History of UA
The University of Alabama, the State of Alabama's oldest public university, is a senior comprehensive doctoral-level institution. The University was established by constitutional provision under statutory mandates and authorizations. Its mission is to advance the intellectual and social condition of the people of the State through quality programs of teaching, research, and service.
A Brief History
On April 12, 1831, dignitaries gathered at Christ Episcopal Church for the inauguration of Dr. Alva Woods as the first president of The University of Alabama. Six days later, on April 18, the University officially began its first day of classes.
The University had been planned before Alabama even became a state. Since 1818 work had been ongoing to raise funds and choose a site for the first state-initiated public “seminary of learning” as it was called. Alabama was still very much part of the frontier. Travel by road was difficult, and malaria, typhoid and the like were common. The first students, children of wealthy planters, would need some of the niceties of civilization, but should not be too near temptations that would hurt their moral development. Tuscaloosa, then the state capital, was selected, and land around Marr’s Spring was purchased.
The person entrusted with shaping the physical campus was William Nichols, an English immigrant who became the state architect. Already well known for his work on the Alabama state capitol building and Christ Episcopal Church, Nichols put his mark on the architecture of several Southern states during his long and honored career. Three years of that career were spent planning, designing and supervising UA’s construction.
From the 1830s to the Civil War, the University experienced the growing pains a frontier University would expect. Faculty and presidents came and went. Those first students were often unprepared and unfamiliar with personal or academic discipline. But the University continued to grow and expand, graduating men that would lead the state and region for decades to come.
By 1861, The University of Alabama had a stately home for its president, dormitories, classrooms, student organizations and honor societies, an excellent library, and what was considered the finest astronomical observatory in the South. Student discipline was much improved due to a military cadet system that had replaced the old order.
That military cadet system and the presence of 300 students trained as soldiers, however, brought to the University the wrath of Union forces during the Civil War. On April 3-4, 1865, Croxton’s Raiders looted and burned most of the campus, including the Rotunda, which housed the library.
Efforts to rebuild began almost immediately. By 1871, enrollment was up to 75 students. The School of Law opened in 1872. The new phase of campus building was led by New Orleans architect William A. Freret. His rich, ornate Victorian structures of Clark, Garland and Manly Halls are still considered among the University’s most iconic.
As the South continued the slow recovery from Reconstruction, the University was able to increase course and degree offerings in areas such as engineering and teacher preparation. Sports – fencing, tennis, baseball, wrestling, gymnastics -- became both a student pastime and part of a well-rounded education. A new era in sports began in 1892 when student William G. Little introduced a game called football.
The 1890s were a vibrant decade at UA for more than football. In 1893, the University enrolled the first women students. Students enjoyed their first issue of the school newspaper, the Crimson White, in 1894. By 1901, enrollment had climbed to almost 400.
Of the many fine presidents who have led UA, few have left the kind of impression made by the man students fondly called “Mike.” When Dr. George Denny became president the University had 652 students and nine principal buildings. When he retired in 1936, there were more than 5,000 students and 23 major buildings, which form the central core of the modern campus.
After World War II, students returning from the military came to UA to begin or finish an education postponed or interrupted by the war. More than 5,200 students were enrolled in 1951. By 1961 enrollment was 8,257.
Changes came with these students, but the biggest change during this era was the admission of the first African-American student, Autherine Lucy. Rioters – some students, some from outside the University – created havoc and Lucy was expelled due to threats of violence against her.
The outcome of desegregation was very different in June 1963, when Vivian Malone and James Hood successfully enrolled for classes. This iconic moment in the state’s history is known as the stand in the schoolhouse door. Gov. George Wallace made a symbolic stand blocking the door to Foster Auditorium, where registration was taking place. The governor gave way in the face of federal officials and the National Guard, and Malone and Hood registered successfully.
During the ensuing decades, the University changed and grew. New colleges, programs and buildings were added, and women and minorities represented a larger part of the student body.
