Bookmark and Share


UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN. The University of Texas originated in 1839, when the Congress of the Republic of Texas, in an act locating the seat of government, ordered a site set aside for a university. A subsequent act the same year allocated fifty leagues (231,400 acres) of land to the establishment and the endowment of two colleges or universities. Whether because of frontier conditions, scarcity of money, a feeling that higher education was the concern of the rich who ought to pay for it, or disagreement as to where the university should be located, nothing more was done by the Congress or by the Texas legislature until 1858. That year the legislature made financial provision for a university by appropriating for the institution the fifty leagues granted in 1839, $100,000 in United States bonds remaining from the $10 million paid to Texas in the Compromise of 1850, and one section of land out of every ten reserved to the state in grants made in aid to railroads and a navigation company. The same act placed the university under the control of ten administrators: the governor, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and eight others nominated by the governor. Secession and the Civil War prevented the act of 1858 from being carried out, however. Indeed, a great portion of the university fund derived from the sale of the fifty leagues granted in 1839 was diverted to the general needs of the state and was not fully repaid until 1883. The Constitution of 1866 directed the legislature to put the university in operation at an early date. In 1871 the legislature established the Texas A&M College, but the university was still postponed. The Constitution of 1876 specified that the legislature, as soon as practicable, was to establish, organize, and provide for the maintenance and support of a "university of the first class" to be located by vote of the people and styled the University of Texas, for promotion of the study of literature and the arts and sciences. An agricultural and mechanical branch was mandated. The same article (7) of the constitution made A&M a branch of the university and ordered the legislature to establish and maintain a college or branch university for instruction of black youth, though no tax was to be levied and no money appropriated out of the general revenue for such a school or for buildings of the University of Texas. This prohibition prevented establishment of a branch of the university for African Americans, although Austin was selected for its site in 1882. The constitution left the university the fifty leagues granted in 1839 but repealed the gift of alternate sections of land granted to railroads, substituting instead 1,000,000 acres of land in West Texas; however, 3,200,000 acres would have accumulated from railroad grants by 1882.

By an act of March 30, 1881, an election for location of the university was ordered, government was vested in a board of eight (later nine) regents, and provisions were made for admission fees, coeducation, and nonsectarian teaching. On September 6, Austin was chosen for the site of the main university and Galveston for the location of the medical department. At the first meeting of the board of regents, on November 16, 1881, Ashbel Smith was chosen president of the board and Alexander P. Wooldridge secretary; the faculty was also chosen and the curriculum determined. On November 17, 1882, the cornerstone of the west wing of the first Main Building was laid in a ceremony at which the main address was delivered by Ashbel Smith. He said, prophetically, "Smite the rocks with the rod of knowledge, and fountains of unstinted wealth will gush forth." The university was formally opened in the new building on September 15, 1883, though classes were held in the temporary Capitol as late as January 1884.

The university is supported by the Permanent University Fund, the Available University Fund, legislative appropriations, and gifts and grants. The permanent fund, virtually an endowment, consists of proceeds of the sale of the fifty leagues granted in 1839, the million acres granted in the Constitution of 1876, and a second million acres granted by the legislature in 1883, together with the proceeds of sales or leases of this land. The fund may not be spent but must be invested in certain types of bonds. The available fund consists of the income from the permanent fund, student fees, and all other university receipts, and its use is fixed by the legislature in each biennial appropriation bill. According to the constitution the legislature was to provide for maintenance of the university out of general revenue, although the first appropriation was not made until 1889.

The campus of the main university originally consisted of the forty-acre tract on College Hill set aside when Austin became the state capital. The first addition of land was an athletic field bought in 1897. In 1910 George W. Brackenridge gave the university a tract of 500 acres on the banks of the Colorado River. The site is now used for life-sciences research. A vote of the regents to move the university to that site in 1921 was bitterly protested, and the legislature appropriated $1,350,000 for the purchase of additional land adjacent to the original Forty Acres. The university acquired the land and buildings of the former Blind Institute (later the Texas School for the Blind) in 1925, the Cavanaugh homestead on Waller Creek in 1930, and the grounds of Texas Wesleyan College and property on Whitis Avenue in 1931. Other lots have also been acquired from time to time to total about 350 acres. The J. J. Pickle Research Campus, a 476-acre site eight miles north of the main campus, houses research organizations in engineering, science, and the social sciences. The Montopolis Research Center is located on ninety-four acres in southeast Austin. The main university also has attached to it the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory site in Jeff Davis County, the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute at Port Aransas, Winedale Historical Center near Round Top, the Bee Cave Research Center west of Austin, Paisano Ranch, the Sam Rayburn Library in Bonham, and the Institute of Geophysics in Galveston.

