The USC Leonard Davis of Gerontology has always been a home for visionaries. Our founders had the foresight to imagine a new field and the opportunities it presented for older adults and students alike. Our faculty, students and alumni continue this remarkable legacy — and make their own mark on the world.
Photo above: Breaking ground for the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center in 1971.
Expanding Access and Opportunities
Our story began in 1975 with a landmark gift from Leonard Davis and a charge to improve the future of aging. His generosity enabled USC Leonard Davis to create the country’s first PhD, master’s and bachelor’s degree programs in gerontology.
At a time when insurance companies often denied coverage to older adults, Davis devised innovative approaches to expand access. He also influenced policy, testifying to congressional committees and serving as a delegate to the 1970 White House Conference on Aging.
Championing Older Adults
To further expand opportunities for older adults, Davis partnered with a fellow champion, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. With a PhD from the USC Rossier School of Education, Dr. Andrus was an expert in urban education and the concerns of retired Americans.
In 1916, Dr. Andrus became the first woman in California to lead a secondary school. As principal of Lincoln High School in Los Angeles for 28 years, she influenced generations of students through her innovative administration.
As an outgrowth of her passion for education, Dr. Andrus advocated for retired educators, who struggled to survive on meager pensions. In 1947, she founded the National Retired Teachers Association to provide low-cost insurance programs for former educators.
Thousands of non-teachers asked Dr. Andrus to advocate for them, too. In response, she and Leonard Davis founded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 1958.
As president of AARP, Dr. Andrus rapidly grew the organization. She created programs to support older Americans in many aspects of their lives, including second careers, health insurance and travel access.
Conducting Groundbreaking Research
When Dr. Andrus died in 1967, Davis launched the effort to create a memorial for her. AARP members and senior living community developer Ross Cortese led the fundraising campaign for the memorial.
This effort launched the USC Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, the first major research institution devoted solely to the study of aging. Dedicated in 1973, the Center laid the groundwork for the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, which was established two years later in the Andrus Center building.
The Center remains the location for interdisciplinary research to investigate multiple processes of aging and their impacts on people, organizations and society, and the home for the USC Leonard Davis School.
“The Center continues to be an appropriate tribute to Dr. Andrus, and one that I’m very proud of,” Davis told the AARP in a 1988 interview. “I don’t think we could have honored her better.”
Pioneers Then, Leaders Now
Today, USC Leonard Davis is ever-evolving, continually expanding our offerings — while our mission remains unchanged. We take pride in being the first to make discoveries and launch initiatives that advance our field and shape the future.
Our faculty, students and alumni continue to make history. A USC Leonard Davis School education provides many paths to meaningful careers that improve how we live and age.
Discover our Gerontology Programs
Explore our gerontology programs, or contact us to learn more about the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.