UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
        F O U N D A T I O N

Settling into a Prarie Life

All in a Day's Work

The University originally used a three-term year, and the first term of the Illinois Industrial University ran from Monday, September 14 [1] until Friday, December 4. The second term ran from Monday, December 7 to Friday, March 5, 1869, with a winter holiday from December 24 until January 2, while the third term ran from March 15 until Friday, June 4, with a spring vacation from March 6 to March 15. [2] The various fees to attend the University would seem familiar to any modern student, as seen in Table 1.


$15.00 per annum for in-state

$20.00 per annum for out-of-state

Room Rent

$4.00 per term (only charged for students who boarded in the University Hall)


$2.50 per term

$34.50 to $39.50

Matriculation fee

One-time fee paid on first entrance


Boarding in University Hall

$108.00 to $126.00

Fuel and Lights

$10.50 to $15.50


$0.75 dozen

$10.00 to $15.00


$163.00 to $195.00

Table 1 Early Student Expenses [3]

Such high costs were likely to exclude the very agricultural students the University was chartered to serve, and hence the cost of attendance could be reduced both through scholarships and manual labor. As many of the early students were used to a harsh farm life, the prospect of a few hours a week in the fields as payment for an education was a blessing. In fact, as one third of the student body was either enrolled or considering enrolling in agriculture [4] at the University, maintaining a close connection to the farm life was just an extension of their education. The Trustees even advised that the total cost per year of attendance could be reduced to just $100 as any young man can pay his way through college [sic] who is willing, for the sake of an education, to practice steadily the virtues of industry and economy. [5] Early course catalogues emphasized the use of manual labor as a method for students to pay their way through the University, offering 12.5 cents an hour on the University farms and gardens and suggesting that working 3 hours a day and all day on Saturdays would not impact their studies. [6]

Just as many students of today would be able to look back with familiarity at the prospect of working 20 hours a week to pay for college, so too would they feel right at home with the long hours devoted to studying. J. A. Ockerson, a graduate of the 1873 class, once wrote In those days, burning the midnight oil in study was the rule rather than the exception. There were no pampered sons of the idle rich among the students.[7] Nevertheless, life on the treeless prairie was not all work and no fun. A memorable New Years Eve recounts quite vividly a youthful creativity that is alive and well almost 150 years later:

Some found it necessary to remain at the dormitory during the Christmas holidays on the score of economy, but still were alive to the necessity of ushering in the New Year with a big noise of welcome. With meager facilities for such work we borrowed a musket from the armory and loaded it with a goodly charge of powder and when the proper time arrived a dormitory door was opened, the gun pointed down the corridor, the trigger was pulled and a satisfactory noise shook the walls of the old building. More than that, the concussion blew out the window at the end of the corridor. By the time the rattle of glass had ceased, the dormitory door was closed and silence reigned in the darkened room where the occupants had learned a new lesson in the effect of concussion. [8]

While the modern student is only vaguely aware of the myriad pages of bylaws and judicial proceedings concerning student misbehavior, in the early days of the University, things were much simpler: The University is designed for men, not children, and its government rests in an appeal to the manly feeling and sense of honor of its students. It has but one law, and that is, DO RIGHT. [9] The University sought to act as a parental Shepard to its new flock, and even claimed, No pains will be spared to counsel the inexperienced, to admonish the careless and to save the tempted. [10]

Falling Into a Routine

On August 26, 1868 the board of Trustees voted to admit women to the University, [11] but it wasnt until the autumn of 1870 that female students were actually granted admission, with 24 of them signing up that term. [12] [13] By the following year, with the formation of the School of Domestic Science, there were 74 female students enrolled out of a total of 402 students. [14]

