A Brief History of the University of Washington

The University of Washington is rich in history. If you tour the campus this becomes known to visitors almost immediately. The main library is home to a wall filled with the UW timeline throughout the years, highlighting social events and memorable moments. It almost resembles a museum exhibit. If you get the chance to walk around campus you will notice multiple plaques and signs acknowledging historical events on campus or within the community.

The university was founded in 1861 only a few years after the Oregon and Seattle territories were separated. It was officially opened on November 4 1861 as the Territorial University of Washington. UW is one of the oldest universities in the state and is the flagship school in Washington.

UW campus sign explain women in history

After struggling to stay open for the first few years due to funding and low enrollment, the university finally stuck. The first UW graduate was a female in 1867. Her name was Clara Antoinetter McCarty Wilt and she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science. During the time that Clara attended UW, tuition was only $30 per year. There is a current dormitory named after the graduate, McCarty Hall.

The university also made history during both world wars. During each, military was brought onto campus and some buildings were loaned to the forces by the government. This allowed the campus to grow and expand their campus elsewhere. This growth included the liberal arts “quad,” part of the Suzzalo Library and the very important and renowned medical school.

The University of Washington really grew and came into the great university it is today during the 60’s and 70’s, known as the “Golden Age.” This is when the campus had an outburst of growth in the student body, as well as improved and increased the facilities, and raised the budget. The enrollment more than doubled from 1958 to 1973, thanks to the baby boomers.

UW campus map

In 1990 the school was so successful that it opened two new campuses. One campus in Bothell and one in Tacoma, both locations fairly close to the Seattle campus. All three campuses have now grown to teach both undergraduate and graduate students, offering bachelors and masters programs. In 2009 the University expanded abroad, opening an office in Leon Spain.

Today the University is well known for being right in the middle of a busting and busy downtown city. The athletic teams do well in the Pac-12 conference. This year UW ranks #12 among universities in the nation for social and mobility civic engagement. Over 6,650 students were engaged in university sponsored public service. The University of Washington has a lot to recognize and celebrate over the years.

If you want to learn more about the history of the University of Washington, check out the University of Washington Visitors Guide.

About the Author

Callie Pederson

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Degree in Communication and Creative Writing. Outdoor enthusiast, animal lover, blogger.

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