1870 – 1890
The designation as Tennessee’s land-grant institution in 1869 required the university to offer courses in military science. In 1870, the university instituted compulsory military training for all students. A military commandant, assigned by the US Army, and his staff had full control of student conduct. Students were required to wear uniforms beginning in 1873, and two years later UT adopted a code of military regulations similar to those in use at West Point. After Charles Dabney became president of UT, he proposed that the military system of government and instruction apply only to freshmen and sophomores. Following trustee approval the new system of student government began in 1890, and the dean of the university took charge of student discipline.
1881 – 1912
UT’s First Black Students
After their election in 1880, three Black representatives in the Tennessee Legislature as well as two white representatives wrote UT President Thomas Humes indicating their intention to appoint, for the 1881-82 session, Black students to receive state scholarships at UT. The legislative act of 1869 which granted the Morrill Act funds to UT required that “no citizen…otherwise qualified shall be excluded from the privileges of said university by reason of his race or color; provided, that it shall be the duty of the trustees ...to make such provision as may be necessary for the separate accommodation or instruction of any persons of color who may be entitled to admission.” In 1870, the Tennessee Constitution prohibited white and Black children to be received in the same school, but added that the provision “shall not prevent the legislature from carrying into effect any laws that have been passed in favor of the colleges, universities, or academies.” The UT trustees contracted with Fisk University in Nashville to enroll Black scholarship students, with UT paying Fisk tuition of $30 per session. In 1881-82, 10 Black students enrolled at Fisk. In 1884, the contract was changed from Fisk University to Knoxville College, with the 14 students already attending Fisk able to finish there if they chose. In 1890, a new contract was negotiated with Knoxville College because of federal passage of the second Morrill Act. This act provided an additional federal subsidy for land-grant colleges of $15,000, rising to $20,000 after five years, and contained a provision that no money would be paid to colleges in which “a distinction of race or color is made in the admission of students.” The new contract with Knoxville College created the “Industrial Department of the University of Tennessee” with Knoxville College providing the buildings and grounds, and UT providing teachers, apparatus, tools, machinery, and all other equipment necessary for an industrial college. Students felled the lumber, made the bricks, and erected the two-story Industrial Department building. The UT trustees agreed to provide an equitable share of the 1862 and 1890 federal land grant funds. Students in the Industrial Department received free tuition for subjects they took in the Knoxville College program, and regular Knoxville College students took classes for free in the Industrial Department. UT paid $2,800 a year for two professors, a foreman, student labor, and other sums periodically for equipment, with the funds required to be spent in the Industrial Department. UT paid Knoxville College $4,000 in 1901; $5,000 in 1902; and $6,000 in 1903. The arrangement continued and grew to incorporate agriculture and nursing. However, the president of Knoxville College and other Black leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the funding arrangement, argued in government for the creation of a separate Black agricultural and mechanical college as the only equitable solution, and raised money for the cause. Their demand was met in 1912 when the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State) opened in Nashville. The new school, designated as the second of Tennessee’s land-grant universities under the second Morrill Act, aimed to train Blacks in the agricultural and mechanical arts and for teaching positions in the public schools.
First Doctorate Awarded
William Isaac Thomas earned UT’s first doctoral degree in 1886 for two years of graduate work in languages, following his bachelor’s degree. He was an instructor of modern languages and natural history at UT from 1886 to 1888. Thomas then became a professor of sociology who taught at the University of Chicago, where he had earned a second doctorate, the New School for Social Research, and at Harvard.
1887 – 1904
Charles Dabney Presidency
UT received its first direct appropriation of funds from the Tennessee legislature during the administration of its 11th president, Charles W. Dabney, from 1887 to 1904. As the first president with an earned PhD—in chemistry from the University of Göttingen in Germany—Dabney directed significant changes to the course of study from the previous classical curriculum. Dabney insisted that university schooling must prepare young people for an active, not a contemplative, life. He criticized UT—as he found it, and all the other old universities—as places in which knowledge was imparted to the students. In the new university of Dabney’s imagination, students would engage actively in learning and would prepare not to be “country gentlemen” but functioning citizens. Dabney did not discard the classics, he included them in his scientific-utilitarian curriculum. Dabney moved quickly upon assuming the presidency to put his ideas into effect. Convinced that UT had fallen under the control of an “old-fogy” classical-bound faculty, he replaced virtually all of them. Their replacements included a prominent agricultural specialist from Massachusetts, two Cornell graduates, one from Maine, and one each from the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina. Tennessee’s governor complained about the large number of “foreigners” appointed to the faculty, but Dabney stuck to his guns. Dabney’s next priority was curricular reorganization. All undergraduate academic offerings were subsumed under a College of Agriculture, Mechanical Arts and Sciences. The terms classical and liberal arts were dropped, although classical courses were still offered. The new emphasis, however, was on the sciences and engineering. During his administration, the faculty almost doubled in size; the student body was enlarged almost threefold; and library holdings increased from 8,000 to nearly 20,000 volumes. The military regimen that had prevailed on the campus for 20 years was ended. Women were admitted; a dean of women was appointed; a law school was created; so was the Summer School of the South, which turned out to be both a pioneering effort and the largest such institution for the training of teachers in the entire South. The Preparatory Department, which had enrolled more than half the students on the campus, diminished the institution’s image, and diverted its energies to secondary school education, was abolished. Enrollment increased from about 400 students in 1887 to 729 in 1904. By the end of Dabney’s administration, there were 16 buildings on campus, a faculty and staff of more than 50, and a student body of nearly 500, as well as medical and dental departments in Nashville. Dabney Hall is named for President Dabney.