Then in 2003, new president Dr. Robert Witt initiated an ambitious plan to increase enrollment and position the Capstone as an academic home for the best and brightest students. In 2003, enrollment was a little more than 20,000 students. In 2014, it topped 36,000. Along with the surge in enrollment has come a concomitant surge in building. In 2010, the University acquired the former Bryce Hospital property, adjacent to the campus. The new Peter Bryce campus of the University will allow for much-needed expansion.
UA marked another first in November 2012, when Dr. Judy Bonner, former provost and interim president, became the University’s first woman president. She continued to lead the University in both enrollment growth and improving academic quality.
In 1818, the federal government authorized Alabama Territory to set aside a township for the establishment of a "seminary of learning." Alabama was admitted to the Union on March 2, 1819, and a second township added to the grant. On December 18, 1820, the seminary was established officially and named "The University of the State of Alabama."
Tuscaloosa, then the state's capital, chosen as the University's home.
On April 18, inaugural ceremonies held and the University opened. By May 28, 52 students had enrolled. The campus consisted of seven buildings: two faculty houses, two dormitories, the laboratory, the hotel (now Gorgas House), and the Rotunda.
The University of Alabama becomes the first in the state to offer engineering classes. It was one of the first five in the nation to do so and one of the few to have maintained accreditation continuously since national accreditation began in 1936.
President's Mansion completed. Its first occupant: Basil Manly, University president from 1837 to 1855.
Total University enrollment: 63
Alabama Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa established.
Total University enrollment: 126
Medical College branch of the University opened in Mobile.
The University of Alabama became a military school — martial departmental and disciplinary systems established.
Total University enrollment: 154
Union troops spared only seven of the buildings on the UA campus. Of the principal buildings remaining today, the President's Mansion and its outbuildings still serve as the president's on-campus residence. The other buildings have new uses. Gorgas House, at different times the dining hall, faculty residence, and campus hotel, now serves as a museum. The Roundhouse, then a sentry box for cadets, later a place for records storage, is a campus historical landmark. The Observatory, now Maxwell Hall, is home to the Computer-Based Honors Program.
The Medical College reopens in Mobile.
During the Reconstruction era, a reorganized University opened to students.
Total University enrollment: 107
The School of Law established.
Antecedents of the UA College of Engineering were established with the offering of a formal, two-year course of study in civil engineering under the aegis of applied mathematics in 1837. The College of Engineering was established in 1909 with the opening of B. B. Comer Hall.
Total University enrollment: 154
Total University enrollment: 167
The University's first football team assembled — the "Thin Red Line" that later became the "Crimson Tide."
The first women students enrolled for the fall semester at the University. This was due in large part to the successful lobbying of the UA board of trustees by Julia S. Tutwiler. Tutwiler, then president of the Livingston Normal College for Girls, was a lifelong advocate of the right of women to be self-supporting members of society.
The student newspaper, the Crimson White, makes its first appearance.
Total University enrollment: 396
In March, the Alabama Legislature decreed that, after thirty years of student protest, the military system of organization at the University be abandoned.
A summer school for teachers begun in response to a need for better public education in Alabama, becoming the School of Education in 1909. The College of Education was established in 1929.
At the University's diamond jubilee celebration, President John William Abercrombie presented to the board of trustees his plans for the Greater University fund-raising campaign, thus ensuring that the state legislature would no longer be the primary source for financing the University's growth.
To meet the demands for specific training in two professions, the College of Engineering and the School of Education were established. Formerly part of the liberal arts disciplines, these new offspring would function independently of the now-reorganized College of Arts and Sciences.
The Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall dedicated. Smith Hall served as a geological museum for the University's growing collections and still houses the Museum today.
Total University enrollment: 571
Dr. George Denny became University president; the campus consisted of 652 students and nine principal buildings. His presidency began an era of unprecedented physical and enrollment growth. When he retired in 1936, there were more than 5,000 students and 23 major buildings, which form the central core of the modern campus.
University band organized.
The School of Commerce founded. It became the College of Commerce and Business Administration in 1929. It was renamed the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration in 1997.
The Medical College moved from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.
