It is good to call to memory that the University of Georgia was the first state-chartered university in America. Its charter was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly on January 27, 1785. This was an act in the making for two years, for the first mention of it came in 1783, and in 1784 action was taken by setting aside 40,000 acres of land in the northeastern expanse of Georgia to endow a university. The land-grant college, however, did not begin in 1785 to open doors to students. The journey to getting it established took several years by the appointed Board of Trustees and the Academicus Senatus, the two Boards entrusted with its business.
The first meeting of the Board of Trustees held in Augusta February 13, 1786 elected Abraham Baldwin as president of the university. He kept this position for several years, although the proposed school had not been officially opened. A native of Connecticut, he had been a professor at Yale, and was active in national politics. He moved to Georgia in 1784. He did, however, draft the charter and set the parameters for the new school.
In the early years, money for the university was "earned" by renting and/or selling portions of the 40,000 acres that had been designated as an endowment for the school. The Trustees had difficulty getting a quorum together for a meeting. Several factors contributed to this fact. One no doubt was poor communication. Another was distance and the difficulty of getting to Augusta, Louisville or some other designated place of meeting. One year, a great smallpox epidemic prevented the meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Several academies existed throughout the state. The Trustees sent out questionnaires asking for information about cost of maintaining the schools, the curriculum offered, and what the instructors were paid. They intended to use this information to help them establish the university.
The University, although chartered in 1785, did not begin until 1801. A committee of the Board of Trustees selected a land site. John Milledge, who later became governor of Georgia, purchased 633 acres of land on the Oconee River in northeast Georgia and gave the land to the Trustees.
Josiah Meigs was elected president of the university. Work began on building the first unit of the university, called at first Franklin College in honor of the venerable Benjamin Franklin. Abraham Baldwin had observed Josiah Meigs as a professor at Yale and thought him worthy to become the first president and professor. At first, Meigs was the only employee of the University until student population built up and more staff was needed.
The first class graduated from the University of Georgia in 1804. Gradually the curricular offerings and the staff grew until, at present there are fifteen colleges and schools offering degrees from bachelors to doctorates in various fields. These branches and their starting dates are as follows: Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, 1801; College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, 1859; School of Law, 1859; College of Pharmacy, 1903; Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, 1906; College of Education, 1908; Graduate School, 1910; Terry College of Business, 1912; Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 1915; College of Family and Consumer Sciences, 1933; College of Veterinary Medicine, 1946; School of Social Work, 1964; College of Environment and Design, 1969; School of Public and International Affairs, 2001; and the College of Public Health, 2005.
In Union County, we are fortunate to have what we have called through the years "The Experiment Station," an entity of the University of Georgia's School of Agriculture, with similar branches at strategic locations about the state. These provide valuable controlled growth and experimentation in agricultural practices.
Now all the various locations of Georgia colleges and universities are under the jurisdiction of a single board, the University System of Georgia, governed by regents. Each school within the system has its own local governing board, faculty and staff.
The early years of the University met challenges and hardships. But Georgians should be proud that we have the first state-chartered university in the United States.
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 31, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.