MU takes shape during past 175 years

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 15, 2014
MU will celebrate its 175th anniversary Tuesday. The campus consisted of just a few buildings in the late 1800s, and Academic Hall burned down in 1892 leaving the columns that are the feature of the Francis Quadrangle today.

COLUMBIA — Stroll down to the MU Columns on Francis Quadrangle. Watch Jesse Hall's towering dome touch the sky. Sit next to Thomas Jefferson's statue. Rub David R. Francis' nose for good luck.

These MU landmarks are a part of the university's 175-year history, a birthday MU is celebrating Tuesday. The campus has transformed since the university was founded in 1839, a story that begins with the Geyer Act and the efforts of the 900 residents of Boone County at the time.

Missouri's Geyer Act of 1839 set up funds to create a state university. Boone County residents amassed $117,921 in cash and land to have the university placed just south of downtown Columbia on land owned by James S. Rollins, according to the university.

Campus was vastly different in the school's early history than it is for students today.

When MU held its first commencement in 1843, there were only two graduates, cousins Robert L. Todd and Robert B. Todd. According to Joseph Glenn Babb’s book "A Short History of the University," MU's attendance in 1843 stood at 74 and had five faculty members, including MU's president at the time, John H. Lathrop. That means about .2 percent of the nearly 35,000 students at MU in fall 2013 attended the university in its early stages.

The early MU was also absent of female students and faculty.Women were not allowed to attend MU until the Normal College, now the College of Education, was founded in 1867. Women were officially allowed to study all subjects four years later.

Academic Hall, built in 1843, stood in the middle of the open land with its iconic columns supporting the building, marking the center of the original campus.

As seen in early artistic depictions of the university, Academic Hall’s surrounding area was very different from today's quadrangle. Only a handful of buildings, such as the president's residence, surrounded Academic Hall to form the campus. Trees and grass lined the landscape, instead of the red brick buildings that currently surround Francis Quadrangle.

Academic Hall burned down Jan. 9, 1892, and the columns were the only pieces of the building to remain standing. When the Board of Curators voted to have the columns removed in 1893, supporters of the columns defended the iconic landmarks, according to the university.

The columns were inspected, and when they were found to be safe, the curators voted to keep them in December 1893.

In 175 years, MU has transformed from a patch of open land with a very small number of students and buildings into a school of almost 35,000 students in the middle of Boone County.

So stroll down to the MU Columns on Francis Quadrangle and examine the progress MU has made over the past 175 years.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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