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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 4: The University

The 1868 act establishing the University entrusted its organization and government to a corporate body titled the Regents of the University of California.

The Board of Regents is composed of twenty-six members, eighteen appointed by the Governor for twelve-year terms, one student appointed by the Regents to a one-year term, and seven who are members because of offices they hold. These ex officio members are the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the President and Vice President of the Alumni Associations of the University of California, and the President of the University. In addition, two faculty representatives participate in the Board's discussions but do not vote. More than four hundred Californians have served as Regents since the University's founding in 1868.

The "tiny band of scholars" on hand when the University opened in Oakland in 1869 included ten faculty members and thirty-eight students. Several of the students had been enrolled in the College of California. Graduates of the College legally became alumni of the University in 1868. Of the University's charter class, twelve were graduated in 1873, to be known thereafter as the "Twelve Apostles." Classes began at Berkeley in 1873 on completion of North and South Halls (the latter building still stands).

The Regents of the University touched off a furor when they invited as First president Civil War General George B. McClellan, who had opposed Abraham Lincoln for the presidency of the United States in 1864. Among newspapers, one of the few to support the election of General McClellan was the San Francisco Examiner, which protested, "We want no narrow-brained, fanatical sectionalist of New England optimism and puritanism to preside over our cosmopolitan University."

General McClellan declined the honor, however, and in 1870, the Regents unanimously elected Professor Daniel Coit Gilman of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. He was told, "We pay $6,000 in gold, to which in due season a house will be added." But Gilman was then deeply involved in his work at Yale and also declined. Thereupon, Henry Durant was elected first President, taking over from John LeConte, who had been serving in an acting capacity.

John and Joseph LeConte, who had served during the Civil War as chemists in factories of the Confederacy, came to the University as scholars of international renown with high recommendations from eastern universities. They were to contribute brilliantly to the development of the institution during its first three decades. John, who had been a professor of physics at the University of South Carolina, taught industrial mechanics. Joseph, from the same institution, served as professor of geology, botany, and natural history. The University's offerings were sparse in the beginning. "Announced lectures on political economy, history of civilization, and international law, were expressions of a hope rather than of a realized state of things," noted William Carey Jones, an early chronicler of the University.1

The Regents passed a resolution in 1870 declaring that women would be admitted to the University equally with men. Eight women registered for UC in the fall. Four years later, President Gilman was to remark that the proportion of women who ranked high in scholarship was greater than that of men. Jones, writing about coeducation in 1895, remarked, "If any have doubts about its expediency, they cannot draw any arguments against it from our experience in California."2


1. William Carey Jones, Illustrated History of the University of California (San Francisco, 1895), p. 56.

2. Jones, p. 59.


The Twelve Apostles, graduates of the Class of 1873, would become distinguished citizens and public servants.Left to right, standing, are J. B. Reinstein, later a Regent; Frank Otis, Mayor of Alameda; James H. Budd, Congressional Representative and Governor of California; Thomas P. Woodward, engineer and educator; Clarence Wetmore, businessman; and Nathan Newmark, attorney. Seated are George C. Edwards, professor of mathematics; L. L. Hawkins, bank president; Franklin Rhoda, clergyman; Ebenezer Scott, businessman; George J. Ainsworth, Regent; and John M. Bolton, rancher.

Photograph courtesy University Archives.


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The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 08/15/05.