Back in 1859, Congress required Oregon’s founders to establish a public university. It took a few years to get the idea moving forward, but in the early 1870s, Judge Joshua Walton convinced residents of Eugene City to make their community the new home of what would become the fledgling state’s flagship university.
Then, as now, UO’s roots were in the community. Farmers sold produce and mules and held church socials to scrape together $27,500, enough to buy an 18-acre piece of ground that became the UO campus.
Construction on the University’s first building began in 1873. Five faculty members taught the first group of students in 1876. Two years later, the University celebrated its first class of graduates—four men and one woman.
Since that beginning, UO has awarded diplomas to tens of thousands of young men and women—geologists and writers, painters and chemists, innovators and rule-breakers, lawmakers and dancers, dreamers, and doers. The University has produced eight governors, 18 Pulitzer Prizes, 20 Rhodes Scholars, 13 Olympic medalists, nine Academy Awards, nine Emmys, six NFL Hall of Famers, and a Heisman Trophy winner.
Today, almost 23,000 students, from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, study at Oregon.
But UO’s early years were not without their challenges. The University nearly closed in 1881 because of a debt of $8,182. Railroad magnate Henry Villard donated $7,000 to pay it down. Subsequently, the University’s second building was named after its benefactor, Villard.
On two occasions, in 1913 and again in 1932, efforts to combine the UO with what is now Oregon State University in Corvallis were thwarted—no doubt to the relief of Ducks and Beavers alike. Enrollment shot up in the post–World War II years, and again in the 1960s, when the number of students increased by more than 70 percent.
In 1969, UO was admitted into the exclusive membership of the Association of American Universities, an organization of leading research institutions devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education. UO is one of just two Pacific Northwest universities to belong to the AAU.
Over the years, there have been many changes that have shaped the University. That first muddy 18-acre parcel has grown into a verdant 295-acre gem, home to more than 3,000 trees. Also part of the UO landscape today are brand new labs, residence halls, a newly remodeled recreation center, and student union. But there’s more to the University of Oregon than buildings and trees, books and labs. From that first muddy pasture has sprung an intellectual curiosity every bit as vibrant as UO’s trees.
For more information on the history of the University, visit: https://www.uoregon.edu/our-history