Officially founded in 1898, Wichita, Kan.-based Friends University dates to the 1880s when the Christian Churches of Kansas began constructing a building west of Wichita to be the largest educational facility west of the Mississippi River. In 1887, Garfield University opened its doors to 500 students, but after graduating its first and only senior class, Garfield University closed in 1890 because of financial difficulties. The school was reorganized and opened again in March 1892 as Garfield Central Memorial University but closed Nov. 18, 1893.
After sitting vacant for five years, the building and surrounding lots were purchased by St. Louis businessman James M. Davis. Davis offered the building to the Kansas Society of Friends, a Quaker organization, on the condition the group raise $50,000 for the college's permanent endowment. The conditions were accepted, and Friends University officially opened its doors in September 1898.
Friends University continued operating as a Quaker institution until the 1930s when the school's governance was vested in an independent board of trustees. Since then, the university has continued to operate in an amicable but independent relationship with the Society of Friends. Currently, the university has about 1,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate programs.