Pre-Commencement Speaker Woodrow Wilson
When Woodrow Wilson spoke to faculty and students the night before UT commencement in 1890, he was about to become a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton. Invited to UT by an English professor and former University of Virginia classmate, Wilson delivered a speech with a fitting title, “Leaders of Men.” He served as US president 23 years later, from 1913 to 1921.
First Football Game
Although UT’s football debut is dated November 21, 1891, when 46 players went by train to Chattanooga for a Saturday afternoon game against Sewanee (a 24-0 loss), Knoxvillians first saw university students on the gridiron a few days later. On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1891, a combination of 11 young men from the Knoxville Football Club and UT played a team from nearby Harriman, Tennessee, and lost 14-4. For two weeks prior to the game, the Knoxville Journal ran articles on football, its importance as a sport, and plans and preparations for the upcoming game. The team played their earliest games off campus at Baldwin Park and Chilhowee Park. Games began on campus in 1908 at UT’s first athletic field, Wait Field, located near Cumberland Avenue and Phillip Fulmer Way. In 1921, the Vols began playing at UT’s first regulation football field, Shields-Watkins Field, which is the field in Neyland Stadium.
Women Regularly Admitted
Women were admitted to UT on an equal footing with men beginning in 1893, after the board of trustees approved co-education. Women had been admitted on an experimental basis in 1892, and when our institution was Blount College five women were among its admitted students in 1804. The Tennessee Legislature Education Committee recommended in 1895 that UT limit women’s enrollment because the university’s primary purpose was to teach agricultural and mechanical arts, presumably not appropriate for women. However, UT faculty considered domestic science courses for women to be practical training that would appeal to coeds.
Orange and White Colors
UT Athletic Association President Charles Moore chose orange and white colors for UT’s first field day on April 12, 1889. Students again wore orange and white to the Sewanee football game in 1891. Then they endorsed the colors at a special meeting in 1892. However two years later in 1894, students were dissatisfied with the choice and voted to drop the colors. After a heated one-day debate, no other colors proved satisfactory, so the students returned to orange and white.
1897 – 2009
The first UT yearbook was called the Volunteer and published in 1897 despite a fire that destroyed the copy and printing plates in the print shop. The yearbook was “affectionately dedicated” to the students and professors who helped save it from the blaze. The publication of yearbooks continued until 2009, with the exception of 1918. The Publications Association decided not to issue the yearbook in 1918 due to “patriotism and expediency” since the editor and business manager had left for duty in World War I. The Volunteer was produced by students and published during the fall semester. Its editorial mission was to commemorate the academic year, the UT community, and campus organizations through pictures and articles.
First Called Volunteers
The UT football team was called the Volunteers for the first time in 1902 when the Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported on a football game between UT and Georgia Tech. By the fall of 1905, both the Knoxville Sentinel and the Knoxville Journal and Tribune were using the Volunteer nickname. The state of Tennessee had become known as the Volunteer State when a large number of volunteers fought in the War of 1812. By the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, 30,000 Tennessee volunteers responded to the secretary of war’s call for 2,800, clinching the state’s nickname.
