Texas A&M University

By: Henry C. Dethloff

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 5, 2020

Texas A&M University is the state's oldest public institution of higher education. The Eleventh Texas Legislature approved a joint resolution on November 1, 1866, accepting the terms of the federal government's Morrill Land-Grant College Act of July 2, 1862, which provided for the donation of public lands in a quantity equal to 30,000 acres for each senator and representative in Congress to a state for the establishment of at least one college "where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts." Although the Morrill Land-Grant College Act provided the immediate impetus for the establishment of Texas A&M University, there were earlier and subsequent land grants from the Republic of Texas and the state of Texas that directly affected the development of the school.

The Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas donated fifty leagues of land (221,400 acres) for the endowment of two colleges or universities in 1839. The state legislature approved enabling legislation in 1856 providing for the sale of university lands and for the establishment of the Permanent University Fund. No public universities were built before the outbreak of the Civil War. Following the war and the acceptance of the Morrill Act, the Constitutional Convention of 1866 provided for an additional endowment of one million acres of public land for one or more state universities. This was followed in 1883 by an additional grant of one million acres of state land. Thus, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas became both a federal and Texas land-grant college. Under the terms of the Morrill Act, donated lands from the federal government were to be drawn from the public lands within the states receiving the grants, but where no such lands existed, as was true in Texas, the Secretary of the Interior issued scrip entitling the state to claim unappropriated public lands in the territories. Texas received title to 180,000 acres of land in Colorado on February 16, 1871. The land was sold for seventy-five cents an acre and produced $156,000 that was then invested in 7 percent gold frontier defense bonds of Texas, which, with the discount, had a face value of $174,000. The state legislature approved a bill providing for the organization of the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College on April 17, 1871, and appropriated $75,000 for the construction of academic buildings and suitable accommodations. Governor Edmund J. Davis appointed a committee of three to find a suitable location for the college on a site comprising not less than 1,280 acres of land. That committee selected a site near Bryan, Texas, following the donation of 2,416 acres of land to the college by local citizens.

The Constitution of 1876 specified that the Agricultural and Mechanical College was to be a branch of a proposed University of Texas. Following delays caused by political and financial irregularities characteristic of the Reconstruction era, the Agricultural and Mechanical College opened on October 4, 1876, with 106 students and a faculty of six, headed by Thomas S. Gathright. The school began as an all-male military institution with required participation in the Corps of Cadets. The school developed a strong military aura. Texas A&M regularly commissioned more officers than any other institution, including the service academies, and its students have achieved an outstanding record of military service in all of the wars fought since the Spanish-American War. In 1965, only after great controversy, military training became optional and the Corps of Cadets a voluntary organization. Nevertheless, the Corps of Cadets and "Aggie" traditions established by the corps continue to shape the culture of the university. A few women attended classes in the 1890s and enrolled intermittently and received degrees before 1940; women were officially admitted to Texas A&M on a limited basis in 1963 and on an equal basis with men in 1971. Just as the Corps of Cadets played a major role in the history and development of the institution, so the advent of coeducation greatly influenced the rapid growth and development of Texas A&M University in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Despite its charter as an agricultural and mechanical college, the A&M College of Texas taught no classes in agriculture during its formative years, but stressed classical studies, languages, literature, and applied mathematics. This led to strong protests from farmer groups, the removal of the president and faculty in November 1879, and their replacement with new faculty and a new mandated curriculum in agriculture and engineering. Enrollment, which had climbed to 500 students, declined rapidly to about eighty students by 1883. That year the University of Texas opened in Austin under the authority of a separate Board of Regents, while the Agricultural and Mechanical College functioned under the authority of its Board of Directors. The two Texas institutions of higher education then began to battle for the meager funding then available from the state and from the Permanent University Fund. Those conflicts diminished during the administration of Governor Lawrence Sullivan Ross, who in 1891 became president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College following his term as governor. Ross's prestige and management, plus larger appropriations from the state and the founding of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at the college in 1887, greatly enhanced the welfare of the institution. The school broadened its curriculum, particularly in the sciences and engineering. By 1910 it offered eight degree programs, including agriculture, architecture, agricultural engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and textile engineering. In 1915, the state legislature, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, established the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, organized the Texas Forest Service, and authorized a School of Veterinary Medicine under the auspices of the college.

