The University of Oregon, 1876 : A Commemorative Forum

By Shankman, Steven | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The University of Oregon, 1876 : A Commemorative Forum


Shankman, Steven, Oregon Historical Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

The Oregon Humanities Center was honored that President Dave Frohnmayer asked us to organize an event on the campus of the University of Oregon on November 2, 2001, as part of the convocation ceremony in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the University of Oregon. That event drew on what university faculty do best --- teaching and research -- and presented "The 1876 Lectures," in which five faculty members explored the year that the University of Oregon was founded. The papers included here, all of them composed by University of Oregon faculty members, were originally delivered on that occasion. They discuss the mood of the nation as a whole, the state of higher education, the architecture of the university's first building, and the music of the day. The final essay sketches the early history of the University of Oregon.

The authors of these essays are Professors James C. Mohr, an authority on the history of the United States in the nineteenth century; C.H. (Toby) Edson (emeritus), an expert on the history of higher education in the United States; Donald L. Peting of the School of Architecture, who specializes in historic preservation; Marian Smith, a historian of the music of the nineteenth century; and Rebecca Force, the author and chief producer of a forthcoming video documentary on the history of the University of Oregon (the first part of which was premiered following the 1876 lectures at the convocation ceremony). Force is also the producer of the Oregon Humanities Center's weekly television program "UO Today" and is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon.

Oregon's history is relatively short -- compared with, say, the states of the eastern seaboard -- and Oregonians are not in the habit of reflecting often enough on their past and on how it continues to influence the present. The 125th anniversary of the University of Oregon provides an opportunity for just such reflection. As is apparent in the following essays, the years 1876 and 2001 share some remarkable affinities. Both, for example, began in the wake of bitterly disputed presidential elections; and people in both eras argued for the importance of higher education to the healthy economic growth of the state. I am delighted that the Oregon Historical Quarterly has given us the opportunity to present the work of these faculty members to those interested in the history of the state, which the University of Oregon has helped shape.

THE UNIVERSITY'S INAUGURAL YEAR

A National Context

By James C. Mohr

Anniversaries offer the occasion to think about an institution in a longer-term perspective than might ordinarily be the case. To think that way meaningfully, however, requires some knowledge of the context in which the institution began, for institutions emerge at particular times and under specific circumstances. The context in which an institution is founded can offer insights about the origins of that institution as well as some basis upon which to assess its subsequent development and directions. The University of Oregon, following four years of political and financial campaigning on the part of those who wanted to bring it into existence, opened its doors in 1876. Consequently, the principal events and national dynamics of that extraordinary and symbolic year in American history are germane to an analytical appreciation of its 125th anniversary.

In the years immediately preceding 1876, the intense animosities of the Civil War had begun to recede across the United States. The prevailing popular mood favored sectional reconciliation, and Americans looked for ways to promote their restored unity and celebrate. Because 1876 was exactly one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was declared to be the centennial of the nation; and the United States enjoyed a great round of festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. …

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