Philander Claxton and the Summer School of the South
UT alumnus and education department head Philander Priestly Claxton was known as “the crusader for public education in the South.” After beginning his career as an educator in North Carolina, Claxton returned to UT in 1902 as a professor of education. He soon became head of UT’s newly created School of Education as well as a tireless advocate for state appropriations to support the university, increased expenditures for Tennessee’s common schools, and improved training for teachers. He wrote thousands of letters; spoke to over 100,000 people; visited every county in Tennessee; and published articles in newspapers, pamphlets, and leaflets on behalf of public education. The results included the first state appropriation for UT in 1905, additional appropriations in 1907 and 1909, the establishment of four normal schools for the training of teachers, a doubling of the number of public high schools in Tennessee towns and villages, an increase in county high schools from one to 50, and a rise in per capita expenditures for common school education from $2.36 to $7.31. Claxton was also the organizer and superintendent of the Summer School of the South, a teacher training institute at UT that attracted 32,000 students during its 16-year existence. Claxton was so highly regarded that he was appointed US commissioner of education, serving from 1911 to 1921. The Summer School of the South was an independent institute until Claxton’s departure, then it was run by UT until it ended in 1918. When Claxton left Washington, he served as provost at the University of Alabama and as superintendent of schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1930, Claxton accepted his final position serving as president of what was then known as Austin Peay Normal School (now Austin Peay State University) in Clarksville, Tennessee until his retirement in 1946 at age 83. UT’s Claxton Education Building was named in his honor in 1957, less than a year after his death.
First Women’s Basketball Game
In 1903, women played their first intercollegiate basketball game at UT. Competitive team sports had become part of the UT women’s athletic program around 1900, despite reservations that they were too demanding for the “delicate female condition.” Basketball, sometimes played under distinctly different rules, became the first women’s varsity sport. Opponents included Maryville College, the University of Chattanooga, Carson-Newman, Martha Washington College, and the Tennessee School for the Deaf and Dumb.
1904 – 1919
Brown Ayres Presidency
UT’s most iconic building, Ayres Hall, is named for the 12th president of the university, Brown Ayres, who took the helm in 1904. Although he helped plan the building with UT’s first $1 million state appropriation, it was completed after Ayres’s unexpected death in 1919. During his administration—which included World War I—the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Business were founded. Ayres recruited Harcourt Morgan to UT to head the Agricultural Experiment Station. Morgan rose through the ranks and followed Ayres as UT’s 13th president. Ayres also presided over UT’s recognition by the American Association of Universities and the provision of scholarships for each electoral district in Tennessee to attract students outside of Knoxville.
Rhodes Scholar and Pulitzer Prize Winner Bernadotte E. Schmitt
Although Bernadotte E. Schmitt studied chemistry at UT, he felt he was not “deft enough” at science to work in a family-owned drugstore after graduating in 1904. Instead he was selected as UT’s first Rhodes Scholar for 1905, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in modern history at the University of Oxford, followed by a PhD at the University of Wisconsin. Schmitt went on to a distinguished teaching career, largely at Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1931 for his book about World War I called The Coming of the War, 1914.
1907 – 1916
First Cheerleader “Red” Matthews
Known for his acrobatics including cartwheels and handstands, Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews began cheerleading in high school and continued when he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois. After Matthews became UT’s professor of drawing and machine design (later engineering drawing) in 1907, he agreed to be the university’s first cheerleader. Matthews continued cheerleading through the Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee football game in 1916, but stayed on UT’s faculty until 1949. He was also a Volunteer booster, member of the Athletic Council for 38 years, and author of the university’s fight song “Down the Field,” which is also known as “Here’s to Old Tennessee.”
Rhodes Scholar Matthew Glenn Smith
Matthew Glenn Smith was a guard on the Vols basketball team, a second lieutenant, and editor-in-chief of the Orange and White newspaper when he graduated from UT in 1909. He taught English at Knoxville High School for two years before he was named a Rhodes Scholar in 1911. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1914 with a bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence. After serving in World War I, Smith returned to his home in Fort Worth, Texas, where he practiced law and served in federal bankruptcy court.
In the early part of the 20th century, UT students held the June Jubilee to celebrate classes ending for the year. This evolved into the Glee Club performing student vaudeville shows and sideshows. In 1911, the Athletic Department had fallen into debt and was suspended from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association over eligibility infractions. The student body decided to host a circus with students dressing as animals and a vaudeville show in May 1911 to raise funds to get Athletics out of debt. The circus was successful, and by 1912 the Athletic Department was free from debt. In 1929, the All Campus Events Committee combined the carnival and the circus into one activity called Carnicus.
First Building Devoted to Library Opened
Lucy Ella Fay served as head librarian when the first building devoted to the UT library opened in 1911. Due to UT President Charles Dabney’s fundraising efforts, the Andrew Carnegie Fund covered $40,000 for the new library’s construction. The final cost for constructing the dedicated library space totaled $54,000. The library stood at the north end of what is now the Austin Peay Building and housed 38,000 volumes. However, within 10 years the building reached full capacity and portions of the collection had to be transferred to other locations. This led to the construction of the library in 1931 (named after UT President James Hoskins in 1950), the John C. Hodges Undergraduate Library in 1969, and the renovated John C. Hodges Library in 1987.
