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History: University of Wyoming

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(Thanks to Linda Lovato for the photos of the University today)

With May being graduation month, and many graduates from area high schools and Sheridan College plan to continue their higher education at the University of Wyoming. Here is a brief history of the University. In fact, at first it was a territorial college, having been built before Wyoming actually became a state, and the first graduation was held in June of 1888.

This article from The Weekly Boomerang, September 30, 1886, talks about the beginnings of the University – The University. Laying the Corner Stone. The corner stone of the territorial University of Wyoming was laid this afternoon in due and ancient form, under the auspices of the of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. The weather was all that could have been desired, and though a cool; breeze was blowing, the sun shone bright, and the atmosphere was pleasant and bracing.

..At 2 o’clock p.m. the procession began forming on Second street, all the stores and offices in the city were at once closed, and the sidewalks were thronged all along the line of march with citizens in holiday attire. The sight was truly an inspiring one and deserving of a much more detailed description than our space will permit of the rich uniforms of the societies, the nodding plumes and waving banners, the long line extending over six blocks, made a noble spectacle, but the grandest feature of all was that of the five hundred children marching in classes, like little veterans. Each child wore a bunch of fresh flowers and their appearance was fine. On arriving at the university, where it seemed as if the whole population of the city was assembled, the ceremonies began without delay.

The oration of the day was by Rev. George H. Cornell rector of St. Matthews Episcopal church which was in substances as follows: Ladies and Gentlemen: We have assembled here today to participate in ceremonies that are fraught with stupendous importance to our fair city and rising commonwealth. We are laying the foundations of a fabric that is destined to wield a mighty influence on the future of Wyoming, and I speak for you all when I say that it is with no little pride that Laramie rejoices in the proudest title that can be given to any place— that of “University City.”

We, who twenty years ago studied our geographies, were went to look upon the map of the United States and point with something like contempt to the vast treeless region of land lying at the base of the Rocky mountains, known to us then as the”Great American Desert.” Today on that same waste of land there are rising beautiful and prosperous cities, whose pulses are throbbing with all the vital energies of a new life. Among the fairest of these is Laramie, with its beautiful homes, its churches and its magnificent schools, and as the crown of all there now rises this stately edifice, dedicated to the higher education of the youth of this western land.

Surely this moment is fraught with unspeakable interest to us all. And as we stand here this unrivaled atmosphere, in view of some of the grandest works of God that either the old or the new world affords, and look down the vista of coming ages, we see this edifice the center of a magnificent group of buildings, known as the University of Wyoming, with its rich endowments, its chairs of philosophy, of science and of literature occupied by wise men, and sending forth from its classic halls young men and women educated and well-equipped for the higher duties of life.

This is no chimera. In this new west we are gathering all these energies of past civilizations. The glories of past ages are ours. All fruits of the noblest toil, of the brightest intellects, of the grandest achievements, all are ours. What shall we do with them? We are answering in part that question today. We propose to put them to the best possible use. Upon this fair eminence we are building a temple that will dominate in influence the capitol of the new state and the courthouse, for here legislators will be trained for the capitol and jurists for the courts of justice.

Keeping with the Wyoming tradition of equality for women, both men and women were welcome to be students at the University. There is this item from The Sundance Gazette, April 15, 1887

From The Weekly Boomerang, Laramie, Wyoming Territory, June 21, 1888, talked about the first graduation. Notice that six of the seven graduates were women. Commencement. The Class of ‘88 Prepared to Step into the University Proper. Six Lovely Young Ladies and One Bight Young Man Graduated the First Commencement exercises of the University of Wyoming. Monday evening was the occasion of one of the most agreeable meetings in the first and very successful school year of the University of Wyoming, and one of which the public in general allowed their hearty appreciation. It was the celebration of the first anniversary of the Philomathean society, a college literary society organized at the commencement of the school year, 1887-88. The society started with but s few members, but by the careful management of its officers and the ready cooperation of all it has increased to a membership of between twenty-five and thirty of the best students Including all of the freshman class…..

The university chapel was beautifully decorated with flowers, and the stars and stripes, the whole presenting a grand appearance and showing that the members had spared no pains to make the evening one to be enjoyed by all… Long before the hour people began to arrive and soon the chapel was well filled, many being obliged to occupy seats in the hail near the entrance.

There were seven members of the class, six of whom were young ladies, who all wore white and looked lovely, as young ladies on graduation day always do.

And another brief item from the Cheyenne Daily Leader, June 20, 1888 – The First Commencement. The graduating exercises of the preparatory class of the University of Wyoming occurred at Laramie last evening. The attendance was very large, Maenncrchor hall being crowded. A number of Cheyenne people attended the exercises. There was special music and several readings to mark the occasion.

As the University was open to students state-wide, this from The Enterprise, Sheridan, Wyoming August 11, 1888 – University of Wyoming. Where it is Located and What It Looks Like, How to Become Student of the institution. – Our thanks are due ex-Gov. Hoyt, president, for the copy of “circular of general information” about the University of Wyoming, together with the foregoing handsome picture of the building. This institution of learning is located in Laramie City and is presided over by an able corps of teachers, and deserving of the good will and encouragement of the people of the territory who desire to give their children a thorough course of study.

“Tuition,” says President Hoyt, “is absolutely free to all students recommended by the county commissioners of the several counties, so that the territory offers to all full and collegiate instruction on terms more favorable than can be had elsewhere in the United Stales.

The University year of 1888-89 begins September 4th, and those who desire admission should apply at the office of the president, in the University building, or to the county commissioners of the county.

The “circular” says: The act of congress, entitled “An act to grant lands to Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming for University purposes approved February 18, 1881 may be considered the beginning of the successive steps by which the present important result has been reached. From that time forward, the conviction of a few, that the welfare of our people demands early notion in the interest of higher education, found such a steady reinforcement as in 1886 resulted in the legislative enactments which provide for the establishment in this territory of “an institution under the name and style of ‘The University of Wyoming,’ authorize the issue of bonds of the territory in any amount not exceeding $50,000, used in the erection of University building, as well as the selection of the lands donated by congress, and also provide, in aid of the support, the Institution, tax of one-fourth of mill on each and every dollar of the assessed valuation of all taxable property of the territory.

And this from The Cheyenne Daily Sun, June 19, 1891

So, during graduation month, we take a look back at how Wyoming was dedicated to higher education for its youth even before it actually became a state.

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