Although the Morrill Act of 1862, establishing land grant universities, was accepted quickly by the state of Illinois implementation was delayed until after the Civil War. In 1867, communities in Illinois were invited to bid for the institution. thanks to the strong lobbying efforts of local politicians, the university was sited in Urbana. John Milton Gregory was selected to serve as the first regent. When the doors to the university opened, on March 2, 1868, it has a student body of fifty and a faculty of three, including Gregory.

The original Quad, facing north, circa 1910. Center is University Hall (where the Illini Union now stands), with the Law (now the Natural History Building) in the left foregournd. At right is the tower of Altgeld Hall
Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Archives.

The educational mandate for land grant universities gave prominence to agriculture and mechanical arts, but Gregory who was trained in law and theology also included science and liberal arts in curriculum, thus laying the foundation for a true university, rather than a vocational school. The agricultural mission had trouble attracting students at first. In fact, the program foundered until the 1890s. but the mechanical arts program was successful from the start. women were first admitted to the university in 1870, when twenty-four matriculated. By 1872-73, seventy-four of the 400 students enrolled at the university were women and seven students came from foreign nations. Gregory served as regent until 1880. He is buried between Altgeld Hall and the Administration Building.

Selim Hobart Peabody, who taught engineering and physics, was the second regent of the university -- from 1880-91.

Gregory included science and liberal arts in the curriculum, thus laying the foundation for a true university, rather than a vocational school.

The financial situation at the university was then so dire that he had no clerical help or office equipment. Picture the CEO of the university making out class cards and entering grades, all in long-hand, because he had no secretary and no typewriter. Peabody, a strong advocate of classical education, continued to steer the curriculum away from the practical arts. During his tenure, admission standards were raised, electives were curtailed, and a major and minor were introduced. It was at this time that the name of the institution was changed from Illinois Industrial University of University of Illinois -- over the objections of the agricultural community. In 1882 the university had a black trustee, the first in an American non-black college. Peabody, a very active member of the National Educational Association, moved the university forward academically. But this somewhat au6tocratic ways did not endear him to the students or faculty. Peabody was forced ro resign in 1891.

When Thomas Jonathan Burrill became acting regent in 1891-94, he already had "the sympathy of the faculty, the cooperation of the students, and the gratitude of Springfield." Burrill, one of the three original members of the faculty, taught algebra, natural history, botany, and horticulture. He had also served as vice regent and dean of sciences, During his tenure as acting regent, the pool for faculty salaries increased and three new faculty positions were added. One of these hires, David Kinley, became the founder of the College of Commerce. Burrill also added a Ph.D. program (the Graduate College had been established in 1877, granting master's degrees) and an Sc.D. (dropped in 1899). Twenty-eight students enrolled in the first summer school program in 1894(twenty-six were teachers). The tree years of Burrill's administration were productive, peaceful years. The mood changed from one of antagonism to cooperation among students, faculty, and the administration, athletics were encouraged, social life became recognized as part of university life, and the student newspaper, the Illinois, became less repressed. The university was taking on a shape that is still discernible today.

Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Archives.
David Kinley, founder of the College of Commerce.

The office of regent was changed to president in 1894, when Andrew Slogan Draper (1894-1904) was appointed. Draper, a lawyer, accepted the position with reluctance, because he was not a scholar. Hew was, however, a superb administrator. By the time he took the helm, the university had switched from three terms a year to two semesters of eighteen weeks each (899). One hundred and thirty hours of credit were required for graduation. draper oversaw a period of remarkable growth. the Colleges of Law and Medicine were established, and these, along with our Graduate College (1877), provided the strong academic base that established Illinois as a major university early in its history. The Medical Schools, located in Chicago was soon followed by Pharmacy and Dentistry. At Urbana, the Engineering Experiment Station was established in 1903. Music and Library Science were also added.

Social life on campus also improved during his tenure. the fraternity system grew, the Illinois published six issues a week, and the Illio began publication. Athletics took a great jump forward when George Huff was hired in 1895. When an Office of the Dean of women was established in 1897, it was the first anywhere devoted to the general counseling of women. It indicated an early acceptance of and concern for women on the campus. An Office of the Dean of Men was added in 1901. In that same year, an advisory board to the president was created.

Called the Council of Administration, it was composed of deans and top administrators across the campus. the University Senate was also established in 1901. It replaced the General Faculty.

One of Draper's detractors referred to him as an "academic Napoleon." He did administer with a firm hand, but the university prospered under his guidance. He, like several of his predecessors, did not show enthusiasm for agricultural study. following an accident, Draper resigned from the president in 1904. Burrill agreed to fill the position for the rest of the academic year.

The Office of the Dean of women (1897) was the first anywhere devoted to the general counseling of women.

The Office of the Dean of Women (1897) was the first anywhere devoted to the general counseling of women.

The presidency of Edmund James (1904-20) marks one of the great periods of the university's early years. He oversaw a surge in the growth and strength of the university. The fledgling Graduate School "was expected to promote academic and experimental research." A printed thesis and interdepartmental oral examinations were already required for graduate degrees. When the legislature appropriated $50,000 for the annual operation of the school, in 1907, this program became the first in the country to receive its own appropriation. Within ten years the graduate program had enrolled 550 students. The David Kinley years, 1920-30, continued the progress. During both these administrations the university enjoyed an excellent relationship with the legislature. Most funding requests were honored with little or no dissent.

Arthur Cutts Willard became president in 1934 and saw the unviersity through the Depression. Despite coming from the Engineering College (B.S. MIT) Willard proved to be a strong supporter of a broad education. In addition to the "cultured" and technical aspects of education, he thought everyone needed an appreciation of the social, economic, and political problems of society. He feared the "breadth of learning, background subjects, and even cultural ideals are being sacrificed in the rush for utilitarian knowledge which is so much in demand, especially in the professional schools." It was during his tenure (1940 that the Division of General Studies was established in LAS. His presidency was characterized by a strong relationship with the legislature and alumni The Illinois Union was built with the concentrated support of his office. His presence on campus will always be felt in that gracious, elegant building. During the Willard years there was also a major controversy The American Council of Education was asked to review the university. George F. Barrett, Attorney General of Illinois, charged: "that since 1934 a group of hand-picked political puppets have virtually built a political empire in Champaign and Urbana, and have clocked their operations and defended their illegal activities behind a shield of education."

The commission found that the student body had improved greatly since 1934, but everything else at the university had remained the same. This was a more serious charge than it might seem, because at that same time teaching and curriculum were improving at other universities. One complaint in this report was that too much emphasis was placed on research to the detriment of teaching -- a charge that has a familiar ring. How much these accusations were politically motivated, and how much the stagnation was due to the recession is not clear.

During the tenure of George Stoddard, from 1946-53, the university gained great academic stature. But he was a controversial figure. After Stoddard, the university entered a more peaceful period in which politics seemed to play a less prominent role in academic life.