Total University enrollment: 2134
The Graduate School officially established.
Denny Chimes dedicated. Named for Dr. George H. Denny, president of the University from 1912 to 1936.
The School of Home Economics officially established. It became the College of Human Environmental Sciences in 1987.
Total University enrollment: 4,639
Moundville Archaeological Park and its museum opened to the public.
Total University enrollment: 4,921
The Medical College moved from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham.
The University Press was formed.
Introduction of doctoral programs authorized; first doctorates awarded in 1952.
Total University enrollment: 5,269
UA's first African-American student, Autherine J. Lucy, was admitted. She was expelled three days later "for her own safety" in response to threats from a mob. In 1992 Autherine Lucy Foster graduated from the University with a master's degree in education. The same day, her daughter, Grazia Foster, graduated with a bachelor's degree in corporate finance.
Total University enrollment: 8,257
The first sustained enrollment of African-American students at UA — Vivian J. Malone and James A. Hood — was achieved. Vivian Malone graduated in 1965. James Hood returned to campus in 1995 and received a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies in 1997.
The School of Social Work established.
The Computer-Based Honors Program, in which undergraduate students apply computer technology to research in a wide range of fields, was established.
The Graduate School of Library Service established by act of the Alabama Legislature. It became the School of Library and Information Studies in 1989. The School merged with the College of Communication in 1997 to become the College of Communication and Information Sciences.
New College established to allow students to pursue individualized courses of study while maintaining the academic standards of the University.
The College of Community Health Sciences established.
Total University enrollment: 13,055
The School of Communication established. It became the College of Communication in 1988, and when it merged with the School of Information Sciences, was renamed the College of Communication and Information Sciences in 1997.
The Capstone College of Nursing established.
The University celebrates its sesquicentennial.
Total University enrollment: 16,388
The College of Continuing Studies established to provide "learning opportunities that transcend the barriers of distance, time, and accessibility ... (and) education in the technology-based formats that non-traditional learners need, offering courses by satellite, videotape, and the Internet." Its roots reach back to the Summer School for teachers in 1904, becoming the Extension Division in 1919. In the 1970s it was called Extended Services, then the Division of Continuing Education.
The M.F.A. Program in Book Arts, with specializations in printing and binding, is established within the School of Library and Information Studies. It is one of only three in the country to offer such an M.F.A. and the only one do so within the context of a library school.
University Honors Program established.
The University's computerized library card catalog, AMELIA, available for use.
Total University enrollment: 19,366
The Stallings Center opened as the new home of the RISE Program.
Blount Undergraduate Initiative established. (First freshman class accepted in 1999.)
Second Capital Campaign concluded having raised a total amount $224 million in gifts and pledges.
International Honors Program established.
Modeled on UA's RISE Program, the RISE School of Dallas, Texas, opened.
Renovation of Bryant-Denny Stadium completed, increasing capacity to 82,000.
Student Services Center completed.
Renovation of Sewell-Thomas Baseball Field to a capacity of 6,000 seats begun.
First freshman class accepted in Blount Undergraduate Initiative. Parker Adams Hall serves as its temporary headquarters.
English major Bradley Tuggle from Decatur, Ala., named UA's 15th Rhodes Scholar.
Historic Barnard Hall rededicated as Oliver-Barnard Hall, the first of two Blount Undergraduate Initiative academic houses.
Construction of 1,500-seat UA Softball Complex completed.
Blount Living-Learning Center opens to its first resident class.
Construction of Alabama Institute for Manufacturing Excellence (AIME) completed.
Morgan Auditorium reopens after $1 million renovation, the first since its construction in 1911.
UA alumnus Lieutenant Colonel Jim Kelly pilots a Discovery space shuttle mission.
For the third consecutive year, the UA School of Law ranked among the best in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
UA and Auburn University form the "Alabama-Auburn Alliance" to support fair funding of higher education.
Tide Navigator, a web-based registration system that is the first of its kind in the United States, debuts with incoming freshmen.
