The Morrill Act of 1862 offered 30,000 acres of Federal Land per each representative of the state to establish a Public University.
The purpose of the land-grant colleges was:
“without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
Territory Governors Campbell and then Hoyt (later UW First President) were very proactive in their goal for a public University and Public Education for Wyoming. There was some difficulty in the 1880’s as Wyoming was a territory and had not applied for statehood. Hoyt accused the Federal Government of dragging it’s feet where educational land grants were concerned.
Starting in 1887, Congress also funded agricultural experiment stations and various categories of agricultural and veterinary research “under direction of” the land-grant universities. Congress later recognized the need to disseminate the knowledge gained at the land-grant colleges to farmers and homemakers. UW took advantage of all these programs in time.
F.E. Warren, a temporary appointed Governor by President Chester A. Arthur, strongly wanted Cheyenne to be determined the Capitol of Wyoming. It’s location being a disadvantage, Cheyenne, none-the-less had the largest population (10K) than any other town. Laramie coming in second with 5K.
Warren secretly conferred with Albany County Legislator, Stephen W. Downey, who like Hoyt had longed for a Wyoming University. As early as 1881 Downey’s daughter had written to F.L. Ames suggesting the money proposed for the Ames Monument be put toward a University. Downey became known as the “Father of the University” due to his determination to pass a bill through the legislature.
Warren and Downey, bringing together the legislators of Laramie and Albany County would have enough votes to pass anything. This alliance could give them both what they yearned for.
The political upheaval when the Bill was proposed was great. A divided Wyoming was the result. With several projects linked, one county could undo the Bill at will. There was great tension and argument amongst the legislators. In the end, the coalition won and the Act of 1886 was passed.
Cheyenne got a Capitol building, Laramie the University and Uinta County got an insane asylum. A Bond was issued for 50K to build the University. It required the Governor to appoint a Board of 7 Trustees to be confirmed by the Territorial Council.
The University’s goals were:
“to provide an efficient means of imparting to young men and young women, on equal terms, a liberal education and thorough knowledge of the different branches of literature, the Arts and Sciences, with their varied applications”
The First Trustees of the University were:
Dr. J.H. Finfrock
John W. Hoyt (Former Governor)
Samuel Aughey – The territorial Geologist
Warren also appointed a building commission of 3 Laramie residents:
Col. J.W. Donnellen (Chair)
F.W. Swain, a Laramie resident was appointed Commissioner to Survey and select lands for public domain.
Laramie City gifted 10 acres and the Trustees acquired another adjoining 10 acres from the UPRR.
The rest of the state was very upset about this close knit group establishing the State University. A fuss was continually made and non-cooperation between counties, eventually brought about an amendment where only 3 Trustees of the University could be from Albany County.
Building started in 1886 on Old Main and the University opened it’s doors in September, 1887 with 42 students. Attendance was small for many years, with the Preparatory school making up a large part of the student population.