A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 01, 2013
University of Life

The “university of life” is the experience gained outside of formal schooling. The term “university of life” has been cited in print since at least 1853.

A term similar to the “university of life” is the “school of hard knocks.”


Wiktionary: university of life
Etymology
university +‎ of +‎ life
Noun
university of life
(plural universities of life)
1. (idiomatic, chiefly UK) The real world as a source of instruction, as opposed to a formal education.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
the university of life n. (also with capital initials) the experience of life regarded as a means of instruction, in contrast to formal (higher) education. Cf. the school of (the) hard knocks at school n.1 Phrases 9.
Now often with the implication that life experience is of greater benefit than formal education.
1854 C. C. Felton Addr. Assoc. Alumni Harvard College 7 The late Professor Greenleaf,..who, not born to affluence, and not bred up to scholarly studies, achieved an honorable scholarship in the university of life.
1887 W. D. Lighthall Thoughts, Moods & Ideals 22 Once, in the University of Life, Remember and Inquire, my old Professors.
1920 Biblical World 54 255/2 The courses in the University of Life are long and hard.

Google Books
February 1853, The New Englander, “The True Success of Human Life,” pg. 70:
It will worthily introduce them to the University of Life.

There, after all, is the larger arena for the attainment of the manhood which we have sketched. It is the virtue of life — is it not the secret of God’s orderings concerning it? — that in it may be realized this completeness and mastery.

Google Books
August 1858, Dublin University Magazine, “Oxford Essays—University Reform,” pg. 253:
It would appear, then, that on the whole, the university of life confirms the decisions of the schools ; that the proportion of distinguished men in the several classes is not far off the proportion who are crowned with more serious laurels.

20 August 1868, The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder (Boston, MA), “How shall we provide the ministry that we need?” by Rev. John L. Taylor, pg. 266, col. 3:
But after we have sought to give our students the best preparation in the schools for the great University of life, in which, like other men, and beyond other men, they shall be shrewd, candid, eager, wise learners while life shall last; will there be enough of them for the great harvest before us, at even its chief centers of interest?

29 September 1894, Plainfield (IN) Reformatory, ‘The best books for a boy to read,” pg. 2, col. 6:
You will be at school, in the “university of life” while poring over his (Shakespeare’s—ed.) works.

OCLC WorldCat record
The university of life, or, Practical self-educator : a manual of self-improvement for the colored race, forming an educational emancipator and a guide to success, giving examples and achievements of successful men and women of the race as an incentive and inspiration to the rising greneration, including Afro-American progress illustrated, the whole embracing, business, social, domestic, historical, and religious education
Author: Henry Davenport Northrop; Joseph R Gay; I Garland Penn
Publisher: Nashville, TN : Southwestern Co., 1900.
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The University of life
Author: Edgar Wallace
Publisher: London : George Newnes, 1926.
Series: John O’London’s weekly. [Analytical entry].
Edition/Format: Book : English

Google Books
Daniel L. Sherwood and his paternal ancestors, including Sherwood evidences both in England and America from the first mention of the name in history, about seven hundred and fifty years ago, down to and including Thomas Sherwood, the American pioneer, and Francis Sherwood, the Maryland pioneer, and some of their many descendants.
By Andrew Sherwood
Portland, OR: Ryder Print. Co.
1929
Pg. 197:
Yet educational advantages were slim thereabouts in those days; Daniel L. had hardly seen the inside of a district school until he had graduated therefrom, and was entered as a postgraduate in the Academy of Hard Knocks — the University of Life; yet he grew up to be a remarkably well-informed man; proving it true, what some one has said, that the best education in the world is that gotten by struggling to get a living.

Google Books
Step Down, Dr. Jacobs;
The Autobiography of an Autocrat

By Thornwell Jacobs
Atlanta, GA: The Westminster Publishers
1945
Pg. 465:
The conception underlying the conferring of honorary degrees is that the greatest university on earth is not Oxford nor Harvard nor Oglethorpe but the University of Life itself, sometimes called the University of Hard Knocks, sometimes the University of Experience.

OCLC WorldCat record
The university of life
Author: Billy Graham; Hour of Decision (Radio program)
Publisher: Minneapolis, MN : Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1979.
Series: Hour of Decision (Radio program), 227.
Edition/Format: Book : English

Google Books
Specialist Journalism
Edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orang
New York, NY: Routledge
2013
Pg. 3:
In journalistic folklore those were the newsroom bosses boasting of an education from ‘the school of hard knocks and the university of life’.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • Tuesday, January 01, 2013 • Permalink