the UC History Digital Archives
the UC History Digital Archives

Home > General History > Overview and Timelines > A Brief Historical Tour


A Historical View of Today's University

Photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library

A comparison of the size and scope of the University of California a hundred years ago with today offers a dramatic picture of change. In 1900, UC had one campus located in the hills of Berkeley, an affiliated school of medicine in San Francisco, an observatory on Mount Hamilton, Hastings College of Law, and not much more. The total enrollment stood at 2,906 students, with a mere 219 enrolled in graduate programs (a paltry 7 percent of the student body). Nearly sixty percent of all the students were women -- this at a time in which many higher education institutions in the United States excluded women or had quotas to keep the number of women to a small and marginal fraction of the student population.

Today, the University includes a nine-campus system (and soon ten, with a new campus planned in Merced) with research stations throughout California and in many foreign nations, and since World War II managerial responsibility for three national laboratories. It enrolls nearly 170,000 students (approximately 51 percent which are women), with a graduate student population of 40,000 (or 23 percent of the total enrollment). Other spectacular increases can be cited: from 207 faculty in 1900 to 41,240; from a state budget of $183,000 representing 44 percent of the University's operating expenditures to nearly $2 billion from state coffers and equating to approximately 25 percent of its budget (excluding the national laboratories). The contrast between the total operating budgets (not accounting for inflation) offers a staggering picture: $422,000 a hundred years ago compared to over $11 billion today.

to top


California's First State Constitution

The hope for a University of California was expressed at the first Constitutional Convention in Monterey in 1849--a year after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and a year before California's admission to the union. But the new state, for all of its apparent wealth, lacked the means to support government and education. To fill the vacuum, private schools and academies sprang up. Among the founders was a handful of churchmen sent by the American Home Missionary Society of New York to minister to human souls in the mining camps and boom towns. They opened the Contra Costa Academy in Oakland in 1853. Two years later, it was incorporated as the College of California. Through a transfer of its buildings and lands to the state, this institution gave impetus to the creation of the University of California.

Henry Durant, photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library Supporters in those early years included the Rev. Samuel H. Willey, who had arrived in 1849 for work in the territorial capital of Monterey; Sherman Day, the son of Yale's President Jeremiah Day; the Rev. Henry Durant of Yale--who was to become head of the College of California and first President of the University; and the Rev. Dr. Horace Bushnell, who came to California for his health but devoted his visit to a search for a site for the future university.

to top

 

Land and a Charter

Debt stalked the College of California from the beginning and bill collectors routinely waylaid Durant in the streets of Oakland.

Despite intense dedication on the part of Durant, the students, trustees, and friends of the college, the future remained doubtful. In 1853, Congress had bestowed upon the state 46,000 acres of public lands, proceeds of the sale of which were to be used for a "seminary of learning."

In 1862, the Morrill Act offered a grant of public lands to each state that would establish a college teaching agriculture and the mechanic arts--and California's share was 150,000 acres. Taking advantage of this grant, the legislature in 1866 established an Agricultural, Mining and Mechanical Arts College.

The new college had funds but no campus. The College of California had an adequate site, but limited funds. Therefore, when the College of California in 1867 offered its buildings and lands to the state on condition that a "complete university" be established to teach the humanities as well as agriculture, mining, and mechanics, the legislature accepted. The act of 1866 was repealed, and a new Organic Act of 1868 act passed providing the charter for California's only Land-Grant university. Signed by Governor H. H. Haight on March 23, 1868, Charter Day, the new act created the University of California. The college property, in addition to the Oakland site, included land for a new campus among the oak trees and open fields, four miles to the north. The act establishing the University entrusted its organization and government to a corporate body entitled the Regents of the University of California.

After prolonged deliberation by leaders of the university movement, the surrounding townsite was named for George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, who had visited America in 1729 in the hope of founding an educational institution for the evangelization and education of "aboriginal Americans." Finding the time not right, he provided the model for Columbia University and endowed three scholarships at Yale. In America, Berkeley saw the beginning of a new experiment, expressed in a verse that held special meaning for Californians:

"Westward the course of empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past.
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time's noblest offspring is the last."

to top


A New University

The "tiny band of scholars" on hand when the University opened in Oakland in 1869 included ten faculty members and 40 students. Several of the students had been enrolled in the College of California. Graduates of the college legally became alumni of the University in 1868. Of the University charter class, 12 were graduated in 1873, to be known thereafter as "The Twelve Apostles." Classes began at Berkeley in 1873 on completion of North and South Halls (the latter building still stands).