The State laws which had formed the University had actually only granted it the authority to issue certificates of completion, not diplomas or degrees. [15] In 1877, the students of the classes of 1872 through 1877 wrote a letter to the State Legislature noting that while the founders of the University wished to depart from the usual custom of conferring degrees for the very good reason that they do not in themselves represent real worth often being conferred when not deservedly earned, this had harmed in the University in that many persons have refused to enter the University because they could not graduate with the honors of a degree, and not a few have left [their] classes to take their Senior year in colleges conferring degrees. They also wrote that we do not claim any real value in a degree, but the world is educated to look upon this as the sign of having completed a course of study, and likewise expects of college graduates that they come out with the proper degree. [16] The State General Assembly finally bowed to pressure from the University later that year and gave it the authority to grant diplomas and degrees like other institutions of its caliber. [17]

Early instruction at the University fell under one of the four main colleges and several affiliated schools, as shown in Table 2.

College of Agriculture

School of Agriculture

School of Horticulture

College of Engineering

School of Mechanical Engineering

School of Civil Engineering

School of Mining Engineering

School of Architecture

College of Natural Science

School of Chemistry

School of Natural History

College of Literature and Science

School of English and Modern Languages

School of Ancient Language and Literature

Other Schools

School of Military Science

School of Commerce

School of Domestic Science and Art

Forthcoming Schools

School of Wood Engraving

School of Printing

School of Telegraphing

School of Photography

School of Designing

Table 2 First Colleges and Affiliated Schools [18]

For an early student in the Department of Science, Literature, and Arts [19], his or her scholastic career would be four years with an even mix of classic literature and modern science, as Tables 3-6 show.

Freshman Year

Required Courses

Optional Courses

1st Term

Trigonometry and Surveying

Structural Botany

Cicero de Senectute



2nd Term

Analytical Geometry

Systematic Botany

odes of Horace



3rd Term

Systematic Botany

Descriptive Geometry

Geometrical Drawing

Satires of Horace

French literature


Table 3 Freshman Year Schedule for Department of Science, Literature, and Arts [20]

Sophomore Year

Required Courses

Optional Courses

1st Term





Tacitus Annals


2nd Term



Physics Mechanics




3rd Term


Physics Rhetoric

German literature


Cicero de oratore

Table 4 Sophomore Year Schedule for Department of Science, Literature, and Arts [21]

Junior Year

Required Courses

Optional Courses

1st Term



English literature

Ancient History

2nd Term


Modern History



English literature

3rd Term


Physical Geography

Modern History

English literature

Butlers Analogy

Table 5 Junior Year Schedule for Department of Science, Literature, and Arts [22]

Senior Year

Required Courses

Optional Courses

1st Term

Mental Philosophy

Political Economy

Elements of Criticism

Science of Education

2nd Term

Moral Philosophy

History of Civilization

Civil Policy

Constitution of U.S.

Social Science

Evidences of Christianity

3rd Term

History of Philosophy

Modern Philology

Constitutional Law

History of Inductive Sciences

Table 6 Senior Year Schedule for Department of Science, Literature, and Arts [23]

Agricultural students had only a three-year tenure. Their greater emphasis on applied science epitomized the new school of thought.

1st Year

The Farm

Plant Culture

Collateral Studies

2nd Year

The Farm

Farm Implements

Fruit Culture

Animal Husbandry

Collateral Studies

3rd Year

Agricultural Economy

Rural Law

Collateral Studies

Table 7 Three Year Agriculture Schedule [24]

While an education in the Science and the Arts emphasized a classical and well-rounded education, those subjects were treated as extraneous for agricultural students and classified under Collateral Studies for each year. The second year collateral studies, for instance, included Mechanics, Chemistry, Zoology, Entomology, Mineralogy, and German Language and Literature. [25]

The new trend of applied studies had slowly crept its way into the classical bastion of the sciences as well. Students in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering shared a similar three-year stay with their agricultural brethren. Their studies highlighted Mathematics, Physics, Analytic and Applied Mechanics, Chemistry, Drawing, and Architecture. [26]