The university's first building, known as the Main Building and completed in 1899, served all purposes. Its destruction caused a cry of regret from former students that was appeased only by keeping the old name for the new building constructed to house the library and administrative offices. To Cass Gilbert of New York, who designed the first library building and Sutton Hall, is due the Spanish Renaissance architectural style that came to be used in most of the early campus buildings. Paul P. Cret of Philadelphia worked out a general plan of development in 1933, and his advice was sought in planning of all structures built between 1932 and 1945. Because of the constitutional prohibition of the use of general revenue for buildings, temporary frame structures had to be erected to house the growing student body, especially after World War I, and the university became famous for its "Shackeresque" architecture. Oil was discovered on university land in 1923-the gushers of wealth presciently anticipated by Ashbel Smith, though perhaps not in the form he envisioned. The resulting savings in the available fund made passage of a constitutional amendment possible in 1931, so that a bond issue for construction of fire-proof buildings could be passed. A second amendment in 1947 authorized a bond issue of $15 million, $10 million of which was for the university. Of that share, $2 million was allotted to the medical branch. The enormous increase in student enrollment after World War II necessitated a second era of temporary frame buildings, some for instruction, others for housing. Nineteen buildings were constructed or acquired between 1950 and 1965, including the Texas Memorial Museum, which was transferred from the state in 1959. The university was granted the right of eminent domain in 1965 to purchase various properties adjacent to the campus on the north, east, and south. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Libraryqv, housing presidential papers, was completed in 1971 on the university campus with university funds. It was staffed and operated by the federal government. In 1992 the physical plant of the university, valued at more than $1 billion, comprised 120 permanent buildings.

For many years, major instruction divisions were called departments, and subject divisions within departments were called schools. The university was opened with an academic department (with six schools) and a law department. As the institution grew, more schools and departments were added until in 1994 the university had eight colleges and seven schools, in which it offered more than 100 undergraduate degree programs and 170 graduate degree programs. The colleges and schools were the College of Liberal Arts (founded in 1883), with nineteen departments, one division, three interdisciplinary programs, five centers, and two laboratories; the College of Natural Sciences (1883), with eleven departments, one division, and one office; the School of Law (1883); the College of Engineering (1894), with six departments and one laboratory; the College of Education (1905), with five departments, three centers, two offices, and one laboratory; the Graduate School (1910); the College of Business Administration (1922), with five departments; the College of Pharmacy (1893 at Galveston, moved to Austin in 1927); the College of Fine Arts (1938), with three departments, a gallery, a center, and an office; the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (1948); the Graduate School of Social Work (1950); the School of Architecture (1951); the College of Communication (1965), with four departments and one center; the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs (1970); and the School of Nursing (1976). The Division of Continuing Education, which began as the Division of Extension in 1909, comprised a number of programs offering courses for college credit, certificates, computer classes, and programs for older adults. The division received its current name on September 1, 1977.

In the first year, 1883–84, the university faculty was composed of eight professors, four assistants, and the proctor. Enrollment for the first long session was 221. It rose to 2,254 at the outbreak of World War I and to 4,001 the first year after that war. In the last year before World War II, enrollment for the long session was 11,146. It dropped to 8,794 during the war and rose to 15,118 the first year after it. As a result of the United States Supreme Court decision in Sweatt v. Painter, African Americans were admitted to the university for the first time in the summer of 1950. In the 1966–67 regular term the main university enrolled 27,345 students, including 4,307 students in the graduate school. The faculty, numbering more than 1,800, included nine of the state's fourteen members of the National Academy of Sciences. By the mid-1960s, nearly two dozen endowed and named academic positions had been established to attract and retain leading faculty scholars. The university also approved the establishment of endowed lectureships that extended temporary appointments to prominent authorities in various fields. In 1992 the university had 2,373 full-time faculty members and 2,704 graduate students who taught as teaching assistants and assistant instructors. University employees totaled 20,558. In the faculty were winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Science, and the National Medal of Technology, as well as numerous members of prestigious scholarly organizations. More than 1,000 faculty positions were endowed by private funds. Student enrollment exceeded 49,000. By the fall of 2000 enrollment was a record 49,996, of whom 38,162 were undergraduates. The faculty numbered 2,580, of whom 48.6 percent were tenured.

After the example of the University of Virginia, the university planned at first to have no president, but the faculty were, under the regents, to have control, acting through a chairman chosen annually by themselves. John W. Mallet, Leslie Waggener, and Thomas S. Miller were chairmen before 1895, when the office of president was instituted. Waggener was president ad interim for 1895–96. Succeeding presidents included George T. Winston (1896–99), William L. Prather (1899–1905), David F. Houston (1905–08) Sidney E. Mezes (1908–14), William J. Battle (ad interim, 1914–16), Robert E. Vinson (1916–23), William Seneca Sutton (ad interim, 1923–24), Walter M. W. Splawn (1924–27), Harry Y. Benedict (1927–37), John W. Calhoun (ad interim, 1937–39), Homer P. Rainey (1939–44), Theophilus S. Painter (acting 1944–46, president 1946–52), James Clay Dolley (acting, 1952), Logan Wilson (1953–60), Harry H. Ransom (1960–61), and Joseph R. Smiley (1961–63). Between 1963 and 1967 the office of the president of the main university was abolished, and the chancellor of the system, Harry Ransom, assumed the additional duties. In 1967 the presidency was reestablished and Norman Hackerman became president (1967–70). Bryce Jordan served as acting president from 1970 until 1971, when Stephen H. Spurr became president. Spurr was relieved of his duties as president in 1974, with some controversy, and Lorene Lane Rogers served as acting president from September 1974 until September 12, 1975, when she was named the fifteenth president of the University of Texas at Austin, the first woman to be named president of a major state university. She held the post until 1979. Thereafter the presidents have been Peter T. Flawn (1979–85), William S. Cunningham (1985–92), William S. Livingston (acting 1992–93), Robert M. Berdahl (1993–97), Peter T. Flawn (acting 1997–1998), and Larry R. Faulkner (1998-).

