The University of Texas at Austin

Photo of Main building

Main Building and Tower, University of Texas at Austin

Photo by Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
UT Mascot, Bevo

Bevo at the Sunrise Ranch

Photo by Nexcare, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Texas Union building

Texas Union building with Tower

Photo by Guðsþegn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Product photo
Promotion: Nearby Map of Travis County
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Promotion: Nearby Map of Williamson County

The University of Texas originated in 1839, when the Congress of the Republic of Texas, in an act locating the seat of government, ordered a site set aside for a university. A subsequent act the same year allocated fifty leagues (231,400 acres) of land to the establishment and the endowment of two colleges or universities. Whether because of frontier conditions, scarcity of money, a feeling that higher education was the concern of the rich who ought to pay for it, or disagreement as to where the university should be located, nothing more was done by the Congress or by the Texas legislature until 1858. That year the legislature made financial provision for a university by appropriating for the institution the fifty leagues granted in 1839, $100,000 in United States bonds remaining from the $10 million paid to Texas in the Compromise of 1850, and one section of land out of every ten reserved to the state in grants made in aid to railroads and a navigation company. The same act placed the university under the control of ten administrators: the governor, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and eight others nominated by the governor. Secession and the Civil War prevented the act of 1858 from being carried out, however. Indeed, a great portion of the university fund derived from the sale of the fifty leagues granted in 1839 was diverted to the general needs of the state and was not fully repaid until 1883. The Constitution of 1866 directed the legislature to put the university in operation at an early date. In 1871 the legislature established the Texas A&M College, but the university was still postponed. The Constitution of 1876 specified that the legislature, as soon as practicable, was to establish, organize, and provide for the maintenance and support of a "university of the first class" to be located by vote of the people and styled the University of Texas, for promotion of the study of literature and the arts and sciences. An agricultural and mechanical branch was mandated. The same article (7) of the constitution made A&M a branch of the university and ordered the legislature to establish and maintain a college or branch university for instruction of black youth, though no tax was to be levied and no money appropriated out of the general revenue for such a school or for buildings of the University of Texas. This prohibition prevented establishment of a branch of the university for African Americans, although Austin was selected for its site in 1882. The constitution left the university the fifty leagues granted in 1839 but repealed the gift of alternate sections of land granted to railroads, substituting instead 1,000,000 acres of land in West Texas; however, 3,200,000 acres would have accumulated from railroad grants by 1882.

By an act of March 30, 1881, an election for location of the university was ordered, government was vested in a board of eight (later nine) regents, and provisions were made for admission fees, coeducation, and nonsectarian teaching. On September 6, Austin was chosen for the site of the main university and Galveston for the location of the medical department. At the first meeting of the board of regents, on November 16, 1881, Ashbel Smith was chosen president of the board and Alexander P. Wooldridge secretary; the faculty was also chosen and the curriculum determined. On November 17, 1882, the cornerstone of the west wing of the first Main Building was laid in a ceremony at which the main address was delivered by Ashbel Smith. He said, prophetically, "Smite the rocks with the rod of knowledge, and fountains of unstinted wealth will gush forth." The university was formally opened in the new building on September 15, 1883, though classes were held in the temporary Capitol as late as January 1884.

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W. J. Battle | © TSHA

Handbook of Texas Logo

Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

Adopted by: Lonnie Enis
Until: December 19th, 2024

Belongs to

The University of Texas at Austin is part of or belongs to the following places:

Date of Founding Notes

Classes first held in 1883


  • President, Dr. Jay Hartzell 2020–Present

Currently Exists


Place type

The University of Texas at Austin is classified as a College or University

External Websites

Fall Faculty Count, 2019 View more »


Fall Enrollment Count, 2022 View more »