In 1871, the academic year was ended with an address by Regent Gregory on Sunday, June 4, with the following two days consisting of exams from eight in the morning until noon and from two to four in the afternoon, followed on the first day by an address to the Industrial Society by the governor and J. Mahoney, Esq., for the Literary Society on the second day, both at 7PM. Finally, on Wednesday, the 7th, exercises of the third year students began at nine in the morning, with University of Michigan President Erastus O. Haven, speaking at 2PM and an Exhibition Drill of the University Battalion at 3:30PM. [27] [28]

Breaking from the Past

By 1885, the Illinois Industrial University had decided its name was more liability than legacy. The misconception that the University was a reform school based around manual labor had become a nuisance as Charles Kiler once wrote:

The name Illinois Industrial University was a terrible mistake. It sounded like a court order was necessary to get a student sentenced to a term in the institution ; [sic] parents with incorrigible children wrote they would like to place them here so they could be corrected of inherited traits. Both widows and widowers left with children thought the Industrial University was exactly the place for them [29]

It was even called a kind of Asylum, where broken down clergymen and impractical artisans were engaged in turning out a lot of sickly nondescripts, who between a mattering of Latin, Greek from [sic] a chemical standpoint, and a few ideas about gentlemens farming, wond [sic] be worth but little to themselves or anybody else. [30]

At their July 1, 1885 meeting in Chicago, President Selim H. Peabody presented a letter to the Board of Trustees acknowledging that 60% of the undergraduates were by then enrolled in technical courses and with the Universitys transition into an engineering school, its old name will continue to be a serious obstacle to the success of the university, in that it deters many of the best youth of the State from entering our doors. and that it too frequently casts an aspersion upon those who hold our certificates of proficiency. On June 19, 1885, the State Assembly recognized the Universitys change of name from Illinois Industrial University to the Universityof Illinois. [31]

[1] The 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, pages 200-201 gives September 14th as the start of the term, but Powell uses the date of September 18 on p312 and states it as the second term. No reconciliation between these two dates can be found
[2] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, page 200-201
[3] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, page 200-201
[4] 2nd Board of Trustees Minutes, p 62
[5] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, page 201
[6] Illinois Industrial University Catalogue and Circular 1867-79 cited in Powell 313
[7] Powell, 313
[8] Powell, 314
[9] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, 201
[10] Illinois Industrial University Catalogue and Circular 1867-79, cited in Powell 313
[11] The University of Illinois Its History, Legal Status, Objectives, and Functions 1934 Campus Plan Vertical File
[12] Board of Trustees Proceedings, March 7, 1871
[13] Note that the Illinois Industrial University Catalogue and Circular 1867-79, p 16 states that female students were first admitted in the fall of 1871, and The University of Illinois Its History, Legal Status, Objectives, and Functions 1934 Campus Plan Vertical File states that 24 entered that term, while the Board of Trustees Proceedings from March 7, 1871 states that the first term female students were admitted was the fall of 1870, with 15 entering that term, increasing to 22 the following semester. Given that the Board of Trustees Proceedings predate the date given in the Circular, the Circular must be assumed to be incorrect.
[14] Catalogue and Circular 1872-1873
[15] The University of Illinois Its History, Legal Status, Objectives, and Functions 1934 Campus Plans Vertical File
[16] Letter from clases of 1872-1877 to State Legislature RS 2/1/5
[17] The University of Illinois Its History, Legal Status, Objectives, and Functions 1934 Campus Plans Vertical File
[18] Illinois Industrial University Catalogue and Circular 1867-79, p 23
[19] This designation does not match any titles in Course Catalogue of the same time
[20] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 188-199
[21] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 188-199
[22] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 188-199
[23] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 188-199
[24] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 193
[25] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 193
[26] 1st Board of Trustees Minutes, p 193
[27] Programme [sic] of the Closing Exercises for the Academic Year 1871, RS 2/1/5
[28] RS 2/1/5 contains a full program for the 9AM exercises
[29] Charles Albert Kiler On the banks of the Boneyard published May 31, 1942
[30] Extracts from statements from the Illinois Press Association about their meeting at the IIU. Quote from Daily Journal, Jacksonville.
[31] See Appendix C for the fulltext of this Act.
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