Edward Creighton and his younger brother, John, came to Omaha in 1854. Edward surveyed the route for the transcontinental telegraph and supervised its construction west from Julesburg, Colorado. His subsequent business ventures in freighting, ranching, railroading and banking became a major force in the economic development of Omaha. Edward died in 1874 and his widow, Mary Lucretia Creighton, who inherited his fortune, included $100,000 in her will for the purpose of establishing a school in memory of her husband. She specifically directed that the school be "in the city of Omaha," "of the class and grade of a college,". She died in 1876 and her executors, who included her brother-in-law, John Creighton, purchased 6.2 acres of land at the northwest corner of 24th and California Streets. On that site they erected a school building and then transferred the land, the building, and additional securities to the Right Rev. James O'Connor, D.D., Bishop of Omaha, on July 1, 1878. That land and that building are still part of Creighton University.
Bishop O'Connor asked the Jesuits to operate the college that same year and the University's first president, Rev. Romanus A. Shaffel, S.J., arrived in Omaha in July and the school was opened on September 2, 1878. One priest, three scholastics, a layman and woman formed the faculty when classes began. On August 14, 1879, Bishop O'Connor surrendered his trust to the Missouri Province of Jesuits that incorporated "The Creighton University" under Nebraska law. Because at the time of its opening there were few institutions in Omaha that prepared their students for college level work, much of the initial teaching in the college was at a secondary school level. It was not until 13 years later, in 1891, that the first baccalaureate degree was awarded.
As Mary Lucretia Creighton's will stipulated that the school she endowed be a school to educate boys, women were not admitted to undergraduate education until 1913, when they were enrolled as part-time students in summer sessions. In 1931, women were enrolled as part of University College as degree-seeking students. In 1951, University College was merged with the College of Arts and Sciences making it a co-educational division of the University. However, from the beginning, women were admitted to professional schools as they were established. The first woman student was enrolled in the Medical School in 1892.
A brief history of Creighton University follows:
- In 1878, the Creighton College of Arts and Sciences, the University's oldest and largest division, was founded.
- In 1892, John Creighton established the John A. Creighton Medical College and funded a 200-bed hospital, the Creighton Memorial St. Joseph Hospital. The hospital became and continues to be the primary resource for clinical instruction in the medical school. The hospital actively served patients until 1978 when a new facility was opened at 30th and California.
- In 1904, the Creighton University School of Law was established, also by John Creighton.
- In 1905, the Creighton University School of Dentistry was begun.
- In 1905, the University purchased the Omaha College of Pharmacy which had opened in Fremont five years earlier.
- In 1920, the Creighton College of Commerce, Accounts and Finance was opened in direct response to the educational needs of World War I Veterans. In 1956, the College's name was changed to the Heider College of Business.
- In 1926, a Dean of Graduate Studies was appointed marking the beginnings of a graduate school. (The first master's degree had been awarded in 1893 but between then and the appointment of a Dean of Graduate Studies, post-baccalaureate work was primarily an extension of the undergraduate schools). In 1971, the Graduate School conferred its first Ph.D.
- In 1928, Nursing was added to the curriculum. The initial program provided two years of liberal studies to be taken in conjunction with the nursing programs at various Catholic hospitals. In 1955, Creighton severed its ties with the hospitals and began to offer a full B.S.N. program within the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1971, a free standing college of Nursing was established, and the name was changed to the School of Nursing in 1978. The School of Nursing has advanced practice programs leading to MSN degrees.
- In 1982, the School of Pharmacy expanded to become the School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions. The reorganized school assumed responsibility for several medically related undergraduate programs previously organized as a division of the School of Medicine and enlarged its programs to include academic preparation for other health-related careers.
- In 1985, the School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions started a B.S. program in Occupational Therapy. In 1995, the School initiated the nation?s first clinical doctoral program in Occupational Therapy. In 1993, the School expanded by adding the nation?s first doctoral program in Physical Therapy. A significant change for the School occurred in 1994, when the Pharmacy program converted from undergraduate studies to a doctoral degree program.
- In 1986, a B.S.N. program was started at The Mary Lanning Hospital in Hastings, Nebraska, at its request. While the curriculum is identical with that in Omaha, Hastings students must spend a minimum of one semester at the junior level on the main campus.
- In 1986, Creighton and the Saint Joseph Education Center of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, joined together to offer a Certificate/Diploma Program in Ministry. The classes are taught by Theology faculty from Creighton and resource theologians from the St. Joseph Education Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
- In 1999, the Milton R. Abrahamson Law Clinic opened.
- In 2003, construction was completed on the Hixson-Lied Science Center.
- In 2004, Morrison Soccer stadium was completed. Also, the women's basketball team became the first Creighton athletic team to win a national championship, beating the University of Nevada Las Vegas 73-52 in the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) Championship Game.
- In 2008, the Mike and Josie Harper Center for Student Life and Learning opened.