LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 2, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015 and the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act on July 2, the 12th of 150 weekly installments on the university's history explores UK's origins in the legislative act.
Close to 150 years ago on July 2, 1862, an act of Congress, known as the Morrill Act, gave to each state in the Union 30,000 acres of public lands for each senator and representative in Congress "for the endowment, support and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life."
The act made instruction in those branches of learning related to agriculture and the mechanic arts obligatory. It also made instruction in military tactics obligatory. It made the inclusion of other scientific and classical studies optional within the states. The states could use the Morrill fund to establish and maintain an Agricultural and Mechanical College only, or they could make the Agricultural and Mechanical College the nucleus of a university organization that included agriculture and mechanics as one of its colleges.
The University of Kentucky is the outgrowth of the Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College of Kentucky which was established under the provisions of the Morrill Land Grant Act. Under this government allotment, Kentucky received 330,000 acres to build the institution.
When the Morrill Act passed Congress, the country was in the midst of the Civil War. Even with most educational matters on the backburner, the A&M College became a publicly chartered department of Kentucky University (now Transylvania University) under a cooperative plan authorized by the legislature in 1865. The purpose of this plan was to unite sectarian and public education under one organization. This experiment was tried for a number of years. In the meantime, the federal funds authorized under the Morrill Act were used to develop agriculture and mechanic arts (which evolved into UK's College of Engineering) programs at Kentucky University.
In 1878, when the people of Kentucky decided to establish a state institution of higher learning, the A&M College separated from Kentucky University and reestablished on land given to the institution by the city of Lexington and Fayette County. Thirty years later the legislature changed the name of the institution to the State University of Kentucky, and gave it additional financial support. In 1916 the name was again changed, this time to the present title, and additional maintenance was arranged by legislative act.
In the early days of agricultural colleges not much agriculture was actually taught because little was known beyond farm experience. The realization of the scarcity of scientific data in the field gave great impetus to investigations and to the study of sciences related to plant and animal growth. Recognizing the need for investigation, Congress through the Hatch Act, approved in 1887, appropriated to states $15,000 each for the purpose of establishing experiment stations. However, the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station was established in Dec. 1885 with Melville A. Scovell as its director. Scovell, who later served as dean of the College of Agriculture, served as director of the experiment station to 1912.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities considers the nation's system of public universities "the legacy of the Morrill Act of 1862 which established new public institutions in each state through the grant of federal lands. The original mission of these new institutions was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. The Morrill Act provided a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to their daily lives."
For more on the original Morrill Act, visit www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=33.
This story from UK and the nation's history was provided by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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