Frequently Asked University History Questions

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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 (i.e. not connected with any religion or church within Oregon). This group officially formed the Union University Association (UUA) organization with a board of directors. They led a strong Lane County delegation campaign at the September 1872 legislature meeting in Salem and created a bill that provided that the UUA should purchase a site and erect a building worth $50,000.

The Struggle to Build Deady Hall

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. However, in the spring of 1873 a number of wealthy taxpayers objected to the county voting bonds for such a purpose, so the association decided to secure the entire amount ($50,000) by subscription.

The campaign moved along well at first, with 140 subscriptions totally $15,000, but the drive began to lag. So the early citizens decided to intensify their fundraising by holding various programs including a Fourth of July ball, strawberry festival, and women’s socials. In total the citizens of Eugen raised nearly $20,000 to the construction of the first building.

Although the full amount was not yet raised, in desperation work began on the first building, Deady Hall, on May 7, 1873. By June the brick work was begun and it proceeded smoothly through the summer. Then winter broke and with the resources gone, construction halted. Enough money had been raised to erect a temporary roof, which protected the half-finished structure during the rainy months of 1873-1874. However, for two years the hollow shell of the building stood idle and the 1st and 2nd floors still needed to be finished in order to accommodate professors and students.

The UUA expected that the legislature would grant funding to finish the building since Eugene had fulfilled its promise, but in 1874 lawmakers refused the request. Thus, Eugene citizens faced another funding crisis and began another campaign to save the University. Since the initial $20,000 had come from the citizens of Eugene, this time an attempt was made to enlist aid from the whole county. However, the panic of 1874 made raising money extremely difficult and in many cases impossible. Many farmers simply could not afford to donate money to the cause and only a small amount was raised.  

This is when the Judge Walton, a lawyer on the board of directors for the UUA, and Mr. Hendricks, founder of the First National Bank, formed the nucleus of the campaign—Hendricks handled the financial affairs, while Walton managed the field work of canvassing the City of Eugene for subscriptions. They were finally able to interest the County Council of Grangers with members of this organization agreeing to help by contributing an allotted number of wheat bushels. However, this was nothing new to Walton, as he had been taking other forms of payment as he toured the countryside taking donation of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, apples, and hops. Walton would then sell these items to the local store in exchange for funds for the project which he put toward paying the carpenters at work on Deady Hall. By this system of donation enough money was secured to finish the frame work on the building and four rooms were completed.

Even the young school children assisted in the effort and contributed their meager savings of one thousand dollars. In the end, after all the canvassing and donations, there still remained money to raise. Finally, in 1876 W.J.J. Scott and J.E. Holt agreed to underwrite the final indebtedness of $5,000. Deady Hall was finally finished in summer 1876 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.

Troubles were not yet over, however, for in order to open the University on time liens on the building had been given to mechanics and contractors that came due in 1881 and 1882 and the University was unable to meet the payments. This is when outside help stepped in when Henry Villard, builder of the Northern Pacific Railway, visited the university and was impressed with its possibilities. He personally subscribed the remaining funds (estimated at $7,000) to pay the workmen and later added $50,000 in bonds as the first University endowment fund for professors, equipment, scholarships, and construction of the second building on campus, Villard Hall, which was named in his honor.

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: 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.

Information sourced from:

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

Old Oregon, “The Making of Old Oregon,” (1924) 9-10 (commemorative edition)

Raymond D. Lawrence, “A History of the University’s Early Days,” Old Oregon 8, no. 6 (March 1926) 6-7, 14

W.L. Thompson, “A University and Its Friends,” Old Oregon 37, no. 5 (April-May 1957): 10-11.

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.

Gordon Gilkey completed this portfolio as his thesis for a Master of Fine Arts degree in etching at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts in 1936. He created 15 line etchings detailing the progress of the 1936 construction of what is now the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.

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

Graduation History

Student Life and Lore