UA Alumni Association establishes FATE: Future Alumni for Tradition and Excellence.
Crimson Tradition Fund established with $10 million gift by Paul Bryant Jr.
UA named one of the top 50 public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 2003.
UA student Kana Ellis of Northport, Ala., selected as as the first recipient of the Honors Student of the Year Award by the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC)
College of Community Health Sciences breaks ground for its $12.6 million facility, designed to consolidate all services and operations of the Tuscaloosa medical campus.
Greensboro East High School, in collaboration with UA, became the first high school in Alabama to establish a state-of-the-art Math Technology Learning Center.
Five students from UA named to the 2003 USA Today All-USA College Academic Team. UA students garnered the most awards of any college or university, claiming five of 83 spots on the list.
UA recognized 40 "pioneers" during three days of events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gov. George C. Wallace's "stand in the schoolhouse door." Opening Doors, 1963-2003
UA named one of the top 50 public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 2004.
UA senior Rob Davis selected as one of three 2003 Portz Scholars in the National Collegiate Honors Council's competition for outstanding undergraduate Honors papers.
Four UA students named to the 2004 USA Today All-USA College Academic Team. UA came in second only to Harvard for 2004, and UA's two-year total of nine leads the nation.
University Medical Center, UA's new multi-specialty clinic and home of the College of Community Health Sciences, opened on May 11.
Shelby Hall, UA's new 200,000-plus square foot interdisciplinary transportation and science complex, dedicated on May 14.
UA named one of the top 50 public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 2005.
Five UA students named to the 2005 USA Today All-USA College Academic Team, the most of any school in the nation. UA's three-year total of 14 also tops all other colleges and universities.
Renowned art collector Paul R. Jones donated a $4.8 million art collection to UA. The 1,700-piece collection includes one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 20th century African American art in the world.
To improve crisis communications and enhance safety of the UA community, a new technological resource, UA Alerts, was installed. The system simultaneously sends alerts to cell phones, home and office phones, and emails and texts.
Enrollment: 28,807 total enrollment, an increase of 6.5 percent over 2008. Enrollment at UA increased 47 percent over 2002.
UA reached an agreement with the state Mental Health Commission to purchase the Bryce Hospital property.
The University’s contract and grant activity increased 18 percent from the previous year, totaling $76 million—a significant step in furthering UA’s commitment to advancing its position as one of the premier research universities in the nation.
The Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall celebrated its centennial.
Undergraduate Admissions opened a welcome center located on the Bryant Drive side of Bryant-Denny Stadium, under the south end zone.
On April 27 a tornado ravaged parts of Tuscaloosa but missed the campus. Graduation was cancelled and the semester ended early.
UA was again ranked among the top 50 public universities in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
UA President Robert E. Witt was named chancellor of the University of Alabama system; Provost Judy Bonner became interim president.
Dr. Guy Bailey accepted the presidency, but resigned the same year due to his wife’s illness.
Dr. Judy Bonner became the first woman president of the Capstone.
Through the Doors, a year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the Capstone, engaged all areas of the University.
Enrollment: 34,852, a record for total enrollment; 6,478 in the entering freshmen class, the largest in UA history.
Enrollment topped 36,000.
The Cyber Institute, which facilitates interdisciplinary research and educational programs related to cyber security and cyber-related technologies, was founded.
UA became a smoke-free campus.
Renovation and expansion began on the main buildings of the Peter Bryce campus.
Based on documentation from the following sources:
History of the University of Alabama, volume I, 1818-1902 by James Benson Sellers, University of Alabama Press, 1953
History of the University of Alabama, volume II, 1902-1952 by James Benson Sellers, revised and edited by W. Stanley Hoole, unpublished manuscript in The William Stanley Hoole Papers, The W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library (Ready Reference Section)
The University of Alabama: A Pictorial History by Suzanne Rau Wolfe, University of Alabama Press, 1983
The University of Alabama Factbook, Office of Institutional Research
News releases from the UA News Center, Office of Media Relations; and Dialog, the University’s faculty/staff newsletter.