Home > General History > The Ten Campuses > Davis >

Historical Overview

Formatted version

Davis: Historical Overview

The Need for a University Farm
The establishment of a university farm was the culmination of a groundswell of support in the latter half of the 19th century. Need was seen for research into farming practices for California's specific conditions, especially as the role of agriculture in the state's economy continued to increase. Farmers' organizations, including the nation-wide Patrons of Husbandry, more commonly known as the Grange, and the California Creamery Operators Association, lobbied for an agricultural education based on practical, hands-on instruction and actual farm experience. Dispute over the facilities and emphasis of Berkeley's College of Agriculture also played a role, as critics on both sides argued that the program was either too theoretical or too practical. In 1868, Ezra S. Carr, the first professor of the College of Agriculture at the Berkeley campus, called for a legislative investigation into the lack of hands-on training facilities there. Eugene W. Hilgard, Carr's successor, instead called for an education based more on scientific investigation than on hands-on experience, what he called "drill in handicraft."

Two individuals became influential in this growing debate. One was William H. Saylor, a member of the California State Agricultural Society, later chemist and associate secretary of the State Dairy Bureau. Saylor was also a journalist for the Dairy and Produce Review, and took up the cause of improving instruction at Berkeley's College of Agriculture. The other was Peter J. Shields, secretary of the State Agricultural Society, who later became a superior court judge in Sacramento.

Shields took an interest in the issue when he discovered that young men had to go to school in other states to learn to judge dairy products. Shields later described his impression of the agricultural education available at the time: "There was a College of Agriculture at Berkeley in connection with the University of California, but it was purely academic. It was largely confined to the study of botany and chemistry; it had no farm and little prestige; it was apt to be thought of as a snap curriculum, attracting students who wanted to go to college but wanted to avoid its more difficult work." Shields began work to set up a more practical establishment for training young men and women interested in agriculture. Raised on a dairy farm in the Sacramento area, he felt such a school should combine the scientific "whys" and the technical "hows" of agriculture.

Legislative Action
Shields' idea first came before the legislature in 1901 in a bill he drafted, but which was not passed that year. He continued gathering support for the idea of such a school, corresponded widely with heads of successful colleges and schools in other states, and, as the 1903 session of the legislature began, he again prepared a bill for introduction, one of several agricultural bills introduced at that time. The bill was passed by the legislature but vetoed by Governor George Pardee, who explained that in refusing to sign the measure he was not indicating hostility to the idea, but that the bill did not provide enough to fill the needs.

Creamery and livestock interests in this state also became active in the movement about this time and for the next two years, agitation for the passage of the bill continued. By the time the 1905 session of the legislature was ready to open, Shields had prepared another bill. In this he was assisted by Professor E. W. Major of the University, who was to become the first farm superintendent. When the bill finally was presented, Yolo county representatives who had been active in the matter added an amendment describing the kind of farm to be purchased and provisions relating to water and water rights. This rider written on a purple scrap of paper and pinned to the original draft provided that in soil, location, climate, and environment the place selected be typical of the best agricultural conditions in California. The object of the rider was to make the bill fit Yolo county rather than Berkeley and to add to the county's chances in securing the farm.

Senator Marshal Diggs of Yolo county and Assemblyman W. A. Johnstone of Los Angeles sponsored the bill. It was passed and immediately signed by Governor Pardee in 1905. More than 50 sites were considered for the farm, from Glenn county in the north to Fresno in the south. The Yolo county site was finally chosen, largely through the efforts of George W. Pierce, because it was in the center of California's great rural agricultural industry and most available for building up an educational institution so that all in this industry could have the easiest access to it. The soil and climate met the provisions of the legislative act and Yolo county represented the inter-relations of two great systems of California farming--rainfall and irrigation.

UC Davis Is Established
The farm was purchased in 1906 for $104,250. The land consisted of 778 acres of what was once the Jerome C. Davis farm, which in 1858 had won a first-class rating from the California State Agricultural Society.

The first structure, built in 1907, was a residence for the farm manager. Over time, it housed the home economics department, the Faculty Club, the Departments of Economics, Geography, and Sociology, and the chancellor's office. According to campus lore, two fig trees, north of Sproul Hall, date back to the Davis plantings.

In 1909, the farm was described in this manner: "50 acres planted or to be planted to trees or vines, 50 acres for cereal investigation, 30 acres for investigating various methods of applying water, 80 acres in alfalfa and livestock, and 20 more under preparation. Various small tracts, buildings all of shingled construction, consisted of a dairy building, a livestock judging pavilion, a dairy barn, a seed house, a shop, a water tower. Under construction were a dining hall, a horticulture building, and veterinary clinic."

