200 Years of The Leaders and Best:
University of Michigan Bicentennial
The year was 1817. The United States itself had not existed for very long, and Michigan was not yet a state but still a frontier territory. Detroit was a long way from being the world class city it would become.
Flint, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor would not be established until somewhat later. Yet, even then, people in Michigan Territory had big ideas about public education.
On August 26 of 1817, territorial governor Lewis Cass and local judges drew up the initial charter for what was originally called The Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania. “Catholepistemiad” being a word coined by Judge Augustus Woodward, after whom the main north-south road in Metro Detroit is named.
He intended the word to mean “a school of universal science.” The original proposed name was soon simplified to The University of Michigan.
In the early years in Detroit, the U of M was not really what we would now think of as a college or university. It was something more like an advanced high school or preparatory school.
Fast forward 20 years to 1837. By then, Michigan had become a state and the population was growing. Therefore, there was more of a need for public education at all levels.
Among the many towns and cities being established in the state at that time was Ann Arbor, in the county just west of Wayne County where Detroit is.
A forty acre, square shaped plot of land in Ann Arbor was acquired and the first few buildings of what would eventually become a world class university were built. The Reverend Henry Colclazer was appointed in 1837 as the first University of Michigan Librarian.
In 1841, the first college level students began their studies at the Ann Arbor campus. Four years later, twelve men formed the first graduating class of the University of Michigan.
The School of Literature, Sciences and Arts (LSA) was the first specific U of M college or school to be established. As the rest of the 1800s progressed, other schools and colleges were added, such as Engineering, Medicine, Law, and of course Library Science.
As has unfortunately been the case in American society generally, the University was slow to integrate on the basis of race and gender. Samuel Codes Watson was the first known African-American student at the University in 1853.
In 1870, Madelon Stockwell became the first woman student at Michigan.
By the 1860s, many of the extracurricular activities that are now such a big part of University life had been or were being established. Greek letter societies had existed almost from the beginning of the Ann Arbor campus.
The first of today’s intercollegiate sports teams, the Wolverines baseball team, began play in 1866.
The following year, the familiar University colors of maize and blue were first used.
In 1879, the Michigan football team played and won its first game.
At that point, the American version of the game had not yet fully evolved and what was played then was more like today’s game of rugby.
As history moved forward from the 1800s into the 1900s, the Ann Arbor campus continued to grow and expand far beyond the original 40 acre “Diag” area, taking over larger and larger parts of Ann Arbor.
Eventually there would be four distinct “campuses” in Ann Arbor, first being the original campus, another being the Medical Center.
The North Campus first began to be built in the 1950s and has grown over the years.
Finally, there is the South, or Athletic campus, where the University sports venues including Michigan Stadium (The Big House) are located.
Another favorite sports venue on the Ann Arbor campus is Alumni Field, where Coach Carol Hutchins leads the top ranked Wolverine women’s softball team.
Wondering about our campus here in Flint?
As Michigan’s population grew along with the demand for higher education, it was proposed that the University open additional campuses outside of Ann Arbor.
Flint businessman, Charles Stewart Mott, offered a large sum of his fortune to the University for the purpose of starting a campus here.
Others joined him in the effort, and in the fall of 1956 the first students arrived to attend classes at what was originally called The University of Michigan-Flint College.
Later, the word “College” was dropped from the name; we were officially the University of Michigan-Flint
The University still maintains a presence in the city where it originated 200 years ago, in the form of the Detroit Center, located on the street named after one of the University’s founders, Woodward Avenue.
From a dream in the minds of ambitious frontier residents, the University of Michigan has grown over two centuries into one of the leading institutions of higher education in the United States and the world.
The bicentennial motto is a very fitting description of this great University, and it echoes the refrain of the school’s famous fight song: The University of Michigan…Always Leading, Forever Valiant.
By: Vanessa Prygoski