The University of Nebraska was founded 150 years ago thanks in part to an audacious promise made when President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act of 1862.
Named for Vermont senator and education advocate Justin Morrill, the act set aside land for the establishment of public universities. The crafters of the Morrill Act made a promise — that citizens would have access to learning opportunities through these new land-grant universities.
On Feb. 15, 1869, taking advantage of the federal Morrill Land-Grant Act, the bill establishing the University of Nebraska unanimously passed both houses of the state legislature. Gov. David Butler signed the bill into law the same day.
The university opened in Lincoln in 1871 with one functioning college — Literature, Science and the Arts — and students were taught a prescribed curriculum across a smattering of subject areas, but primarily the classics. The first building, University Hall, appears in early photos to have emerged out of nowhere, standing tall amid the prairie grass. An inauspicious start, perhaps, but it laid the foundation for decades of innovation.
Since 1869, the University of Nebraska has become an essential and vital link to the state, region, nation and world — a comprehensive research university working on the forefront of discovery in food and water security, in bioengineering (particularly in relation to national defense and well-being), and in early childhood development and education, among numerous other areas.
Built on optimism and promise, determination and resilience, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln celebrates its first 150 years in 2019 and looks to a future of progress and triumph.