Achievement of a Dream: The Birth of the University of Kansas

"Every enterprise has its epochs--resting points whence the past, with its triumph or defeat, may be contemplated, and the future, bright or shadowy, be dwelt upon." So Solon O. Thacher began his address before the people who had gathered on the occasion of the opening of the University of Kansas on September 12, 1866. The celebration of the University's sesquicentennial can certainly be viewed as an epoch or resting point to contemplate the past and dwell upon a bright future.

The establishment of a state university was contemplated even before Kansas officially became a state in 1861 but was not accomplished without disagreement and strife. The title of the first chapter of Clifford S. Griffin's seminal book on the University's history published in 1974 was appropriately named "The Years of Frustration" as decisions about the location and funding sources were mired in territorial and state politics for many years.

In this exhibit can be found original documents, photographs, and memorabilia that tell the story of the early years of the University from its beginnings in 1865 to the turn of the twentieth century.

This is an online version of a physical exhibit that was on display in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, September through December of 2015. The exhibit was created by Rebecca Schulte, University Archivist.


Chancellor John Fraser

Carte de visite photograph taken in 1864(?) at the New York studio of Mathew B. Brady, the National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Mathew Brady’s…



1890 Faculty group portrait

Group portrait of the faculty for the 1890 school year.



Flora Richardson portrait

Portrait of Flora Richardson from around the time of her graduation from KU.



Entrance to Campus

Old Fraser after 1887, when the new powerhouse was built and before 1896, when the gates were gone.