A leaflet about the University Farm of that period said, "The School of Agriculture is for young men who can spend more time in studying the principles and practices of agriculture. The full course is for three years and is granted to those who are 15 years of age and have completed the grammar grades of the common schools. Instruction is given in all lines of agriculture including farm practice, livestock judging, botany and plant propagation, horticulture, viticulture, dairying, breeds and feeding livestock, soil fertility, farm props, farm mechanics, irrigation, land surveying, mathematics, and English. The course does not fit [one] for college, it aims at the most practical needs of the young man who will operate his own farm. The school year continues from about September 20 to May 6 or nearly 8 months."

The First Students and Administrators
The school opened in October, 1908, for non-degree students, and in January, 1909, the first degree students came from Berkeley for a semester. About 40 young men were in attendance. One-half of them have had some high school training; ages ranged from 15 to 24, with the average at 18.

Arthur M. Cleghorn was appointed principal of the School of Agriculture; and E. M. Major, manager of the farm. In 1910, Leroy Anderson was named superintendent of the University Farm School and in 1913, Huber E. Van Norman was appointed dean. Dean Claude B. Hutchison followed in 1922. Walter Howard was director of the college from 1925 until 1937, when Assistant Dean Knowles Ryerson, who had been a student at Davis in 1916 and later an official of U. S. Department of Agriculture, went into office. In 1952, Ryerson moved to Berkeley as dean of the College of Agriculture there and Stanley B. Freeborn moved from the dean's office in Berkeley to the Davis campus as its first provost. He was named chancellor in 1958 and retired in 1959. He was succeeded by Emil M. Mrak.

The Campus Grows
The campus itself grew rapidly in the first decades with additional buildings and additional land. A campus building plan was adopted in 1925. By 1930, the campus had grown to 1,000 acres and by 1951, it had become 3,000 acres. By the 1960s, about 700 additional acres were added to the campus. All of the early buildings on the campus were wood, mostly shingled. In 1922, the first permanent buildings were erected--dairy industry and horticulture. These buildings were still extant in 1968.

Academic Developments
In the academic developments on the Davis campus, the non-degree work in agriculture continued to grow. In 1922, four-year degree work was initiated and the Farm School course was renamed the non-degree curriculum. Until then, students had to take most of their work for a degree in Berkeley. In 1936, the home economics curriculum was opened. The campus was taken over by the Army Signal Corps from 1943 to 1945. In 1949, the School of Veterinary Medicine was opened. The College of Letters and Science enrolled its first students in 1951. The two-year non-degree curriculum continued until June, 1960.

In 1959, the Regents declared that Davis was to be a general campus of the University and in 1962, the College of Engineering was established--built on the well-developed agricultural engineering department that had long existed on the campus. Davis' own Graduate Division was established in 1961. In 1964, the School of Law was established, with the first students to be admitted for the fall of 1966. In 1965, the School of Medicine was authorized and a dean appointed, with the first students to be admitted in September, 1968. Although there were many women students attending Davis in the 1960s, this was not always so. The first women to brave the all-male stronghold came from Berkeley in 1914. These three women, all students of the College of Agriculture in Berkeley and all city born and reared, felt that they should come Davis for a term to get an insight into practical farming to round out their agricultural education.

UC Davis in the 1960s
The campus began as an agriculture school and continued to be the principal agricultural campus of the University. Most of its 3,700 acres were devoted to agricultural research, and agriculture played a dominant role on the campus. Due to development of the biological sciences in agriculture, Davis had a far higher percentage of biologists than was normally found on a campus of its size and many of the science departments in the College of Letters and Science had their beginnings in the College of Agriculture.

Adding to Davis' strength in the sciences, several unique research features were developed, such as the Agricultural Toxicology and Residue Research Laboratory, Food Protection and Toxicology Center, the National Center for Primate Biology, Radiobiology Laboratory, Computer Center, and Ecology Center. A School of Medicine was planned it and was decided that it would be closely related to the growing and expanding School of Veterinary Medicine. Many research projects and basic facilities were to be shared by the two schools.

In planning for its future, the campus in the 1960s continued to develop in the sciences and at the same time build breadth and depth in the social sciences, humanities, and arts.


Copyright © 1999-2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 06/18/04.