
In 1850, the department moved into the first building completed on campus, now called Taylor Hall. Built for $8,000, the building housed both women and men’s studies until the opening of the Female Institute in 1852. While studying together, women were required to face east while men faced west.
The school’s first commencement was held Aug. 20, 1851, for a graduation class of seven men. Among the board members attending was James Buchanan, who would become the 15th President of the United States. Stephen Taylor officiated as his last act before assuming office as president of Madison University. One day earlier, the trustees had elected Howard Malcom as the first president of the university, a post he held for six years.
The description that the university was carved out of the "wilds of Pennsylvania" is no exaggeration. From Philadelphia, the journey in those early years involved traveling by stagecoach, canal boat, and unheated train and averaged 25 hours.