The Regents of the University touched off a furor when they elected as first President Civil War General George B. McClellan, who had opposed Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency of the United States in 1864. General McClellan declined the honor, however, and in 1870 the Regents unanimously elected Professor Daniel Coit Gilman of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. But Gilman was then deeply involved in his work at Yale and also declined. Thereupon, Henry Durant was elected President, taking over from John LeConte who had been serving in an acting capacity.

The act establishing the University provided that, "for the time being, an admission fee and rates of tuition such as the board of regents shall deem expedient, may be required of each pupil.... As soon as the income shall permit, admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the State." Thus, three months after opening the University, the Regents abolished tuition. Although repeated attempts to reimpose it have been made, the University remains tuition-free to California residents.

Photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library A different type of charge--an incidental fee--was levied to cover the cost of student services, including health care. This fee has risen through the years as the variety and cost of such services have increased. The original plan of the University to admit men only was changed by the Regents in 1870 and 17 women registered that fall, Four years later, President Gilman was to remark that the proportion of women who ranked high in scholarship was greater than that of men.

to top


 

President Gilman

In 1872, Durant resigned, stating he believed a younger man could better advance the interests of the University. Once again the Regents turned to Daniel Coit Gilman of Yale who, this time, accepted the appointment. A distinguished educator sought by many universities, Gilman served the University of California for three turbulent years.

Dissension rose on every side and, for a time, the critics and enemies of the University jeopardized its very existence. Criticism centered on the relative emphases to be laid, or being laid, on the literary, agricultural, and scientific departments, and on the use of funds. Competing segments of the state's young economy pressed their interests.

A legislative investigation of alleged mismanagement of the University's land-grant funds was undertaken. Although it resulted in the return of a clean ledger, it affirmed that there bad been a want of clear understanding both as to the grant and the management of the University.

Daniel Coit Gilman, photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library Because of these frustrations President Gilman offered his resignation in 1874, but was dissuaded by the Regents. The following year, however, the offer of the presidency of Johns Hopkins University was too great a temptation and he accepted it. In the perspective of history, Gilman's ability to articulate the role of a university stands out. Between 1874 and 1899, the University would have five presidents: John LeConte, 1874-81; William T. Reid, 1881-85; Edward S. Holden, 1885-87; Horace Davis, 1888-90; and Martin Kellogg, 1893-94 (acting, 1890-93).

to top

Early Benefactors

The University's financial problems seemed endless. In 1887, the legislature levied a cent of tax on every $100 of taxable property in the state. A decade later, the tax advanced to two cents; yet, in the early years, it was seldom easy to get the necessary appropriations for the University.

Many years were to pass, too, before the citizens of California gave large donations to their University; but even the smallest of those first gifts was important. In 1871, for example, a gift of $500 bought a modern encyclopedia and numerous volumes of history and literature.

As Californians began to feel a personal pride in the University, there began a tradition of generous private support that has made possible the steady climb to eminence. Indeed, most of the early buildings on the Berkeley campus were the result of gifts; and up until 1940, more than half of all the lands and buildings of the University came from sources other than state appropriation.

The first large benefaction came from the Honorable Edward Tompkins of Oakland, one of the first Regents. Aware of the new commerce opening up between California and the Orient, he gave property--to be held until it became worth $50,000--for the endowment of the Agassiz Professorship of Oriental Languages.

The first foreign student enrolled at the University at around the turn of the century. Three decades later, the University received a gift of $1,750,000 from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to establish an International House at Berkeley. (Today, the University's foreign student enrollment of 4,000 is the largest in the nation.)

The University's first great scientific station--the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton--was a nineteenth-century gift from a colorful San Franciscan, James Lick. The observatory, which is the site of a 120-inch telescope, the second largest in the world, is famed for its research into the evolution of stars, the history of the galaxy, and other mysteries of space that have intrigued mankind. (Lick now is operated by the new Santa Cruz campus.)

A gift of immense importance was that of Dr. Hugh H. Toland, who, in 1873, gave the Toland Medical College in San Francisco, consisting of property worth about $100,000, to the University.

Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was established by the legislature with generous financial assistance from Judge Serranus Clinton Hastings, the first chief justice of California, who paid $100,000 into the state treasury on condition that the state pay annual interest of seven per cent toward maintaining the school.

Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who became a Regent in 1897, was a benefactress of great generosity. In 1891, she endowed five scholarships for "worthy young women." Later, she provided funds for the University's first comprehensive building plan and endowed two buildings at Berkeley, including the Hearst Memorial Mining Building which is dedicated to the memory of her husband, Senator George Hearst.

