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(UW icon)1900

Preliminary Organization--1848-1849.

State University incorporated--The problem of appraisement--Sacrifice of the lands to secure immigrants--First meeting of regents--Chancellor Lathrop chosen--Site chosen--Work of organization--Attractions of "College Hill."--The cabinet--Plan for normal instruction.

Wisconsin was admitted to the Union under the act of Congress approved May 29, 1848. Section B of article x of the State constitution provided for the University, as follows:

Section 6. Provision shall be made by law for the establishment of a state university, at or near the seat of state government, and for connecting with the same from time to time such colleges in different parts of the state as the interests of education may require. The proceeds of all lands that have been or may hereafter be granted by the United States to the state for the support of the university, shall be and remain a perpetual fund to be called the "university fund," the interest of which shall be appropriated to the support of the state university, and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed in such university.

State University incorporated.

By an act of legislature approved July 26, the State University was incorporated, the government of the institution being vested in a board of thirteen regents--twelve of them to be chosen by the legislature, and they to elect a chancellor, who should be ex officio president of the board.1 The University was, by this law, divided into four departments: "(1) The department of Science, Literature and the Arts. (2) The department of Law. (3) The department of Medicine. (4) The department of the Theory and Practice of Elementary Instruction."

The problem of appraisement.

Another act (approved August 12) provided for the appointment, by joint resolution of the legislature, of three persons in each county as appraisers of school and University lands; and these were so appointed, four days later.2 At once the question arose, what should be the policy of the State, in the matter of this endowment of higher education by the national government? Should the undoubted purpose of the nation in making the gift be respected, the lands kept for the inevitable rise,--for immigrants were fast pouring into the State,--and the University of the future thus be assured a worthy income? Or, should these birthright acres be sold at once, on terms so low that immigration would be encouraged and the University be left to the consideration of the next generation, which, fully established in comfortable homes, would doubtless be able to support it sufficiently by taxation? The same problem had arisen in each of the other States carved out of the Old Northwest Territory. Of all five, Michigan alone kept faith with the national government; in the true spirit of the grant, she maintained possession of her lands (up to 1837) until the price averaged $22.50 per acre; and the fund accruing from their sale produces to-day an annual income to the university of about $38,000. We shall see that Wisconsin chose to use the national gift as a bait for immigrants, with consequences permanently injurious to the interests of the University.3

Sacrifice of the lands to secure immigrants.

In accordance with this policy, which took no account of the future welfare of the University, and sought only the immediate interests of the State in advertising cheap lands to attract settlers, the appraisers at once valued sixty-three of the seventy-two sections at prices ranging from $1.13 per acre in Grant county to $7.06 in Washington county--the average being $2.78. The figures were, for the most part, much below ruling market rates. This fact greatly disturbed the regents of the University, whose especial charge it was to protect the interests of that institution in embryo. In 1850 they reported to the legislature that "while the school lands, which are of course lands of ordinary quality, are appraised at an average value of $3.44 per acre, the selected university lands are appraised at the average value of $2.78, being sixty-six cents less per acre than the appraised value of the school lands."

In 1849, numerous sales had been made at the low minimum price fixed by the appraisers but in 1850 the regents succeeded in improving the situation by having the minimum fixed at $10, and over a thousand acres were sold at that price. In 1851, however, the legislature was induced by interested persons to reduce the price to $7, and the preemptors of 1850 were "given credit for the excess over the new minimum price." In 1852, there were new appraisals, at a minimum of $3 per acre, and the greater part of the remaining lands were disposed of at that price. Thus, from the seventy-two University sections granted by the government in 1838, only $150,000 was realized--whereas in Michigan, a similar grant realized its University over $500,000. It will be shown, however, that in later years Wisconsin's management of the University lands presented features even more disheartening.

First meeting of regents.

Meanwhile, the regents, although sadly hampered for funds, were doing their best toward organizing the University. They held their initial meeting in Madison, October 7, 1848, in the library room of the capitol. The first business in hand was the passage of a series of resolutions: (1) Establishing a preparatory department, to be opened on the first Monday in February following, with John W. Sterling, of Waukesha, in charge, he being awarded the title of professor of mathematics, and a salary of $500 per annum; (2) making the conditions of admission to the preparatory department "a knowledge of the elements of arithmetic, grammar, and geography," and outlining a grade of admission to the freshman class (when organized);4 (3) appointing Regent Eleazer Root "an agent to procure information in regard to the manner in which the University should be organized, and to report drafts of practical plans for University buildings; and that for this purpose he be authorized, if he shall deem it necessary, to visit the University of Michigan at the expense of the Board;" and (4) appointing "a committee to negotiate for the purchase of 'College Hill,' including the 'Vanderpool quarter-section,' and such other lots adjoining as may be sufficient for the site of the University building grounds.' At this meeting, John H. Lathrop, president of the University of Missouri, was requested to accept the position of chancellor of the Wisconsin University, at a salary of $2,000, to commence when he entered upon the duties of the position. Horace A. Tenney, a prominent Madison newspaper editor, was requested "to make collections of geological and mineralogical specimens, and natural and artificial curiosities," for the cabinet of the University. Regent Clark was chosen the first librarian. Adjournment was then taken until the sixteenth of January following.

