University Archives: Frequently Asked University History Questions

Frequently Asked University History Questions

This page is part of the Documenting UO History Project.


Establishment and Founding of the University of Oregon

The main reason for the creation of Oregon State University and the University of Oregon is because public interest in the state university idea was so great during the mid-1800s that two projects were suggested almost simultaneously at the constitutional convention that it resulted in the creation of these two universities. The first plan called for the creation of an industrial university of Oregon which was to combine scientific research with extension activities for the benefit of the farmer. Two towns were considered but deemed inadequate (Marysville and Jacksonville). Consequently, early legislature passed a law that there should be no further relocation of the University during that session. In addition it became evident that with the very sparse population of the early 1850s that the future of the population and development was being too rapidly anticipated. Thus, at the state constitutional convention in 1857, it was decided that they would set aside this decision and created a provision to accumulate funds until there should be an amount for a suitable endowment of an institution and asked Congress for two additional townships of land. However, this was act was identical with what was later passed in congress as the Morrill Land Grant Bill in 1862. With this federal act, Oregon was granted 90,000 acres of land. It wasn’t until 1868 that it was decided that the Methodist Church South at Corvallis (now Oregon State University). However, there was still the state endowment still existed and that was what was pursed for what would be later known as the University of Oregon in Eugene.

During the mid-1800s all the colleges created at that time in Oregon were denominational (Willamette University—Salem, Pacific University—Forest Grove,  McMinnville College, Christian College—Monmoth, Methodist College—Corvallis, Philomath College—Philomath, Albany College—Albany). Thus, in 1872, when the legislature began reinvestigating a university location to use the state endowment funds, a group of citizens from Eugene organized forces to campaign for a university in Eugene that would be non-denominational (ie. Not connected with any religion or church within Oregon). This group officially formed the Union University Association organization with a board of directors. They let a strong Lane County delegation campaign at the September 1872 legislature meeting in Salem. They created a bill that provided that the UUA should purchase a site and erect a building worth $50,000. In return for the location of the university in Eugene, the property had to be ready for the state by January 1, 1874. The bill included various sections, but the most significant was the paragraph which forbade the enactment of any sectarian religious tests for students or teachers connected with the university. To finance the state university the legislature passed a bill authorizing a bond issue ($30,000) in Lane County, with an additional $20,000 to be raised through private subscriptions.

Work began on the first building, Deadly Hall, on May 7, 1873 but they couldn’t meet the January 1, 1874 deadline so a deadline was requested and granted. The building was finally partially finished by 1874 but it was only a shell of a building the 1st and 2nd floors had to be finished in order to accommodate professors and students. This is when the Judge Walton, on the board of directors for the UUA, began to canvass the City of Eugene for subscriptions. Many gave in the form of labor, but some also gave cows, pigs, sheep, wood, chickens and hops. Walton would then take these to the local store in exchange for funds for the project. The building was finally finished and on July 20, 1876 the Board of Commissioners for the State of Oregon formally accepted the building and the University of Oregon was officially established in Eugene City. Doors were formally opened to the first students on October 16, 1876

Original Acquisition of University Land: The piece of land that the UUA chose in Eugene was donated by J.H.D. Henderson, former president of the short-lived and ill-fated Columbia College in Eugene City offered  17 ¾ acres.

Acquisition of additional land over the years: The next major push for development of the University occurred in 1922 when President Campbell began a large campaign to raise funds to establish new buildings across campus. I’m still investigating when all these land purchases were made, but it did happen gradually over the years—it did not happen all at once.

Citizens of Eugene Assist with Funding of Deady Hall: This happened when there wasn’t enough money to complete the inside of Deady Hall, including the 1st and 2nd floor

University Architecture

The architectural planning for the University of Oregon was defined and established by Ellis F. Lawrence beginning in 1915 until his death in 1946. He was the founder of the School of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1915 (later renamed the School of Architecture and Allied Arts). Lawrence designed dozens of buildings on campus and created a number of general campus plans. He believed deeply in comprehensive city and campus planning. He designed some of the most beautiful and historic buildings, including the UO Museum of Art, the original 1937 Library, and dozens of other UO buildings. His papers can be found in the UO Special Collections and University Archives here.

A comprehensive website,"Architecture of the University of Oregon," includes the architecture history, bibliography, and a research guide.

Major University History Resource Books

Henry D. Sheldon, History of the University of Oregon, Portland: Binford & Mort Publishers, 1940.

Jeffrey Jane Flowers, ed., Pioneers, Scholars, and Rogues: A Spirited History of the University of Oregon, Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 2002.

Inez Long Fortt, Early Days at the University of Oregon, Eugene: A.K. Briggs Co., 1976.

Department Histories


  • Information forthcoming

Student Life and Lore


Created by joneal on Sep 16, 2013 Last updated Mar 19, 2015