Unable to secure the necessary funds to attend Harvard University, his first choice for college, Tourgée entered the University of Rochester in 1859 as a sophomore; the same year in which Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published and would later impact the topic of race relations.
One of Tourgée’s poems, "The Collegian’s Devil" survives from his college days. It reveals a young man who has great ability to put thoughts and ideas into words.
Tourgée and Emma Kilbourne corresponded frequently with one another at this time, and in one letter he writes to her in a quite confident tone, "…I have made one recitation in college this year and a good one too. It was in Logic…” Tourgée goes on to describe to Emma a particular author on the subject who, although, "I (Tourgée) cannot agree with him in all things…(he) is "infinitely superior” to other writers of the same subject.
Throughout his life, Tourgée was never afraid to disagree with others, yet he also retained respect for those who he differed with as long as they merited such respect.