UCOP > A Brief History of the University of California > Time's Noblest Offspring >

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 8: Growth for the Twentieth Century

The approach of a new century brought a quicker tempo and a broadening responsiveness by the University to the needs of the state and the nation. In the first few decades of the University's existence, enrollment grew extraordinarily, as did the resources for effective teaching. Although the first two years of undergraduate study continued to be general in nature, the variety of upper-division courses rapidly increased.

Isolated by geography from the great eastern centers of learning, the University was developing the distinctive California characteristics of restlessness and seam-bursting vigor. Agriculture, the humanities, and most of all, engineering, were to form the bases of its early claims to fame.

Scholars and scientists of international reputation were attracted to Berkeley. Eugene W. Hilgard, one of the nation's great geologists and soil chemists, joined the faculty in 1875 and laid the foundations of the College of Agriculture. He was a vigorous advocate of scientific agriculture who won over skeptical farmers to the University's cause through his ceaseless activity on behalf of California agriculture.

Five years earlier, the Regents had recognized the need for agricultural extension by authorizing "the Professor of Agriculture" to visit as many agricultural centers in the state as possible and extend to them the advantages of the College.

Samuel B. Christy became Dean of the College of Mining in 1885 and took on the responsibility of laying out laboratories for one of the First adequately equipped mining schools in the world. Under his direction, the reputation of the College was firmly established; soon students were coming from lands as distant as Peru and South Africa. Frank H. Probert, an English mining engineer who became Dean in 1917, continued the tradition of strong leadership.

The College of Civil Engineering also performed notable service in building the young state. Shortly after the turn of the century, Engineering added a Department of Irrigation headed by the international authority Elwood Mead, whose advice was constantly in demand by countries plagued with the problems of a dry climate. Later on, under Charles Derleth, the College would be called upon by the federal government in the planning stages of such mammoth projects as the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.

Science, in the early years, was mainly centered in the College of Chemistry, where the foundations were well laid by a few eminent scientists. In 1912 Gilbert N. Lewis joined the staff to serve with distinction as professor of physical chemistry and Dean of the College.

By the middle 1890s, Charles Mills Gayley was building an English department that would become famous. Henry Morse Stephens, before his death in 1919—and after him, Herbert E. Bolton—made the study of history and California seem almost synonymous. Alexis Lange, who became Dean of the School of Education, was the father of the 1907 legislation establishing California's system of junior—now community—colleges.

In 1893, the University of California Press was founded for the dual purpose of stimulating research and publishing it. Today UC Press is the largest publishing arm of any public university in the country and one of the most distinguished anywhere.

San Franciscans were eager to develop trade with Asia, and Berkeley's College of Commerce was originally intended to train students for the export trade. Almost immediately, however, it enjoyed a more broadly based success. Industry and business throughout the state also wanted college-trained individuals. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 stimulated California's commerce with Europe and South America, resulting in still greater enrollments in the College.

Secretary of State Elihu Root, in the first decade of the new century, called attention to the poor quality of America's consular officers, then largely political appointees, and the University responded with a course for the training of foreign service personnel.

Among new departments created early in the century were anatomy, anthropology, architecture, biochemistry, household art, household science, hygiene, physiology, Sanskrit, and Slavic languages. There was a vigorous expansion of existing departments. The Department of History and Political Science became three: history, political science, and economics.

The University summer sessions, begun in 1899 to train teachers in physics and chemistry, met with an enthusiastic response.

Although scientific research was accelerating, the University's leading scholars—like their counterparts at most American universities—remained more oriented toward teaching than research. With the exception of government-sponsored research in agriculture, scientific activity would remain comparatively small in scale and in financial support until the surge of the 1930s.

Yet as early as 1910, it was clear that something remarkable was under way at the University of California. In that year, Edwin E. Slosson published a book titled Great American Universities, which focused on ten outstanding American institutions of higher education. The University of California was among them. Professor Slosson's assessment of the University reflected how productively it had resolved the conflict over practical versus classical education:

I know of no other university which cultivates both mechanics and metaphysics with such equal success, or which looks so far into space, and, at the same time, comes so close to the lives of the people; or which excavates the tombs of the Pharaohs and Incas while it is inventing new plants for the agriculture of the future.4

Further, Slosson was struck by the diversity of foreign students at Berkeley relative to that of other universities he visited. "There is a new form of university coming," he wrote, "which is foreshadowed in California. Greater and more influential than a State or a national university will be the international university of the future."5


4. Edwin E. Slosson, Great American Universities (New York, 1910), p. 149.

5. Slosson, p. 180.





Copyright © 2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 08/15/05.