Mizzou Celebrates 175th Birthday

The following article offers a compelling look at the history of the University of Missouri over the past 175 years. To read the article in its entirety please visit missouri.edu.

Our Founding

The University of Missouri owes its existence to 900 citizens of Boone County who, in 1839, pledged $117,921 in cash and land to win the bid to locate the new state university in Columbia. This investment in the promise of a better future for all through public higher education made the University of Missouri the first public university west of the Mississippi River. In fact, it’s the first in Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase Territory.

Artist’s rendering of Academic Hall, ca. 1850. Courtesy University Archives

Artist’s rendering of Academic Hall, ca. 1850. Courtesy University Archives

Our Beginnings

University cultural life began in 1842 with the formation of two literary societies, the Union Literary and the Athenaean Society. The first department of art was directed by George Caleb Bingham, the famous Missouri artist.In 1849 the first course in civil engineering west of the Mississippi River was taught at MU. Today, the College of Engineering offers courses in everything from biological to nuclear engineering, and its students work on cutting-edge research projects such as designing a better NASA spacesuit and creating more efficient solar cars.The “Normal College,“ now the College of Education, was established in 1867 to prepare teachers for Missouri public schools and enrolled the university’s first female students. Women were admitted to all academic classes in 1871. Today the College of Education leads new teachers in efforts to reform the American public school system and develop new classroom technologies.

Our Growth

The real impetus for growth occurred in 1870 when MU was awarded land-grant status and the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, later renamed the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, opened its doors. The Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station began operation in 1888. Today it encompasses 10 centers and research farms, allowing scientists to test discoveries from university laboratories and share their research results with the public.During those early years, MU also added schools of law and medicine. Undaunted by a disastrous fire in 1892, the University rebuilt around all that remained of its first academic building, six Ionic Columns that now symbolize public higher education in Missouri. By the beginning of the 20th century, the university had increased the number of graduates, acquired an affectionate nickname, Mizzou, and blossomed as a major research university. During this time, a number of programs were added, including home economics, later renamed the College of Human Environmental Sciences; nursing, which in 1975 became the Sinclair School of Nursing; the College of Business; and an interdisciplinary graduate school.In 1908, MU established the world’s first journalism school now globally famous for its Missouri Method of teaching students in authentic media outlets, including a daily city newspaper, an NBC-affiliate TV station and one of National Public Radio’s top affiliates.

mizzou 1839

An 1893 artist’s rendering shows changes and additions planned for MU’s campus after the Academic Hall fire. A new Academic Hall built in 1895 to replace the original building was renamed Jesse Hall in 1922. Photo courtesy University Archives

Modern Mizzou

Following World War II, MU’s enrollment escalated, partially due to the GI Bill. It became fully integrated in 1950 when it opened its doors to African-American students. By 1962, the university became a four-campus system with flagship Mizzou as its largest university member. Today, the Mizzou family is a community of 35,000 students, more than 13,000 full-time faculty and staff members, 267,000 alumni worldwide and countless friends who support the university.


“Let these columns stand. Let them stand a thousand years. Crown them with an arch, memorial to the men who in their magnificent presence learned what life and duty are, and how to live the one and do the other. They will be to all the rallying point of future devotion and service to the University. For surely the strongest bulwark around any institution is the ceaseless recollection and loving devotion of its intellectual children. No university can be most attractive and great till age has brought it this support. No argument persuades like sentiment, and no force impels like affection.” —  G.F. Rothwell, president of the Board of Curators, 1892

*Feature photo courtesy of MU Extension STL

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