About the Morrill Act
The University of Idaho owes its origins to the belief that for the
United States to become a great power, its industries needed an
educated workforce and productive agriculture. On July 2, 1862,
President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act,
creating a nationwide system of land-grant universities.
Idaho Territory's leaders embraced the idea of "people's
universities," establishing the University of Idaho in 1889, a year
before statehood. Our University serves the citizens of all of Idaho
through our statewide network of 70 locations. Our mission focuses
on teaching, research and outreach.
The land-grant university democratized higher education. No
longer was it a privilege mostly reserved for the sons of wealthy
families or for the professional class. The University of Idaho's
early graduating classes show that educational opportunity was
available to all. Our first graduating class in 1896 included two
men and two women. In 1899, the 13 graduates included Jennie
Eva Hughes (below in the first row, second from the right),
University of Idaho's first African-American graduate.
In 1899 Jennie Eva Hughes joined five other women in a graduating class of 13 and became the University's first African American graduate.
For former University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis, the most
notable accomplishments included:
- Democratized higher education for all Americans, regardless
of socio-economic, ethnic or geographic circumstance; in a
nutshell, it promoted an educated, innovative, and prosperous
- Provided American citizens access to life-changing higher
education through land-grant universities. Every state can
point to significant benefits fostered by land-grant university innovations.
- Produced research that built industry, improved lives and created entirely new technologies.
The cornerstone of our Administration Building reads: "Erected by the Commonwealth of Idaho for the
training of her future citizens to their highest usefulness in private life and public service." This continues to
define our mission and our work to this day.