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Happy birthday, University of Washington

Early in 1861 Arthur and Mary Denny, Charles and Mary Terry, and Edward Lander donated land on a forested 10-acre knoll overlooking Elliott Bay. The University was established there, on the site of what is now the Fairmont Olympic Hotel on University Street in downtown Seattle.

The Territorial University of Washington opened November 4, 1861. The fledgling University was little more than a backwoods school, which closed for lack of funds several times during its earliest years. The first faculty consisted of one professor who taught a curriculum that included Latin, Greek, English, history, algebra, and physiology.

-- Historic Overview - University of Washington

Today we're celebrating the 150th birthday of the University of Washington. 1861 was also the year the U.S. Civil War began, and on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog they've been discussing how "two old ladies back-to-back" gets you back to an era when it was legal to own a human being in this country. In a similar vein, we were talking at a meeting yesterday about how somebody who has worked at the UW for thirty years (there were two at the table) has worked here for a fifth of the existence of the university. So I guess we're still young, and the history is still fresh. It only took 150 years to evolve from a backwoods school with a single professor to a world class research university.

Happy birthday, University of Washington!

Update: Good stuff from the Seattle Times, "UW began 150 years ago in audacious manner":

"Education throughout the Sound district is in an extremely backward condition," wrote William Barnard, the second president of the university, shortly after he resigned from his post in 1866.

"As an illustration: Not one of the misses attending the university, the first quarter after our arrival, could accurately repeat the multiplication table," Barnard wrote.

"Society is also greatly disorganized; drunkenness, licentiousness, profanity, and Sabbath desecration are the striking characteristics of our people," said Barnard, who counted "two distilleries, 11 drinking establishments, one bawdy house (brothel)" — and gambling going on just about everywhere.

It's worth remembering that the first settlers arrived in Seattle in 1851, and there were only 250 settlers and no high schools in the settlement when the UW was founded ten years later. Why build up to a university? Full speed ahead.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 4th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
"two old ladies back to back" -- I hadn't realized that before. The surviving member of my mom's generation is in her 90s, and I'm sure she knew someone who lived into HER 90s, so there you go.

Happy Birthday, UW! Hopefully it'll still be there in a couple years.
Nov. 4th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
We'll still be here in a couple years, but we may be a private school at the rate state-support is being cut.
Nov. 6th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
I seem to recall from the history of Seattle that I read many years ago that the university was originally established in order to make Seattle eligible for something. I'm guessing that if that was so then it was either federal money or the right to be the future state capitol.
Nov. 7th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Well, we missed out on becoming the state capitol, but the UW certainly collects a lot of federal research grants.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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