Top 50 Stories: 1889 — University of Idaho established

The land-grant school put the Palouse farm town of Moscow on the map

doland@idahostatesman.comJune 23, 2014 

Statesman article from Dec. 11, 1890

Statesman article from Dec. 11, 1890

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Since its doors opened in 1892, the University of Idaho has been a major contributor in the fields of agriculture and animal sciences. It has the oldest - and until 2012 the only - law school in the state, world-class schools of music and literature, and a network of extension offices, satellite campuses and research facilities in 41 Idaho counties.

Its alumni include five people to be elected governor of a state, including Idaho governors Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, two Olympians - cyclist Kristin Armstrong and decathlete Dan O'Brien - Chunnel Tunnel mastermind Jack Lemley and his film-producer son, Jim ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer"), and actor Bill Fagerbakke, the voice of Patrick on "SpongeBob SquarePants."

At the time it was founded, the university's setting in North Idaho was controversial.

It should have been in Lewiston, an editorial published in 1889 Tri-Weekly Statesman decried.

"We ask in all kindness, is Moscow the most ... proper place for a State or Territorial University? ... Lewiston has superior claims in every way," it read.

The editorial further went on to say that Lewiston has a better climate and was more centrally located. According to the paper, it was only political maneuvering that placed this important institution so far north.

Lewiston would lose out, just as it had lost its bid to be the state capital, and the University of Idaho landed in Moscow - eight miles away from Washington State University, another land-grant school.

The Statesman's coverage of U of I's establishment was rather perfunctory, reporting that the state Legislature voted to appropriate $15,000 to secure the 20-acre site and that it would levy a tax for four years to pay for construction.

In 1890, the state's governor, William J. McConnell, traveled to Moscow to intervene in the construction bid process that he suspected was rigged by the contractors.

In 1892, the same year it opened for business, the university established its first three experimental stations in Nampa, Idaho Falls and Grangeville.

Land-grant colleges and universities were designated by a state legislature or Congress to receive federal support made possible by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. They were primarily to teach agriculture and mechanical sciences, along with classical studies.

The earlier act granted federal lands for the schools; the 1890 act allocated money to purchase land, though it gave them the same legal standing.

Congress also funded the building of the extension and experimental stations to spread the knowledge gained at the land-grant colleges to farmers and homemakers.

The acts created more than 80 learning institutions in the United States and its territories, including Rutgers University in New Jersey; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Berkeley; and Tuskegee University in Alabama.

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