Chancellor Lathrop chosen.
Site chosen.

At the meeting of the board in January, a proposition was received from Catlin & Williamson, agents of Vanderpool, offering for sale "the N. W. 1/4 of sec. No. 23, T. 7 N. of R. 9 E. (excepting block 9 of the village of Madison)," at $15 per acre, "the taxes of the present year to be paid by the purchasers, with a commission of 2 1/2 per cent to said agents." The offer was accepted, and a committee appointed to purchase the property, "together with such other parcels as were necessary for the convenience of said buildings." Committees were also appointed to draft a report to the legislature, and to furnish rooms for the preparatory school, in the Madison academy.

The report which was the outcome of this meeting informed the legislature that the regents "were influenced by a desire to place at the head of the University a man who should not only be qualified, by his experience, scholarship, and character, to preside with dignity and efficiency over the institution, and promote all its interests by wise counsels, but able, also, to impress the popular mind of Wisconsin with the paramount importance of the great subject of education." Accordingly, they "unanimously made choice of John H. Lathrop,5 the present accomplished president of the University of Missouri." He was engaged to enter upon his duties in September, 1849, at a maximum salary of $2,000 --"about the medium of the rate of salaries paid to the presidents of our most respectable American colleges."6

Work of organization.

Having chosen a chancellor, the board set to work to organize their "institution of learning." They announce that "the first department in the University being a department of science, literature, and the arts, * * * in accordance with the usage of similar institutions, the regents deemed it expedient to organize a preparatory school in this department, * * * from the consideration that there are very few academical institutions in the State, where the proper instruction can be obtained, to qualify students to enter the regular classes of the University;" and because "it is also a wise policy, in regard to the University, to extend the advantages of education which it may afford, as far as may be practicable and expedient, so as to benefit the greatest number." The tuition fee in this preparatory school was placed "at the rate of twenty dollars per scholar, per annum" which, "it is believed, will be amply sufficient to defray the expense of instruction."7 In view of the fact that the citizens of Madison had "tendered the University the use of a building8 free of rent," it was decided to "advertise the school to commence on the first Monday of February next, under the charge of John W. Sterling, professor elect in the University."9


Attractions of "College Hill."

Coming to the matter of site, the regents report that they examined several locations offered, but selected "the one known as College Hill," as the most suitable. It is situated one mile west of the Capitol, and sufficiently elevated to overlook the village of Madison, the four lakes, and a wide extent of the surrounding country." It appears that, under the Territorial regime; the present campus had early received the name of "College Hill," from a general conviction that, whenever the University came to be established, this was, of all places about Madison, its proper site. The regents unanimously recommended its purchase to the legislature, with the comment: "The owner of said tract is unwilling to sell the same in parcels. Such portions of it as may not be needed for purposes of the University can be readily disposed of without sacrifice." To Vanderpool's desire to sell his property en bloc, is chiefly due the fact that the University now owns so spacious a tract of beautiful land.10


The cabinet.

Progress is reported upon Mr. Tenney's efforts to establish a cabinet of natural history. He had generously given much of his time to the task, had sent circulars broadcast among the citizens of the State, and secured liberal notices in the newspapers, the result being that "a large and somewhat miscellaneous collection" was soon made. He exhibited much enterprise in this matter, and during his several years of service amassed not only specimens for the cabinet, but books for the library. His name deserves to be remembered among the early benefactors of the University.11

In their report, the regents state that thus far they have formulated no plans for buildings, owing to the fact that the probable income of the university fund is as yet unknown; but they recommend that one building, to cost about $3,500, be erected "on a site intermediate between the capitol and college hill * * * until the erection of other buildings may be found necessary."

Plan for normal instruction.

It will be noticed that the regents formally organized the first department of the University specified in the organic act,--that of science, literature, and the arts; but, there being no scholars then fitted for entering it, provided for a preparatory school as a stepping-stone thereto. It was intended that this school should occupy the building here recommended; "but the ultimate use of the proposed building is designed for the fourth department, whenever the organization of that department shall be deemed expedient." This fourth department, of normal instruction, was the one in which popular interest chiefly centered; the governor's inaugural address, and the regents' report itself, laid special stress upon its importance. The common school system of the State was being organized, and there was a demand in Wisconsin, as well as elsewhere in the West, for teachers who had some normal training. Section 2 of article x of the constitution provides that the position of the school fund remaining after the maintenance of common schools "shall be appropriated to the support and maintenance of academies and normal schools, and suitable libraries and apparatus therefor." As the University is specifically provided for by section 6 of the same article, it is evident that the framers of the instrument had in view separate schools for the professional training of teachers; but the regents endeavored at that time, during later years--although without success to secure this aid for the normal department of the university, contending that that institution was, at least for the time being, the most available medium for the work, also for the conduct of teachers' institutes. The desire for increased attendance at the University, as well as for the material aid which the normal school fund would bestow, was of course the motive of the regents in preferring this claim.


