Trustees from the College of California at Founders Rock, 1860

Charter Day: A university is born

The University of California began on March 23, 1868, when Gov. Henry Haight signed an act catalyzing the audacious idea that California should have a great public university — one that would serve equally the children of immigrants and settlers, landowners and industrial barons.

The grand idea started during the Gold Rush in 1849, when the very first state legislature envisioned a university that “would contribute even more than gold to the glory and happiness of advancing generations … It would be the Great Light of the Pacific …” But there was no funding or land for more than a decade.

Then, in 1862 — during a bloody Civil War — President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in an effort to create institutions of higher learning and preserve democracy for future generations. The act called for donating public lands to states to finance the establishment of colleges.

With its new funds, California created a public college dedicated to the agricultural, mining, and mechanical arts in 1866 — but it had no campus or buildings. Meanwhile, the private College of California had buildings in Oakland and land in what would become Berkeley — but no money. The founder of the private college offered the land to the state to create a public university.

One year after Gov. Haight signed the charter that created UC, the new university opened in Oakland with 10 faculty members and 40 students. It moved to its first permanent home in Berkeley five years later. Over time, UC has grown to encompass 10 campuses, five medical centers, and three national research labs, with community programs, health services, and other outreach efforts that touch every corner of the state. March 23, aka Charter Day, has long been a day to celebrate the birth of UC and all it has accomplished in pushing forward the boundaries of the possible.

Photo: In 1860, trustees from the private College of California in Oakland met at Founders Rock and named their future campus site Berkeley after 18th-century philosopher George Berkeley.

See the video or pictures from the Berkeley 150 Charter Day Celebration.

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