To Establish a University of the First Class
ROGER A. GRIFFIN*
O N SEPTEMBER 15, 1883, AT 10:00 A.M., APPROXIMATELY 300 PER-
sons gathered in a large room in an unfinished building about a
mile north of the state government buildings in Austin, Texas. The
occasion was the inauguration of classes at the University of Texas.
Several speakers addressed the assembled students, faculty, regents,
government officials, and townspeople. One, regents' president Ashbel
Smith, congratulated "the people of Texas, on the organization of the
university to that state of completeness which makes it ready to open
the halls to students," and predicted that the spirit, character, and phy-
sical resources of the people of Texas would assure the development of
the institution into a "university of the first class . . with reasonable
promptness. .. ." Whether the University of Texas would soon-or
within its first century of life-become a "university of the first class"
is still a question about which many disagree. But to even open its doors
to students in 1883 was a considerable achievement, one that had taken
a half-century to accomplish.?
The genesis of the University of Texas can be traced to the 183os.
During the darkest hours of the Texas Revolution, delegates assem-
bled at a convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos in March of 1836
inserted a provision in the constitution of the Republic of Texas, stat-
ing it to "be the duty of congress, as soon as circumstances will permit,
to provide by law, a general system of education." Such did not exist
at the time. Although the constitution of the Mexican state of Coahuila
y Texas had called for the establishment of schools in the Anglo-
* Roger A. Griffin is instructor of history and chairperson, Division of Social and Be-
havioral Sciences, Ridgeview Campus, Austin Community College.
1University of Texas Board of Regents Minutes, Vol. A, 65 (microfilm; Eugene C. Barker
Texas History Center, University of Texas, Austin; hereafter cited at BTHC); unidenti-
fied clipping in newspaper clipping scrapbook, Oran M. Roberts Papers (BTHC); Cata-
logue of the University of Texas for 1883-4 (Austin, 1884), 71 (first quotation), 73, 74 (sec-
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed May 27, 2016.