Whitney Hale


College: Libraries

Sesquicentennial Stories: Celebrating A Century of UK

Published: May 31, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 31, 2013) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 58th of 150 weekly installments remembers the institution's centennial.


"To all of us, I issue this challenge: that we make the centennial year the period to wage a major battle against anti-intellectualism in American life." - President John W. Oswald, University of Kentucky


For UK, the university's centennial meant more than a nostalgic look at its past. Kentucky looked back with pride at the energy and endurance which had carried the university from its unprepossessing origins through its early rough-and-tumble struggle for existence, in a state that was never rich, among people who were never devoted to learning. Kentuckians had the right to be proud of a university that had overcome obstacles that might have caused a less stubborn people to settle for much less.


The real focus of the centennial was on the future. It was a time for a realistic look at the university, its weaknesses and limitations, as well as its new strengths and rapid growth. It was a time for appraisal, as well as celebration.


Both purposes were served. Years of planning brought leading figures from the worlds of intellect, politics and the arts to exchange ideas with UK students and faculty. Graduates who had achieved distinction were honored. Books, music, art, drama and scholarly accomplishments were produced. And for students, alumni and citizens of the state, there were times for pure entertainment. 


Centennial plans, years in the making, were announced formally Feb. 5, 1965, at a Centennial Preview Press Dinner. William B. Arthur, managing editor of Look magazine and UK alumnus, served as a principal speaker. At this dinner, President Oswald revealed that U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson would address the Founders Day convocation. Professor Thomas D. Clark and his wife, Martha Turner Clark, who headed the centennial committee, were also present at the dinner.


Governor Edward T. Breathitt, Oswald and President Johnson welcomed in the Day of Centennial. It was a big moment for the Oswald children, to have the opportunity to meet the president of the United States. National Media were in force to cover President Johnson’s speech.


To stimulate the intellectual life of students, faculty and the public, the university brought to its campus distinguished persons from the worlds of politics, religion, the humanities and sciences. Some taught for a semester and some took part in the shorter conferences. Some lectured for the university’s community as well, including the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1955, Dr. Hugo Theorell, the director of the biochemistry department of the Nobel Medical Institute in Stockholm. He held a one semester professorship during the centennial.


The fine arts community at UK produced a number of special events. In most of these events, students took part, starting with pre-centennial Shakespeare productions. The Centennial Theater produced plays during the summer. The Art Department (now the UK School of Art and Visual Studies) had special exhibits in addition to student shows. A contest was held for original music written by students. Giuseppe Verdi’s "Messa da Requiem" was performed by the UK Choristers, the Lexington Singers, and the Cincinnati Symphony. The performance was to be repeated in Carnegie Hall.


American Presbyterian minister and socialist Norman Thomas attracted an enthusiastic crowd for his lectures and discussions. His visit was sponsored by the Student Centennial Committee. Sponsored jointly by the university and the College of the Bible, "Science and Religion" was the first major conference of the year, by Julian Hartt, the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School.


Chief Justice Earl Warren took part in the dedication of the new College of Law building and received an honorary degree. Senator Everett Dirksen, a lively figure from the political world, came to the campus to address a convocation honoring the late Vice President Alben W. Barkley. The occasion was the unveiling of a replica of a statue of Barkley that was placed among Barkley memorabilia at the university library. The original stands in Frankfort, Ky. Members of the Barkley family attended the ceremony.


One of the most popular of the many conferences and symposia held during UK's centennial was titled "Women: Equal But Different." At the two-day session, attended by 500 women, 12 Kentucky women were honored for various activities and contributions to their community.


Part of the entertainment for the American Association of University Professors was a horse show staged at Keeneland and a concert by Kentucky musician John Jacob Niles.


The centennial also marked the year of the graduation of the first class from UK’s new College of Dentistry.


The high point of the centennial was Founders Week 1965. The principal speaker at the concluding centennial convocation of Founders Day 1966, was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Goldberg.


"We believe that the hundredth birthday of a university does not mean a task completed, but that it must be the dawn of its mission. Consequently, it is important that major emphasis in this celebration be not primarily on the past or even on the present but rather on the vital role of scholarship in the years ahead. Essentially today we must rededicate the university to meeting the problems engendered by our complex, changing society." - UK President John  W. Oswald, from "Centennial: The University of Kentucky Centennial Observance"


This story on UK's history is presented 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.




MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Hale, (859) 257-8716whitney.hale@uky.edu

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