Mrs. Jane K. Sather, in memory of her husband Peder--who had been a trustee of the College of California--endowed two professorships and gave to the campus two of its enduring landmarks, Sather Tower (the Campanile), and Sather Gate.

These were but a few of the generous benefactions so important to the University in the early decades.

to top


Growth for the Twentieth Century

The approach of a new century brought a quicker tempo and a broadening responsiveness by the University to the needs of the state and nation. Although the first two years of undergraduate study continued to be general in nature, the variety of upper division courses rapidly increased to meet the requirements of a developing society.

Agriculture, the humanities, and most of all, engineering, were to form the bases of its early claims to fame. Scholars and scientists of international reputation were attracted to Berkeley. Eugene W. Hilgard, one of the nation's great geologists and soil chemists, joined the faculty in 1875 and laid the foundations of the College of Agriculture. Five years earlier, the Regents had recognized the need for agricultural extension by authorizing "the Professor of Agriculture" to visit as many agricultural centers in the state as possible and extend to them the advantages of the college.

Samuel B. Christy became dean of the College of Mining in 1885, with the responsibility of laying out laboratories for one of the first adequately equipped mining schools in the world. Under his direction, the reputation of the college was firmly established; soon students were coming from lands as distant as Peru and South Africa. Frank H. Probert, an English mining engineer, who became dean in 1917, continued the tradition of strong leadership.

The College of Civil Engineering also performed notable service in the building up of the young state. Shortly after the turn of the century, engineering added a Department of Irrigation headed by the international authority, Elwood Mead, whose advice was constantly in demand by countries plagued with the problems of dry climate. Later on, under Charles Derleth, the college would be called upon by the federal government in the planning stages of such mammoth projects as the Hoover Dam.

Science, in the early years, was mainly centered in the College of Chemistry where the foundations were well laid by a few eminent scientists. In 1912, Gilbert N. Lewis joined the staff to serve with distinction as professor of physical chemistry and dean of the college.

Charles Mills Gayley, photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library By the middle 1890's, Charles Mills Gayley was building an English department that would become famous. Henry Morse Stephens, before his death in 1919--and after him, Herbert E. Bolton--made the study of history and California seem almost synonymous. Alexis Lange, who became dean of the School of Education, was the father of the junior college plan so widely followed today.

San Franciscans were eager to develop trade with the Orient and Berkeley's College of Commerce was originally intended to train young men for the export trade. Almost immediately, however, it enjoyed a more broadly based success. Industry and business throughout the state, it turned out, also wanted college-trained men. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 stimulated California's commerce with Europe and South America, resulting in still greater enrollments in the college.

Secretary of State Elihu Root, in the first decade of the new century, called attention to the poor quality of America's consular officers, then largely political appointees, and the University responded with a course for the training of foreign service personnel.

Among new departments created early in the century were anatomy, anthropology, architecture, biochemistry, household art, household science, hygiene, physiology, Sanskrit, and Slavic languages. There was a vigorous expansion of existing departments. The Department of History and Political Science became three: history, political science, and economics.

The University summer sessions, begun in 1899 to train teachers in physics and chemistry, met with an enthusiastic response.

to top


A New Century and President Wheeler

Benjamin Ide Wheeler, photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library Benjamin Ide Wheeler, a distinguished scholar, a man of immense vigor, came to the University as its President in 1899--and served in that capacity for 20 years. They were booming years for the University and President Wheeler seemed ideally suited to the times. And although he saw the intimate relation of the University to the state, the importance of research, the necessity of a great library and spacious buildings (and was himself one of the University's most persuasive fund-raisers), he regarded the primary role of higher learning as the development of character.

Self-government by the student body had begun in 1887 when the Associated Students of the College of Letters and Science was organized. Early generations of students were a lively lot, and it was President Wheeler who initiated a system that finally proved satisfactory to all. Under "senior rule," the senior class became the real disciplinary and law-making body. So effective did this system prove that the faculty in practice gave up all but an advisory role.

Shortly after Wheeler's Presidency, the faculty itself demanded a freer rein in the control of its affairs on the premise that if students could be trusted with self-government, so could their elders. This won for the Academic Senate the right to set its own rules, select its own members, and appoint its committees.

When Wheeler came to the University, there had been 2,600 students; by his retirement in 1919, the number had almost tripled. During that period, the University began the lateral growth that has accelerated through the years. The University Farm School was established at Davis, the Citrus Experiment Station at Riverside, the Scripps Institution for Biological Research at La Jolla, and the Hooper Foundation for Medical Research in San Francisco. The Southern Branch of the University at Los Angeles was just coming into being. University Extension, which had been established in 1892, matured rapidly during President Wheeler's administration. Working with faculty, Wheeler helped to created the universities first Summer Session, and helped reorganize the undergraduate curriculum to include a "lower division" and an "upper division." Alexis Lange, chair of the Department of education at Berkeley, helped to establish the California junior colleges and outlined what would become the Associate of Arts degree.

