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The University of California: What Makes It Unique?

Mind Before Mines

Land and a Charter

The University

President Gilman

The Constitutional Convention of 1878

Early Benefactors

Growth for the Twentieth Century


Chapter 2: Mind Before Mines

AThe hope for a University of California was expressed at the first Constitutional Convention at Monterey in 1849-a year after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and a year before California's admission to the Union.

In that year, the population of the territory almost doubled. The time was far from promising for a university movement, and action would await the arrival a few years later of a handful of churchmen sent by the American Home Missionary Society of New York to minister to human souls in the mining camps and boomtowns. Some of these men—for the most part Congregationalists and Presbyterians, their roots at Yale, Dartmouth, and the Union Theological Seminary of New York—remained to lay the cornerstones of higher education in California.

The new state, for all its natural wealth, lacked the means to support government and education. At the Constitutional Convention of 1849, the dilemma was stated:

We are without a dollar belonging to the people, nor can we raise one but by levying taxes, which no population was ever in a worse condition to bear. In the lower portion of the territory . . . the laborers have abandoned their ranches and gone to the mines. Hence the owners of property . . . are nearly ruined by having to abandon their farms for want of laborers . . . the vast majority of people have no property to be taxed except the gold they dig out of the earth.

(And the gold, it was recognized, was almost impossible for the tax collector to lay hands on.)

Despite the odds against starting a university, some of the delegates to the first Convention were optimistic: "If we have the means here we can procure the necessary talent; we can bring the president of the Oxford University here by offering a sufficient salary."

The Convention petitioned Congress for public lands (later received) to be set apart for the use and support of a university; but it was to be almost two decades before such an institution was created.

To fill the vacuum, private schools and academies sprang up. The Contra Costa Academy opened in Oakland in 1853, and two years later it was incorporated as the College of California. The latter institution, through a transfer of its buildings and lands to the state, gave impetus to the creation of the University of California.

The University would be forever indebted to the churchmen and other citizens who guided the Academy and the College through the bogs of public apathy and around quicksands of perennial bankruptcy, never attempting sectarian control nor losing sight of the long-term goal—a university to serve the people of California.
"Mind before mines," exhorted the Rev. Dr. H. W. Bellows, a minister from the East who, as soon as he had surveyed the dismal prospect, wrote back to Yale and Harvard for suggestions. In the end, however, the interests of mind and mines were to be reconciled, to their mutual benefit.

Supporters in those early years included the Rev. S. H. Willey, who had arrived in 1849 for work in the territorial capital of Monterey; Sherman Day, the son of Yale's President Jeremiah Day; the Rev. Henry Durant of Yale—who was to become head of the College of California and first President of the University; and the Rev. Horace Bushnell, who came to California for his health but remained to search out potential sites for the future university.

Often despairing, they carried their dream to the new mansions of the frontier barons and periodically traveled to the East Coast on fund-raising drives.

"Durant out begging," was a common report.

Sometimes Durant lost patience:

Individuality is carried to an extreme in California. Our fast living may almost all of it be referred to intense selfishness. Indeed, sentimentality and idealism seem lost from the mass of the people. They are sensualists and materialists, or nearer that than anything else—the very condition on account of which the Spirit of God forsook the antediluvian world.





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Last updated 08/15/05.