UW Historian to Discuss Morrill Act

October 8, 2012
Man smiling
Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts, University of Wyoming Department of History associate professor, will discuss, “Bringing Land-Grant Universities to the Territories: John Hoyt, UW and the Expanded Morrill Act,” at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the UW American Heritage Center Stock Growers Room.

The free talk, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.

President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, signed into law the Morrill Act, leading to the creation of a nationwide system of land-grant universities. This act, sponsored by Justin Smith Morrill, a U.S. representative (1855-1867) and a U.S. senator (1867-1898) from Vermont, made education accessible to all people regardless of socio-economic, ethnic or geographical circumstances.

The land-grant college system produced practical research that improved agriculture and home economics, an important factor for those individuals establishing farming and ranching operations in what then was referred to as the “new” west.

Wyoming Territory, part of the new west, established the University of Wyoming, using land-grant funds in 1886, three years before Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming’s statehood bill in 1890. Wherever land-grant institutions were established, a college education no longer was reserved for wealthy families and those in the professional class.

Keeping with the spirit of the second land-grant college act, which passed in 1890, just as Wyoming gained statehood, delegates of the state convention wrote that UW would be “equally open to students of both sexes, irrespective of race or color.” UW embraced the need for vocational training in agriculture and mechanics, but made the liberal arts curricula the core of the institution due to John Wesley Hoyt, UW’s first president and advocate of the land-grant mission.

A Wyoming native, Roberts specializes in the history of Wyoming and the American West, as well as legal, environmental and natural resources history. A faculty member in the Department of History since 1990, Roberts and his two brothers are the authors of Wyoming Almanac, now in its sixth edition, and his edited book, “Readings in Wyoming History,” is in its fourth edition.

Roberts is a member of several professional and civic organizations, including the Wyoming State Bar, the Wyoming State Historical Society, the Western History Association, the American Historical Association, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society, the Tenth Judicial Circuit Historical Society and many other local Wyoming history organizations.

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