THE FIRST STATE SCHOOL pgs 129-131
It was said in another chapter (XII) that two townships of land were given to Iowa for a “seminary of learning”. The words “State University” were not used anywhere in the law by which Congress granted the land to the different states for this purpose; but it came about that in the western states these schools were called universities. The 46,000 acres of land in the two townships were to be sold; the money was to be put at interest, and the interest only could be used to support the school.
It was in 1847 that the University of Iowa was established; that was about as soon as Iowa became a State. But the establishment of such a school does not mean it was opened for students. Indeed, it was nearly ten years before any students could be admitted. The law of 1847 said that there should be a board of directors or trustees who should take care of the university lands and sell them. They should collect the interest, and when they thought the proper time had come to open the school they should do so. No one knew just when there would be money enough to get a building and begin the teaching.
Before that time had come, a very strange thing happened; for in 1849 another law was passed by which the university lands and money were to be divided among three separate universities. To be sure, they were called branches; but it seems that they were really divisions. One was to be at Fairfield and one at Dubuque; while the one mentioned in 1847, and which was perhaps the only one then thought of, was at Iowa City. Besides the three divisions of the university, there were also to be three normal schools which should have a share of the university money. One was to be at Oskaloosa, one at Mt. Pleasant, and one at Andrew. Of all these different schools which the laws mentioned, the division of the university at Fairfield commenced a building, and the normal schools at Oskaloosa and at Andrew really had students; but the whole matter of divisions was soon given up, because it was believed to be a mistake. After the new constitution was made in 1857 no such laws could be passed.
The trustees of the State University did not decide to open the school until in the spring of 1855. Even then they had very little money with which to begin. But a president and several teachers were employed so that in the fall of 1855 classes had been arranged for the year, which would be the first year of the new school. A small building, which had been used before as an academy, was rented, for the Old Capitol building (See cover picture), which the law of 1847 had said should be given to the University at some time, was still used for the State offices. Not until 1857 was the Capital moved to Des Moines and the University permitted to move into its own quarters.