During World War I the school went on a "war status." By 1918 49 percent of the all-time graduates were in military service, a larger percentage of graduates in service than any other college or university. More than 1,200 served as commissioned officers. When the war ended, Texas A&M experienced rapid growth and became nationally recognized for its programs in agriculture, engineering, and military science. William Bennett Bizzell, who became president in 1914, presided over the postwar expansion until he resigned in 1925. A graduate school was organized in 1924, and programs leading to the doctorate were established in 1936. The first Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1940. In 1931, following the discovery of oil on university lands eight years earlier, the Agricultural and Mechanical College and the University of Texas negotiated a settlement over the division of the Permanent University Fund by which the College would receive one-third of the revenues. Income from the fund has enabled A&M and the University of Texas to sustain a level of growth and development that otherwise would have been impossible. Enrollment increased even during the difficult days of the Great Depression. Student cooperative housing projects enabled students to attend college at very low costs. Thomas Otto Walton was president of the college from 1925 until 1943, when the campus was once again on a war footing. About 20,000 Texas A&M former students served in the armed forces during World War II, some 14,000 as officers and twenty-nine in the rank of general. The university thus provided more officers for the armed forces during the war than both of the military academies combined. The war and the postwar recovery period brought many changes to the college in terms of curriculum, administration, personnel, and student composition. Texas A&M Directors organized the Texas Maritime Academy at Galveston in 1962. Gen. James Earl Rudder and Marion Thomas Harrington, who served variously as president and chancellor, guided the university through an era of unprecedented change and expansion.

Effective on August 23, 1963, the Texas Legislature approved a bill changing the name of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas to Texas A&M University. Under the new designation the A&M did not signify "agricultural and mechanical" but was regarded as symbolic. The new name reflected the diversified and expanded character of the institution. Enrollment surged from approximately 8,000 students in 1963 to more than 25,000 by 1976, when Texas A&M celebrated its centennial anniversary. The legislature assigned numerous special agencies, centers, and programs to the Texas A&M University System. In 1990 the Texas A&M University System included the main campus at College Station, which enrolled more than 40,000 students. Also located at College Station in 1994 were Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine. Texas A&M is also the home of the George Bush Presidential Library. The school operated a branch campus in Koriyama, Japan, until summer 1994, when the campus closed due to a decline in enrollment. Texas A&M University is dedicated to the development and dissemination of knowledge in many academic and professional fields. Funded research generally exceeds that of all other Texas universities, and Texas A&M ranks among the top ten national universities in research. Its former students have achieved distinction in many endeavors, and offer an unusual level of loyalty and support for their school. The Former Students' Association is one of the largest and most active of all universities. In the 1992 fall semester Texas A&M had 2,500 faculty and 42,988 students. In 1994 Texas A&M, along with Baylor University, the University of Texas, and Texas Tech, decided to leave the Southwest Conference to join the Big Twelve athletic conference. Also in 1994, Ray M. Bowen became the twenty-first president of Texas A&M University. Enrollment in the fall of 2000 was a record 44,026, making the university the fourth-largest in the nation. The total number of faculty was 2,123, including 1,879 full-time. Course offerings were divided among ten colleges: agriculture and life sciences, architecture, education, geosciences, liberal arts, science, veterinary medicine, the Dwight Look College of Engineering, the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, and the Lowry Mays College and Graduate School of Business.

John A. Adams, Jr., We Are the Aggies: The Texas A&M University Association of Former Students (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1979). Henry C. Dethloff, A Centennial History of Texas A&M University, 1876–1976 (2 vols., College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Henry C. Dethloff, A Pictorial History of Texas A&M University, 1876–1976 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). George Sessions Perry, The Story of Texas A&M (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951).

  • Education
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Health and Medicine
  • Veterinary Medicine

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

Henry C. Dethloff, “Texas A&M University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-a-m-university.

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August 5, 2020

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