College of Business Founded
First Homecoming Game
The first Homecoming was held in conjunction with the November 11, 1916, UT-Vanderbilt football game. The Vols staged a come-from-behind upset victory over arch rival Vanderbilt, winning 10-6. Three thousand invitations were extended and 300 alumni responded representing class years as early as 1872. The first Homecoming parade consisted of the UT cadet corps in dress uniform, led by the band. World War I and other factors kept Homecoming from becoming an annual event at UT until 1925.
The selection of cheerleaders became competitive in 1916 following Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews’ nine-year stint as UT’s first cheerleader. There was a distinction between the cheerleaders who performed at athletic contests and the “cheer leaders” who led cheers at pep meetings. In 1927, a formal cheerleading squad of one head cheerleader and two assistants was organized. The uniform for the all-male 1927 squad was an orange blazer trimmed in white, white shirts, orange-and-white ties and white pants with an orange stripe on the outside seams. By 1930, sweaters had replaced the blazers. Women first joined the cheerleading squad in 1938.
1917 – 1918
UT during World War I
An estimated 1,600 UT students and alumni served in the military during World War I. The war began in 1914, but the United States did not enter it until 1917. Life at UT slowed considerably during the war, as attendance fell from more than 800 students to fewer than 500. During World War I, UT was among the more than 500 colleges used to establish the Students’ Army Training Corps. The government launched the SATC to involve higher education in military training. University personnel and equipment were used to help train new soldiers. The program was geared toward training officer candidates and technical experts, according to a 1918 government document detailing the SATC. Asked to house at least 500 men, UT’s Old College (later torn down to make way for Ayres Hall) was converted into a dormitory for the SATC, and a two-story barracks was built that could house 200 men. Jefferson Hall (no longer standing) served as their dining hall. More than 2,000 people attended UT’s formal opening as an SATC training school on October 1, 1918. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune’s story the following day called the festivity “an impressive military ceremony” featuring a flag raising and company drill, and 550 men took the oath of allegiance to the American flag. Some of the troops housed at UT wound up admitted to Reese Hall with the Spanish flu, which had broken out in Knoxville during the global pandemic. The SATC was short-lived. A November 2, 1918, article in the Knoxville Sentinel reported that UT’s SATC would soon demobilize. The war ended on November 11, 1918. Even before the formal launch of the SATC, UT’s Department of Engineering started in April 1918 to offer vocational training for the military’s Section B program. These men were known as the Fighting Mechanics. Many of the Section B men were stationed at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville. Some of the section B instruction occurred at UT’s Estabrook Hall. The Section B program was later folded into the SATC. Of the 27 UT students and alumni who gave their lives during WWI, 13 did so in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in northeastern France. The success of that offensive, when combined with the Hundred Day Offensive, contributed heavily to the end of the war. Alumni Memorial Building is dedicated to the students and alumni who died in World War I as well as four who perished in the Spanish-American War.
Rhodes Scholar Arthur Preston Whitaker
Although Arthur Preston Whitaker, who was editor-in-chief of the Orange and White newspaper and the Volunteer yearbook as well as a singles tennis champion, was selected in 1917 as UT’s third Rhodes Scholar, he chose to serve his country in World War I instead. After his service in the US artillery in France, Whitaker earned a PhD in history at Harvard in 1924 and became a professor at Cornell. Twelve years later, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania as the chair of Latin American history and taught until his retirement in 1965. Whitaker published around 20 books and numerous articles and reviews. He died in 1979.
Spanish Flu Patients Treated at Converted UT Infirmary
The height of the Spanish flu, a global pandemic, occurred in Knoxville in October 1918. The city’s health physician, Dr. W.R. Cochrane, said in a Knoxville-Sentinel story dated October 5, 1918 “people are urged to shun public gatherings and stay out of crowds whenever possible.” On October 9, the city board of health ordered schools, churches, theaters, and pool rooms to close for nearly four weeks. UT canceled classes until November. The local chapter of the Red Cross converted UT’s original Reese Hall to an infirmary equipped with cots and medical supplies. The Reese Hall infirmary housed 47 patients sick with the Spanish flu, the Knoxville Journal and Tribune reported on October 6, 1918. Many of the sick were soldiers on campus as part of a new government program called the Students’ Army Training Corps during World War I. The Red Cross asked people with training in hygiene and home care for the sick to report for volunteer service at the Reese Hall infirmary or another military infirmary at Chilhowee Park. It is estimated that about 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, became infected with the Spanish flu. While the number of deaths in Knoxville was 132, at least 50 million people were estimated to have died of the flu worldwide, with about 675,000 of those deaths in the U.S. In 1937, UT razed Reese Hall, and a new dormitory with the same name opened in 1966.