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A Year of Anniversaries - Part I
February 1, 1999

100 Years Ago - 1899
Reflecting a changing curriculum and with strong support from Connecticut's then-powerful agricultural industry, Storrs Agricultural College was renamed Connecticut Agricultural College through an act of the General Assembly. With the name of the original benefactors, Charles and Augustus Storrs, no longer part of the college's name, another legislative act in 1899 required that any library built with public funds be named "Storrs Memorial Library." By the time a new library was completed in 1939, however, the legislature had passed an act giving the college trustees the power to name all buildings. Trustees chose to name the library for Gurleyville-native Wilbur Cross, who had been governor from 1931 to 1939. But the Storrs name did survive in physical form: their name had been placed on the first brick dormitory in 1905, Storrs Hall.

85 Years Ago - 1914

Although its name included the word college, Connecticut Agricultural College did not have a curriculum that matched that designation. Charles Lewis Beach set out to change that when his administration as president began in 1908. Curriculum changes began in 1911, and two- and three-year courses of study were phased out. The final phase was achieved in 1914 and, because none of the students had yet completed the new four-year program, commencement was cancelled that year. It was also in 1914 that the college adopted the requirement of a high school diploma for admission.

Index to UConn History Pieces

Color photo by Peter Morenus

During the academic year 1913-1914, the college offered its first course in genetics - believed to be the first organized genetics course offered in the United States. The instructor was Albert Blakeslee, a prolific author who published 221 articles on heredity and genetics between 1904 and 1955. He left Storrs in 1915 and later headed Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In 1914, Blakeslee posed 175 Connecticut Agricultural College military cadets by height for a living histogram which was reproduced in textbooks for decades. A modern version of the photo was made in 1996 using current biology students and faculty.

75 Years Ago - 1924
In the early 1920s, public education was under scrutiny at the state level. In 1923, the state Chamber of Commerce, at the request of the General Assembly, conducted a study of "the major problems" of Connecticut Agricultural College. The problems were related to a growing sense in some quarters that perhaps Connecticut, with its thriving private colleges, did not really need a public college. The chamber recommended that women no longer be admitted and that "a limited" number be sent to Connecticut College for Women; stated that mechanical engineering was "too exotic" but tolerable; and proposed that the two-year School of Agriculture program be discontinued. President Beach responded that the recommendations came from a committee that had never been to the college and had never interviewed college officials.

In 1924, the chamber was back with a second round of recommendations: that new buildings be delayed; that the maintenance budget be increased by 10 percent; and that there be a new study of the entire state educational system. The following year, Gov. Hiram Bingham told the General Assembly that the college should be limited to becoming "an exceptionally effective agricultural college rather than an institution for general education." With private institutions like Yale, Wesleyan and Trinity in mind, Bingham said "Any young man ... can receive a college education in Connecticut, no matter how limited his financial resources."

Opened as a dining hall, this building had the name Mechanic Arts over its entrance when it opened in 1910. A study in the mid-1920s allowed mechanic arts to continue, although it was deemed "exotic." The program was precursor to the engineering school.

Archival photo courtesy UCIMT

The legislature approved a measure that limited enrollment to 500 students, "preference being given to students desiring to take the four-year college course in agriculture." Faculty took advantage of the limit and raised entrance standards and demands on scholarship.

70 Years Ago - 1929
Another legislative act, again geared at keeping the college small and agricultural, changed the enrollment limit to 500 students in dormitories. Neither limit was enforced. Although enrollment had dipped slightly from 521 in 1924 to 516 in 1925, it soared to 636 in 1926.

Also in 1929, the Charles L. Beach Building opened, replacing Old Main, which had been built in 1890. Shored up with four timber buttresses, Old Main was torn down, leaving the Agricultural Experiment Station as the last frame building of the original five college structures.

65 Years Ago - 1934
Surviving attempts to limit its scope, Connecticut Agricultural College became Connecticut State College in 1934 and, through a student poll, the Husky mascot was selected to represent the college in athletic endeavors.

Also that year, E.L. Jungherr, an animal pathologist in the Department of Animal Diseases, published results of his pioneering research in the role of viruses in poultry diseases. Jungherr would later become a leading international authority on the histopathology of avian diseases (the analysis of tissue changes to diagnose poultry diseases). In 1945 he received the Borden Award of the American Poultry Science Association in recognition of his contributions to the field.

60 Years Ago - 1939
With a new library just opened and more signs of new campus construction to come, the Connecticut State College community had a sense of rising expectations. With President Albert Jorgensen and legislative leaders looking on, on May 26, 1939, Gov. Raymond Baldwin put his signature to the bill that transformed the college into the University of Connecticut. The General Assembly also rescinded the acts of 1924 and 1929 that had limited enrollment and on-campus housing and, for the first time, the University was given the authority to issue self-liquidating bonds for the construction of dormitories. The following year, the University would establish schools and colleges, including a graduate school.

Also in 1939, an extension center, offering a complete freshman course, opened in Hartford Public High School, with classes held in the late afternoon and evenings. The center was the forerunner of the Hartford campus, which opened in 1946.

Mark J. Roy

Source: unpublished manuscript, 1980, Evan Hill.