University of Wyoming History

Joan S. Reed

The University of Wyoming, located in the city of Laramie, is quite literally positioned above nearly every other major university in the United States as it sits high on the Laramie Plains at an elevation of 7,200 feet. Founded in September of 1886 the college sits close to a mile and a half above sea level and is the product of a land-grant university initiative from the late 1800s.

The term land grant university is the common vernacular for institutions of higher learning that received federal funds as a result of the congressional Morrill Acts of 1862 and more recently 1890. Even during the latter parts of the nineteenth century much of the United States was unoccupied and filled with an abundance of government controlled land for lack of a better use. In an effort to bolster education the federal government granted upstart and existing universities land through a process that involved giving control of the land to the states with the stipulation that the states would then either sell the land to raise educational funds or directly develop the land for higher educational purposes. The specific purpose of this act was to develop colleges where practical trades like engineering, agriculture, science, and other endeavors related to the industrial revolution could be learned. Up until this point in history universities predominately focused on what was then considered classical studies and is today largely referred to as liberal arts.

With a growing student population the University of Wyoming now boasts an enrollment of over 13,000 pupils. The opportunity for citizens of the state to send their children to college within such close relative proximity was not a luxury the residents always had. The importance of having such an important institution within the state boundaries was a fact not lost on the locals who had a Latin phrase inscribed on the landmark building at the time of the September, 1886 opening. The Latin phrase which can still be read today (despite numerous renovations to the Old Main) translates to, “He need not go away from home for instruction.” Despite the use of the pronoun “he” the University of Wyoming admitted a coeducational class of 42 women and men when classes began.

Over the decades a number of large scale improvements have become fixtures on the modern day campus. Among the most notable locations closest to the hearts of current students and alumni alike are: Prexy’s Pasture (a grassy area at the center of campus), the Wyoming Union (student union), Coe Library, and an impressive assortment of museums – particularly the American Heritage Center and the Geological Museum.

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