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1870s

Ladies Crew Team on the Huron River

Ladies Crew Team on the Huron River

The decade opened with the Regents taking the first serious turn onto the path that would become one of the distinctive hallmarks of our University: access to higher education for all. In 1870 the Regents formally stated that study at the University of Michigan was open to anyone who “possesses the requisite literary and moral qualifications.” This meant opening the door to women, to students from other states, from other countries and to races other than white. That year 34 women were admitted to the University. While it is true that there were at least a handful of African Americans enrolled in the two prior decades noting race in the records was not typical at this time.

In other ways, too, it’s in the 1870s that we begin to see real change largely due to the leadership of President Angell. When he assumed this position in 1871 Angell had not articulated a plan for reforming the model of postsecondary education available in U.S. universities. At this time the University of Michigan consisted only of the Medical, Literary and Law Departments. Of the nine buildings on campus four were houses for professors. There were some 1,200 students and 35 faculty members. However meager that appears nowadays, for contemporaries it was an imposing institution poised for future growth. In fact, it was the largest university in the United States at that time.

By 1874, Angell had persuaded the Literary Faculty of the value of awarding master’s degrees to those who completed a bachelor’s degree, did “good work in post-graduate studies” under the direction of faculty, and passed final examinations. This was slow to catch on in actual practice, however, and some master’s degrees continued to be awarded through coursework alone until the mid-1880s.

As a result of a growing emphasis in the U.S. on serious study, often influenced by European models in which university degrees were followed by original research, a provision was made to grant the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to those who studied for at least two years after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. The first Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the University of Michigan were awarded to Victor C. Vaughn and William E. Smith in 1876. Their dissertations were titled "Quantitative Separation of Arsenic From Each of the Metals Precipitated by Hydrogen Sulphide in Acid Solution," and "The Zoology of Anoura and Caecilia," respectively.

School of Dentistry, 1875-1877

School of Dentistry, 1875-1877

The growth of public education at Michigan was also evident in the emergence of new Departments within the University in areas we now consider to be graduate programs. The Dental Department opened in 1875 and the Pharmacy Department in 1876. Both were innovative in that they did not train students for a mechanical trade. Rather, like the post-baccalaureate education in Germany, they were solidly based in the latest scientific knowledge and promoted research. These Departments attracted a noticeable number of students from Europe.