1 This act repealed the Territorial act of January 19, 1838. The regents and their terms of office were as follows: Two years--Alexander L. Collins, Edward V. Whiten, John H. Rountree, and J. T. Clark; four years--Eleazer Root, Simeon Mills, Henry Bryan, and Rufus King; six years--Thomas W. Sutherland, Cyrus Woodman, Hiram Barber, and John Bannister. All were men of ability, and leaders of thought and action in the new commonwealth.

2 The joint resolution adopted August 16, named the following appraisers:

These persons were to appraise not only the University lands, but also the common school lands (the sixteenth section in each township), and the unsold sections of the land grant made by Congress to aid the proposed Milwaukee and Rock River canal.

3 The case is thus stated in Allen and Spencer's "Higher Education in Wisconsin," Bureau of Education, Circ. No. 1 (Washington, 1889), p. 14: "The Congressional grant was bestowed, not for the foundation, but for the support of the University; not as an original basis, but as an endowment. These lands were not the property of the State to be disposed of at will and pleasure; they were held in trust to be sacredly guarded. A faithful administration of this trust would have required that the lands should be sold at the highest possible price; and, if necessary for this purpose, they should have been withheld from sale for a considerable time. But the State was recreant to the trust reposed in her. Reasonable care and judgment had been bestowed upon the selection of the lands, and the appraisers had opportunity to insure to the University the basis of a magnificent endowment; but it was preferred that even the best lands should be sold at the low government price, in order to enhance the attraction to settlers to the highest possible extent."

4 The future freshman was required on entering to have a knowledge of: Latin reader, Caesar's Commentaries, First six books of the Aeneid of Virgil; Caesar's select orations; Sallust; Greek reader; Xenophon's Anabasis; Arithmetic, and elements of algebra; Antiquities of Rome and Greece; English grammar; and ancient and modern geography.

5 John H. Lathrop, LL. D., first chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, was born in Sherburne, Chenango county, N. Y., January 22, 1790. After spending his first two undergraduate years at Hamilton College, he graduated at Yale. He spent two years, succeeding graduation, as preceptor of a grammar school at Farmington, Conn.; from 1822 to 1828, he was a tutor at Yale; then for three years, at academies in Norwich, Vt., and Gardiner, Me.; in 1829, he became professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Hamilton, and six years later professor of law, civil polity, and political economy. In 1840, he became president of the University of Missouri, where he remained until called to Wisconsin. In 1858 he left here, and (1859) took the presidency of the University of Indiana; but in 1860 returned to Missouri as professor of law, being in 1862 chosen chairman of its faculty, and in 1865 again elected president of the University; he died in office August 2 of that year.

6 The act of incorporation required the regents to "submit the amount of salaries of University officers to the legislature, for their approval or disapproval."

7 The course of study was established as follows: "English Grammar; Arithmetic; Ancient and modern geography; Elements of history; Algebra; Caesar's Commentaries; Aeneid of Virgil (six books), Sallust; Select orations of Cicero; Greek lessons; Anabasis of Xenophon; Antiquities of Greece and Rome; Exercises in penmanship, reading, composition and declamation. Instruction will also be given, to all who desire it, in Book-Keeping, Elements of Geometry, and Surveying."

8 The brick building of the Madison Female Academy, on the site of the present High School. See Thwaites's Public Schools of Madison (Madison, 1886), pp. 31, 32.

9 John W. Sterling was born in Wyoming county, Pa., July 17, 1816. After fitting for college, he studied law, but finally entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating therefrom in 1840. He was a tutor in the theological seminary at Princeton, and for a time a missionary in Pennsylvania, coming to Wisconsin in July, 1846. At first professor of mathematics at Carroll College, Waukesha, he soon resigned, and taught school in Waukesha until he was called to the University of Wisconsin. (October 7, 1848). Under Chancellor Barnard, who devoted little time to the institution, Professor Sterling was acting chancellor; he was elected vice chancellor in 1865, and vice-president in 1869, which latter office he occupied at the time of his death (March 9, 1885). His chair was mathematics, but he also gave instruction (until 1874) in natural philosophy and astronomy. He received the degree of Ph. D. from Princeton; and, the same year, that of LL.D. from Lawrence University (Appleton).

10 The tract had originally been selected for Vanderpool in 1836, by his agent, James Duane Doty; the price paid to the government being $1.25 per acre. A large Indian mound, crowning the hill, was levelled to make room for the central building.

11 Chief among the many who cooperated with Mr. Tenney were Increase A. Lapham, of Milwaukee; Horace Jacobs, of Stillwater, Minn.; and R. M. Briggs, of Beetown. See the list of agents, in the appendix to the First Report of the board of regents.