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OSU celebrates anniversary of Morrill Act

Thursday, July 2, 2020

On July 2, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, opening the path for the creation of the land-grant university system.  The mission of land-grant institutions, like Oklahoma State University, is to provide instruction, research and extension. 

The act is for “each State which may take and claim the benefit of this act, to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Today, OSU continues to pursue that mission with an emphasis on making OSU accessible, conducting impactful research and extending that knowledge to the public. 

What Cowboys have said through the years


“It took many years for the new kind of education to be recognized, but today the institutions giving the practical, vocational training are the leaders of education. The Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges have grown, and today instead of being ‘Cow Colleges’ their graduates are recognized by all the world as the leaders in constructive work, which is so important in peace or war. … The world looks for graduates of practical courses for leadership; the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College is training leaders!”

           — Oklahoma A&M’s The Black and Orange, April 12, 1918

“While tremendous progress has been made this far, in the 42 years of life of the Oklahoma A. and M. College, there is much yet to be done. There is still a strong demand for leadership in carrying the message of better agriculture and better living to the farm people of Oklahoma.”

— C.P. Blackwell, Oklahoma A&M dean of agriculture, quoted in The Daily O’Collegian on April 9, 1933

“I think land-grant institutions are great institutions, and I think of all institutions — and I’ve been on 400 campuses — I’ve never yet seen one that’s prettier than OSU and has a better student body or students or faculty. I mean, we have one of the finest educational institutions in the United States. I’ll stand behind that until I’m gone and afterwards. But it’s a real opportunity to go to OSU because we have such a broad field of education, you know. I mean, you can get anything — any kind of education you want. It’s really great.”

— Edwin W. Glover, 1947 bachelor’s in business, quoted in O-STATE Stories Oral History Project

“Well, as a youngster I really never thought I’d go to college, never thought I’d be able to afford it. The land-grant colleges are … colleges for the working people. … Land-grant colleges were originally thought up and organized to be places where you go learn how to do something. They were all mechanical and agricultural colleges where you come out, you know how to do a specific thing, and that is the thing that attracted me, from an early age. And I still think it’s the way things ought to be.”

            — Harold Field, 1950 bachelor’s and 1952 master’s in electrical engineering, quoted in O-STATE Stories Oral History Project

“The Morrill Act opened the doors for higher learning to people in all walks of life in America. That’s why land-grant campuses are ‘friendly, democratic’ places. … Land-grant colleges have been founded, supported and stimulated by the people. And today, democracy in education is a fundamental characteristic of the land-grant college.”

            — OSU President Oliver S. Willham, quoted in The Daily O’Collegian on July 1, 1955.

“It is probable that Mr. Lincoln, even in his wildest dreams, could not have foreseen the great impact of land-grant institutions a century hence — 68 in numbers; enrolling some 20 percent of all young men and women in colleges and universities today; and regarded by citizens the world over as a unique, distinctly American contribution to the world’s educational pattern.”

            — Robert B. Kamm, dean OSU College of Arts and Sciences, in an essay appearing in OSU Alumnus Magazine, April 1962 

“American land-grant universities are dedicated to the needs of people. They are the state universities whose job is to grow in character, in excellence, and in service. They are dedicated to the practical, the scientific and to liberal education. These universities are generally given credit for the democratization of education at the higher levels.”

            — J. Andrew Holley, dean OSU College of Education, in an essay appearing in OSU Alumnus Magazine, April 1962

“Their names are legion! The alumni of Oklahoma State University, through the years, have given of time, talent, and financial assistance in support of the university’s objectives as a land-grant educational institution.”

            — Murl Rogers, secretary OSU Alumni Association, in an essay appearing in OsU Alumnus Magazine, April 1962  

“The future of land-grant college is almost unlimited. For the century ahead, I see the land-grant colleges devoting more of their efforts to developing human attitudes and behavior, greater capacity for leadership, more satisfying cultural and social experiences, more personal participation in politics, and a broader understanding of world peace. … These colleges face the same challenges they did 100 years ago — continuing to provided equal opportunity to all young men and women seeking higher education. Their purposes will remain the same — to advance knowledge through research, to transmit it through teaching, and to extend it to the whole people.”

— OSU President Oliver S. Willham during a 100th anniversary celebration of the Morrill Act, quoted in The Daily O’Collegian, July 6, 1962

“We get some ideas and some concepts from land-grant universities such as Oklahoma State to develop our agricultural colleges in Thailand. Also, in Maejo (Univesity) in that time, thirty five years ago, the first director … got so many ideas and concepts in agricultural education from the United States to develop Maejo in Thailand. After him, many presidents of Maejo University graduated from USA, including myself. So, when we develop some education at Maejo, we get some concepts and ideas from the USA and of course, from Oklahoma State University.”

— Thep Phongparnich, 1978 doctorate in agricultural education and former president of Maejo University in Chiang Mai, Thailand,  quoted in O-STATE Stories Oral History Project

“The big revolution that’s taking place is when people thought about land-grant and its outreach, they thought about agriculture. And that model now is not being diminished in agriculture, but it’s a greater model for the whole university. And whether that’s in engineering or education or human environmental sciences or veterinary medicine, people are more cognizant that we have to be seen as being critical to the future of this state if we expect to continue to get the support of the taxpayers.”

            — Joseph Alexander, former dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine (1985-2001) and former Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology, quoted in O-STATE Stories Oral History Project.

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