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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 7: Early Benefactors

The University's financial problems seemed endless. Early on, it was hoped that income from the permanent endowment of the University would meet most of its operating costs. In 1887, however, the legislature found it necessary to levy a cent of tax on every $100 of taxable property in the state to augment this income. A decade later, the tax advanced to two cents; yet, in the early years, it was seldom easy to get the necessary appropriations for the University.

Many years were to pass, too, before the citizens of California gave large donations to their University; but even the smallest of those First gifts was important. In 1871, for example, a gift of $500 bought a modern encyclopedia and numerous volumes of history and literature.

As Californians began to feel a personal pride in the University, they created a tradition of generous private support. Indeed, most of the early buildings on the Berkeley campus were the result of gifts. Until 1940, more than half of all the lands and buildings of the University were purchased as a result of donations from private sources.

The first large benefaction came from Edward Tompkins of Oakland, one of the first Regents. Aware of the new commerce opening up between California and Asia, he gave property—to be held until it became worth $50,000—for the Agassiz Professorship of Oriental Languages.

At a time when immigrants of any nationality were apt to be received coldly in California—if not excluded outright—Mr. Tompkins expressed the desire that the University make education available for such young men as might come to this country from Asia.

"I feel deeply the humiliation," he said, "of seeing them pass by us in almost daily procession to the other side of the continent in search of that intellectual hospitality which we are not yet enlightened enough to extend to them."

Foreign students began to enroll at the University in the 1870s. Six decades later the University received a gift of $1,750,000 from John D. Rockefeller Jr. to establish an International House at Berkeley. Today, UC's systemwide foreign student enrollment of 8,000 from nearly 150 countries is the largest in the nation.

The University's First great scientific station—the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton—was a nineteenth-century gift from the colorful San Franciscan James Lick. The observatory, which is the site of a 120-inch telescope, is well known for its research into the evolution of stars, the history of the galaxy, and other mysteries of space that have intrigued mankind. In 1965 the Santa Cruz campus took over operation of Lick.

A gift of immense importance was that of Dr. H. H. Toland, who in 1873 donated the Toland Medical College in San Francisco, consisting of property worth about $100,000, to the University for use as a medical school.

An immigrant Bavarian leather tanner named Michael Reese, who had acquired a fortune in San Francisco real estate, left $50,000 to the library in 1878. Hastings College of Law in San Francisco was established by the legislature with generous financial assistance from Judge Serranus Clinton Hastings, the First Chief Justice of California, who paid $100,000 into the state treasury on condition that the state pay annual interest of seven percent toward maintaining the school.

Henry Douglas Bacon of Oakland presented the University with his art collection, together with funds to aid in construction of the Bacon Art and Library Building. Another Oakland resident, A. K. P. Harmon, gave the University the original Harmon Gymnasium. Today the sports facility, renovated and expanded to nearly twice its original size, is known as the Walter A. Haas Jr. Pavilion.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who became a Regent in 1897, was a benefactress of great generosity. In 1891 she endowed five scholarships for "worthy young women." Later, she provided funds for the University's First comprehensive building plan and for two buildings at Berkeley, including the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, which is dedicated to the memory of her husband, Senator George Hearst.

The comprehensive building plan invited international competition. In 1898, 105 designs were submitted for the preliminary round, held at the Royal Museum in Antwerp. During the second round, held in California two years later, architect Emile Bénard was selected as the winner. His grandiose plan for a series of Beaux Arts buildings with a central avenue oriented toward the Golden Gate was never fully carried out; problems with Bénard and his plan surfaced early on, and he was soon replaced by one of the other finalists in the competition, American architect John Galen Howard.

Howard put his own distinctive stamp on Bénard's vision and adapted his plan to the contours of the Berkeley site. Under Howard's guidance, new buildings soon transformed the landscape, among them the Charles Franklin Doe Memorial Library, Wheeler Hall, and Hilgard Hall. A gift of $100,000 from Mrs. John H. Boalt, in memory of her husband, made possible the construction of a law building, Boalt Hall. In 1951 the name was transferred to a larger building to accommodate the growing law school, and the original Boalt Hall was renamed Durant Hall.

Jane K. Sather, in memory of her husband, Peder—who had been a trustee of the College of California—endowed two professorships and gave to the campus two of its enduring landmarks, Sather Tower, generally known as the Campanile, and Sather Gate.

These were but a few of the generous benefactions so important to the University in the early decades.


Formation of student battalion in front of Bacon Art and Library Building in the 1890s.

Photograph courtesy University Archives.


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Last updated 08/15/05.