The People’s College

In 1859, US Representative Justin Morrill helped shape the future of Tennessee and the rest of the nation with the idea that higher education should be available to everyone.

President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land-grant colleges to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts to anyone who desired to learn, not just the privileged. The spirit of the “people’s colleges” continues at UT today through teaching, research, and extension work.

Though the act was made law in 1862, the Civil War and Tennessee’s secession from the Union prevented the university from being established as a land-grant institution for another seven years.

The state legislature designated the university as the state’s federal land-grant institution, which finally allowed the school to benefit from the Morrill Act with the purchase of nearly 300 acres of land.

In 1879, the state legislature changed the school’s name to its present name of the University of Tennessee, thus beginning UT’s modern era.

Collectively, these organizations that grew out of the Morrill Act (along with the Hatch Act of 1887 and the

Smith-Lever Act of 1914) represent a significant percentage of the current UT.


With an average enrollment of more than 1,600 students each year, the Herbert College of Agriculture prepares undergraduate and graduate students for careers in agriculture and natural resources.

Many of the faculty also serve with UT AgResearch through various on-campus labs and 10 research and education centers across the state. They study all aspects of our natural world, from forestry to animal and plant science, soil and water science, food science and the engineering and economics that help farmers, foresters, landowners and manufacturers provide us with safe, affordable and nutritious food as well as plentiful natural fibers and products. They also help ensure the sustainable management of our natural resources for future generations.Their efforts impact the state’s $4.2 billion agricultural economy each year.

UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine is one of only 30 veterinary colleges in the nation and has graduated 2,586 students since 1974. The first veterinarians educated in the state of Tennessee graduated 40 years ago in 1979.

UT Extension delivers adult and youth educational programs and research-based information to Tennesseans through offices in each of the state’s 95 counties and through four 4-H camps across the state. They make nearly five million public contacts annually.

In the “mechanical arts,” the Tickle College of Engineering comprises seven departments of study and seven nationally renowned research centers.

The college boasts partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and multiple industry and community organizations that have led to major research projects and impactful service initiatives benefitting communities in the United States and across the world.

The University of Tennessee continues to embrace the land-grant mission and ideals by placing high importance on research and innovation as well as the democratization of higher education through financial aid and scholarships which help make the goal of attaining a higher education within reach for all Tennesseans.

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

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