Frequently Asked University History Questions

This page is part of the Documenting UO History Project.

  • Establishment and Founding of the University
  • University Architecture
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Establishment and Founding of the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon (UO) and Oregon State University (OSU) were established primarily due to widespread public interest in the concept of state universities. Enthusiasm during the mid-nineteenth century was so significant that two proposals emerged almost simultaneously at the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857, resulting in the creation of these two institutions.  The first plan called for the creation of an industrial university of Oregon, which was to combine scientific research with extension activities focused on agriculture. Two towns, Marysville and Jacksonville, were considered but deemed inadequate. Consequently, the early state legislature passed a law that there would be no further relocation of the university during that session. Additionally, members expressed concerns about the accuracy of the estimated growth rate in Oregon's sparsely populated territory, suggesting that the timeline might be incorrectly anticipated.

Thus, at the 1857 convention, members opted to set aside further decision making and instead create a provision for the accumulation of funds until there was enough for a suitable endowment. In addition, Congress was asked for two additional townships of land, an act identical to 1862’s Morris Land Grant Bill, a federal act that granted Oregon 90,000 acres of land. In 1868, Methodist Church South at Corvallis (now OSU) became the site of a federal land-grant institution. The funding in the 

During the mid-1800s all of Oregon’s colleges were denominational: Willamette University (Salem); Pacific University (Forest Grove); McMinnville College and Christian College (Monmoth); Methodist College (Corvallis); Philomath College (Philomath); and Albany College (Albany). In 1872, when the legislature began reinvestigating a university location to award the state endowment funds, a group of citizens from Eugene organized forces to campaign for a university in Eugene that would be non-denominational and  unaffiliated with any religion or church in Oregon) This group officially formed the Union University Association (UUA) and established a board of directors. They led a strong Lane County delegation campaign at the September 1872 legislature meeting in Salem and a bill was passed to allow the UUA to purchase a site and erect a building worth $50,000. The bill forbade the enactment of any sectarian religious tests for students or faculty.

The Struggle to Build University Hall

In exchange for locating the university in Eugene, the legislation mandated that the property be prepared by January 1, 1874. To fund the state university, the legislature approved a $30,000 bond issue in Lane County, with an additional $20,000 to be raised through private subscriptions. However, in the spring of 1873, several affluent taxpayers objected to the county voting bonds for this purpose. Consequently, the UAA opted to secure the entire $50,000 required for construction of buildings through subscriptions. 

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

Despite not having raised the full amount, construction on the first building began out of desperation on May 7, 1873. Brickwork commenced by June and progressed smoothly throughout the summer. However, when winter arrived and resources were depleted, construction came to a halt. Sufficient funds had been raised to install a temporary roof, which shielded the half-finished structure during the rainy months of 1873-1874. Nonetheless, for two years, the unfinished building stood as a hollow shell, requiring significant additional work to accommodate professors and students. 

The UAA anticipated that the legislature would provide the funding required to complete the building, given that Eugene had upheld its end of the agreement. However, in 1874, lawmakers rejected the request. Consequently, Eugene citizens found themselves in another financial crisis and launched a new campaign to rescue the University. Given that the initial $20,000 had been successfully raised in Eugene, it was determined to extend the fundraising effort to the whole of Lane County. However, the financial downturn of the Panic of 1873 made fundraising extremely difficult, and in many cases, impossible. Numerous farmers simply could not afford to donate money to the cause, resulting in only a meager amount being raised. 

During this time, Judge Walton, a lawyer serving on the board of directors for the UAA, and Mr. Hendricks, the founder of First National Bank, emerged as the driving force behind a new campaign. Hendricks managed financial affairs, while Walton coordinated the fieldwork, canvassing the City of Eugene for subscriptions. Eventually, they succeeded in capturing the attention of the County Council of Grangers, whose members agreed to contribute an allocated number of wheat bushels to the cause. Walton was familiar with this approach, having already accepted various forms of payment during his tours of the countryside, including cows, sheep, chickens, apples and hops. He would then sell these items to local stores in exchange for funds, which were utilized to pay the carpenters and cover other construction expenses. 

Even young schoolchildren contributed to the effort, pooling their savings of one thousand dollars. Despite extensive canvassing and numerous donations, additional fundraising needs remained unmet. It wasn’t until 1876 that W.J.J. Scott and J.E. Hold stepped in to underwrite the final $5,000. Finally, in the summer of 1876, the UO’s first building was finished. On July 20, 1876, the Board of Commissioners for the State of Oregon formally accepted the building, officially establishing the University of Oregon in Eugene City. Doors opened to the first students on October 16, 1876.

The original building of the University of Oregon was commonly known as “The Building” among early students and faculty, though it was also informally referred to as Deady Hall, in honor of Matthew Deady, an Oregon politician and the inaugural President of the University of Oregon Board of Regents. Following the construction of Villard Hall in 1886, the original building was sometimes called “the Old Building,” and it wasn’t until 1926, during the fiftieth anniversary of its construction, that the university officially designated it as Deady Hall. 

In June 2020, the UO Board of Trustees unanimously decided to remove the name Deady Hall, citing Deady’s support of slavery and his advocacy for limiting voting rights to white citizens, among other issues. Since then, the building has been known as University Hall. Financial difficulties persisted after University Hall was completed. Liens on the building given to mechanics and contractors came due in 1881 and 1882, with the university was unable to meet the payments. At this time, Henry Villard, builder of the Northern Pacific Railway, visited the university and was impressed with its possibilities. He personally provided the remaining funds (estimated to be $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. In recognition, this second building was named Villard Hall in his honor.

Original Acquisition of University Land

The piece of Eugene land chosen by the UUA was donated by J.H.D. Henderson, former president of the short-lived and ill-fated Columbia College in Eugene City, who 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.

University Architecture

Ellis F. Lawrence played a pivotal role in shaping the architectural landscape of the University of Oregon from 1915 until his death in 1946. He not only founded the School of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1915 (later renamed the School of Architecture and Allied Arts) but also spearheaded the architectural planning of the campus. Lawrence’s influence extended to dozens of buildings on campus, as well as several general campus plans. With a deep commitment to comprehensive city and campus planning, Lawrence left an indelible mark on the university’s architecture. 

Among his notable designs are the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA), the original 1937 library and numerous other buildings. Lawrence’s legacy lives on through his papers, which are housed in Special Collections and University Archives

A comprehensive website, "Architecture of the University of Oregon", includes 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 fifteen 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

Department Histories

Graduation History

Student Life and Lore


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