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State University Opened Classes in One Building in 1895 - from Missoulian-Sentinel Centennial Edition 1960

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The Article below appeared in The Missoulian-Sentinel Centennial Edition - July 27, 1960


State University Opened Classes in One Building in 1895

Montana State University opened its doors to students for the first time on Sept. 11, 1895. The first step toward establishment of a state university for Montana was taken on Feb. 18, 1881, when Congress donated 72 sections or 46,000 acres of land as endowment for such a school.

The land was to be sold at not less than $10 per acre and the interest from this money used for the university. Montana was still a territory at the time.

Robert W. Howay, territorial superintendent of public instruction, during the next three years selected the lands to be used for this purpose.

Capt. C. P. Higgins, one of the two founders of Missoula, was likely the earliest and strongest advocate of locating the university at Missoula.

Beaten by Two Votes

In the Legislature of 1891 the Missoula County delegation of F. G. Higgins, T. L. Greenough, A. S. Blake, J. T. Philips, W. B. Harlan and M. E Rutherford succeeded in getting a bill through the House for location of the university at Missoula, but it was defeated by two votes in the Senate on the last day of the session.

Two years later, before the Legislature was to convene in 1893, a University Club was formed in Missoula. Judge F. H. Woody was temporary chairman. The club had the following officers: J. M. Hamilton, president; L. A. Woodward, secretary; E. E. Hershey, treasurer, and J. M. Keith, H. C. Stiff, J. M. Evans, F. G. Higgins, E. A. Winstanley, F. C. Stoddard and J. L. Sloane, executive committee.

Lobby Fund Raised

The executive committee canvassed the town and raised enough funds to send a lobby to Helena. Judge Sloane went to Helena to open up headquarters and stayed through the entire campaign. The Missoula County delegation that year consisted of Sen. E. D. Matts and Reps. M. Gorman, Lyman Loring, S. H. Butler, George Ward and Dr. Smalley. One of the highlights of the session was the debate between Sen. Matts and the Cascade County senator, Paris Gibson of Great Falls, over the location of the university.

Legislation was passed locating the university at Missoula and the Legislature appropriated $15,000 for the university’s use, but this never became available due to constitutional limitations.

The first State Board of Education was appointed in February of 1893 and it met in Missoula in May of that year to select a site for the university.

The board selected 40 acres of land donated in equal parts by the South Missoula Land Co. and the C. P. Higgins estate, and this is the site of Montana State University today.

Board Acts in 1894

Nothing more was done toward opening the university until the December 1894 meeting of the state board when it was decided the school must be opened the following September.

A local executive board for the university was named by the governor, consisting of J. H. T. Ryman, Judge Hiram Knowles and Col. T. C. Marshall. At a series of meetings, the Missoula Hotel building, the Realty building and the South Side (Willard) School building were proposed as possible temporary sites for the university. It was finally decided to use the South Side School building with residents voting sufficient funds to complete it for use.

The University occupied this building for the first four years of its existence. By the end of the first college year in June 1896, the enrollment had increased from 50 to 135.

The 1897-98 Legislature gave the University the authority to issue bonds of $100,000 for construction of two buildings.

Prior to this, on Arbor Day, 1896, grounds which had been donated were dedicated to University purposes. The 40 acres had already been fenced by the Missoula Board of Trade. That same day 500 shade trees were planted on the site.

Two Buildings Constructed

On Feb. 18, 1899, University Hall and Science Hall, the first buildings to be constructed, were formally presented to the state board. Both still stand. University Hall is more commonly called Main Hall and Science Hall is known as the Old Science building and now houses the Geology Department. The buildings were made of tapestry brick. In 1919 C. H. Carsley, with the advice from Cass Gilbert, devised a general building plan which followed the architectural style of the first two buildings. The plan called for tapestry brick buildings, of three to four stories, grouped into rectangles and a “line” about a center oval at the end of University avenue.

First Faculty

The first faculty consisted of President Oscar J. Craig and his four associates, W. M. Aber, professor of Latin and Greek; F. C. Scheuch, professor of modern languages and engineering; Miss Cynthia Erling Reiley, professor of mathematics, and S. A. Merritt, professor of science. President Craig was also professor of history and political economy.

The third story of the South Side School building, used as the assembly hall, was also used as the Department of Music under the direction of Miss Mary Olive Gray. She is not normally listed as part of the original faculty, possibly teaching only on a part-time basis in music. Mary A. Craig was listed as the first librarian.

In addition to a three-year preparatory course, four college curriculums were offered – classical, philosophical, general science and applied science.

Prof. Morton J. Elrod wrote after his arrival in February 1897 that the social life of the campus consisted of an occasional dance and parties which, though infrequent, were a great part of the social side. Hiking, he wrote, was immensely popular. Prof. Elrod succeeded Prof. Merritt, who resigned.

No Fraternities

There were no fraternities and no clubs. Practically every student belonged to some sort of a literary society and many participated in oratory and dramatics.

The University had a good football team, according to Elrod. Although athletic training had not yet been organized, the gridmen handed the Aggies at Bozeman their first defeat in 1898. The Butte Business College in Butte also had good teams.

During the 1897-1898 school year, three more faculty members were added, Prof. F. S. Smith, Miss Julia Hubbell and Prof. James H. Wells. Mrs. Walter Whitaker succeeded Miss Gray as music instructor.

For the 1898-1899 school year Miss Eloise Knowles, one of the first two graduates of the University in June 1898, was added to the faculty as an instructor in drawing and mathematics.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 May 2016 17:59