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.