In the 1990s the University of Texas at Austin General Libraries constituted one of the largest academic libraries in the country. In 1998 the university's Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art acquired the Suida-Manning Collection of Renaissance and Baroque art, including works by Rubens, Lorrain, Poussin, Tiepolo, and Veronese. The museum planned to open a new 100,000-square-foot building in late 2002. In 1994 the university and three other former members of the Southwest Conference—Baylor University, Texas A&M University, and Texas Tech Universityqqv—joined the members of the former Big Eight Conference to form a new organization called the Big 12 Conference. UT Austin's intercollegiate athletic teams for men included baseball, basketball, football, golf, track and field, swimming and diving, and tennis. The university fielded women's intercollegiate athletic teams in basketball, golf, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. The Division of Recreational Sports organized several other sport clubs for students. The Student Association, formed in 1902 to train students in leadership by self-government, has an elaborate constitution and holds frequent elections. In 2001 twenty-five fraternities and fourteen sororities had chapters on the campus. The Rusk, Athenaeum, Ashbel, and Sidney Lanier literary societies and the Curtain Club were early campus organizations. In 2001 more than 750 student organizations functioned on the campus. The earliest student publication, a literary monthly called Texas University, appeared in 1885 and had a long career. The yearbook, the Cactus, began publication in 1894. The first weekly newspaper, the Alcalde (1895–97), was replaced by the Ranger (1897–1900). The Ranger and the Calendar (1889–1900) were replaced by the Texan (later the Daily Texan), which became a semiweekly in 1907 and a daily in 1913. Comic publications put out by students have included the Coyote (1908–15), the Longhorn (1915), and the Ranger, which began in 1923, merged in 1929 with the Longhorn Magazine, and continued publication for several decades. The printing plant and bindery of the university issues official bulletins and has printed scholarly books. Development of the University of Texas Press on a large scale was begun in 1950. That same year the university established the office of chancellor to administer the main university and its branches: the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the Texas Medical Center at Houston, the Southwestern Medical College at Dallas (now a part of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centerqv), and Texas Western College at El Paso (now the University of Texas at El Paso). James P. Hart became the first chancellor. Former students of the university were first organized into the Alumni Association, established for degree holders in 1885. In 1914 the organization was renamed the Ex-Students' Association and membership was broadened to include all former students. Located in the Lila B. Etter Alumni Center on campus, the Ex-Students' Association is an independent, volunteer-governed, non-profit organization that supports the University and its alumni through an extensive program of scholarships, teaching awards, alumnus awards, career counseling, the coordination of local "Texas Exes" chapters, a legislative advocacy program called "Horns for Higher Education," reunions, open houses, group travel programs, and the Texas Alcalde, the bimonthly alumni magazine published since 1913.

On March 6, 1967, the Sixtieth Texas Legislature changed the official name of the main university to University of Texas at Austin. The Austin campus is the largest of fifteen component institutions in the University of Texas System. In 1992 the university was one of only three southwestern members of the Association of American Universities, an organization of fifty-eight universities of the highest academic standing in the United States and Canada. UT Austin led all other institutions in the South in the number of doctoral degrees granted. Through 1992, the university had granted more than 345,000 academic degrees. Famous alumni included Lady Bird Johnson, Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, and Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. The university's doctoral programs in botany, linguistics, and Spanish ranked in the nation's top five. Five more programs were in the top ten, and nine more were in the top twenty. Professional programs in law, education, pharmacy, business, engineering, and public affairs were in the top ten for publicly supported institutions. Public-welfare and research agencies conducted by the university date from 1884. In 1994, eighty-seven organized research units were operating at the university. In 1999–2000 the university received more than $309 million in research grants and contracts, 59 percent of which was from the federal government.


Harry Yandell Benedict, A Source Book Relating to the History of the University of Texas (University of Texas Bulletin 1757, 1917). Margaret Catherine Berry, The University of Texas: A Pictorial Account of Its First Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). Margaret Catherine Berry, UT Austin: Traditions and Nostalgia (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1975). Carl J. Eckhardt, In the Beginning of the University of Texas (Austin: University of Texas, 1979). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Roxanne Kuter Williamson, A History of the Campus and Buildings of the University of Texas with Emphasis on the Sources for the Architectural Styles (1965).

William James Battle


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

William James Battle, "UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed July 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Recent Additions