Graduate work expanded and was formally recognized in the establishment of the Graduate Division. In the main, however, President Wheeler is remembered for what he himself regarded as a university's noblest work--the building of responsible and enlightened citizens.


Growth of the Campuses

By 1923, the University of California led the universities of the United States and the world in enrollment with 14,061 full-time students--surpassing that of Columbia University. By the end of the 1920's, it had conferred more than 40,000 degrees. Its alumni included four governors of California and several United States senators and congressmen. Other graduates were occupying positions of responsibility in all avenues of life and in many parts of the world.

David Prescott Barrows, photo courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library In terms of academic and scientific achievement, the University was not yet among the vanguard of the nation's great centers of learning; but it would rapidly achieve this status. Westward migration was swelling the population of California and the University was hard-pressed to grow quickly enough. Primarily because of rapid development of the "Southern Branch," Professor David Prescott Barrows of the Department of Political Science, who succeeded President Wheeler, signaled his induction into office by presenting the University with its first red-ink budget--red ink to the extent of half a million dollars. The reaction from the Regents was, "It doesn't seem to be enough." Thereupon, President Barrows increased the deficit to $670,000 and received the Board's approval.

An initiative measure which would have provided an income from the state of more than $4 million was submitted to the voters in 1920. Although failing to pass by a narrow margin, it paved the way for financial aid by legislative act a few months later.

The geographic size and shape of the state and the growth pattern of its cities created need not only for a large campus at Los Angeles, but for smaller ones to serve other regions. For these new campuses, there would not be the protracted growing pains that had accompanied the development of Berkeley. The need was better established in the public mind. Legislatures were generous in their support; alumni and other citizens gave liberally of the "extras" that make the difference between the merely adequate and the exceptional.

Today there are nine campuses, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, and more than 100 research stations and affiliated schools and activities. They span and crisscross the state of California, from a peak in the Sierra Nevada (the White Mountain Research Station) to below sea level in the Imperial Valley (an agricultural field station).

to top


The Modern University

William Wallace Campbell, a professor of astronomy and for many years director of Lick Observatory, served as President of the University in the important years 1923-30. His administration was characterized by steady growth and rising enrollments, the latter trend continuing even when the on-set of the Depression foreshadowed a curtailment of physical development.

Until the 1930's, the University remained a lively but predominantly regional institution. If one year can be said to have marked a turning point, it was 1934. That year the American Council of Education asked 2,000 leading scholars of the United States to analyze the graduate schools of the nation's universities.

The survey covered 36 fields of learning. Universities were rated on the basis of their "distinguished" or "adequate" departments. For the first time, the Ivy League was compelled to acknowledge serious competition in the west. California rated as many distinguished and adequate departments as any university in the country.

to top


President Sproul

In 1930, Robert Gordon Sproul became the first native Californian and alumnus of the University to serve as its President. He was to guide its fortunes longer than any of his predecessors--through three cataclysmic decades that included the Depression, World War II, and the birth of the atomic bomb. And he was to see the University attain world renown for scientific achievement in a period when the body of scientific knowledge began to expand at a rate unprecedented in history.

A graduate of the Berkeley campus with a degree in engineering, Sproul became vice-president and comptroller at the age of 34. In addition, he served as secretary of the Regents. As an undergraduate at the University, he had been active in student affairs and athletics; as President, he demonstrated an intuitive grasp of the problems of the undergraduate.

None exceeded him in skill at winning over legislative critics and converting them into staunch allies of the University. When President Sproul assumed office, the University had become the first major institution in the country to expand to a multi-campus plan. The problem of maintaining unity of purpose and spirit among the diverse segments had assumed major proportions.

For many years, President Sproul spent about half of his time at Berkeley, a third at Los Angeles, and the rest among the other campuses. In 1936, he and his family transferred their main residence to Los Angeles for a year. The burden of his tasks was somewhat lightened in the early 1950's when considerable local autonomy was granted to the chancellors at Berkeley and Los Angeles and to the provosts and directors on the other campuses.

Two of his innovations, designed to forge a stronger unity among the campuses, have become part of the University's traditions; the annual conference of the California Club, which enables student leaders from each campus to meet, exchange ideas, and explore common problems; and the annual All-University Faculty Conference, which serves a similar function for the faculty.

With a view to insuring academic excellence, President Sproul from the beginning hammered away at a single theme. The University of California must be able to compete for top faculty members--not merely with other universities in California but with the leading institutions in the country. His powers of persuasion in the legislature were such that UC was able to match, in salaries and in the facilities for teaching and research, the best that the eastern universities could offer. Over the years, he attracted a brilliant array of talent in virtually every branch of learning. Thus it was possible for the University, while expanding horizontally, to maintain quality.

In 1929, Ernest O. Lawrence had invented the cyclotron at Berkeley, the first of a succession of "atom-smashers, 11 in recognition of which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. This in turn was the first of a succession of Nobel Prizes to come to members of the faculty.

The University contribution to national defense began in the late 1930's. With the advent of World War II, every campus became a center of research and training. Thousands of members of the academic community were granted leave to engage in war work, to join the armed forces, or to devote full time to scientific research. Under the University War Training Program, the campuses and University Extension undertook the technical training of manpower for California war industries. Vitally needed research went into the improvement of nutrition for the civilian and military population, into medicine and public health, the social and physical sciences. Out of this effort came major breakthroughs, notably in the health and physical sciences.

The University-operated Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory produced the first atomic bombs, whose use toward the end of World War II came as a shocking revelation of man's power to destroy. Soon, however, the nation's hopes could turn toward peaceful uses of this vast new potential of energy, and primarily they would turn toward the universities.

For the University in those years, there were many measures of greatness. The faculty had long led in the number of recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships. By 1955, it ranked second only to Harvard University in membership in the National Academy of Sciences; and a few years later, it would occupy first place.

The library at Berkeley, although sixth in size, ranked third best in the nation for the quality of its collections, with only the Library of Congress and Harvard Library leading. The UCLA library, one of the youngest in the country, was also one of the most rapidly growing, having passed the one-million mark in 1953.

Physical development of the campuses, which had lagged during the depression and been further delayed by war, would boom during the 1940's and 1950's. It had to, for the University anticipated an immediate peak in the form of huge veteran enrollments and a subsequent period of sustained growth. Between 1944 and 1958, the University acquired the Santa Barbara campus and developed liberal arts colleges at Davis and Riverside. The Medical School at Los Angeles was begun in that period. Meanwhile, graduate programs were expanding rapidly and there was great demand for postdoctoral training in the medical and physical sciences.

In California and throughout the nation, a new tide was running in student demand for college admission. At the beginning of Sproul's long Presidency, new state and junior colleges had started springing up everywhere. Each session of the California legislature brought greater pressure and competition for new campuses and budgets. President Sproul recognized that, unless means could be found for their orderly development, the institutions of public higher education faced a potentially disastrous course of competition.

Robert Gordon Sproul retired in 1958. As President Emeritus of the University, he makes his office in a building named in his honor. He was succeeded by Clark Kerr, formerly Chancellor at Berkeley.

to top


The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education

By 1958, the University had 44,000 students and foresaw that its enrollment would rise to almost 120,000 by 1975 (a modest projection, as later became apparent). Facilities would need to be tripled in that period.The state and junior colleges also needed new classrooms and campuses and larger faculties.

In 1959, the legislature requested the Liaison Committee of the Regents and the California State Board of Education to develop a long-range plan. A survey team under the direction of the two boards produced the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. This was approved in principle by the Regents and the state board in December, 1959. A special session of the 1960 legislature passed the Donahoe Higher Education Act, incorporating most of the Master Plan recommendations, and approved other legislation to implement the plan.

Thus the state was able to move forward with expansion of all segments of public higher education without wasteful duplication. In order to provide for new campuses and enlargement of others, the public generously voted large construction bond issues in 1956, 1958, 1962, and again in 1964.

Under the plan, the University continued to meet its traditional obligations: university-level instruction and professional teaching, research, and public service. New admission standards were introduced in 1962 under which the top 12.5 per cent of California high school graduates were eligible for the University. The plan provided for the University's lower division enrollment to be somewhat decreased relative to upper and graduate division enrollments. Certain lower division curricula were abolished, since increasing numbers of students would do their lower division work at junior colleges.

The University and the state colleges established a joint Graduate Board to develop procedures for a cooperative doctoral program and the awarding of joint doctorates in selected fields. In accordance with the plan, the University extended the use of its libraries to the faculties of other institutions of learning in the state.

Next > 1960-2000


Sources: The Centennial Record of the University of California, compiled and edited by Verne A. Stadtman and the Centennial Publications Staff (Berkeley: University of California, 1967), and The University of California: History and Achievements by Dean C. Johnson. (Berkeley: University of California, 1996).

to top


the UC History Digital Archives

Copyright © 1999-2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 05/28/04.