History of Auburn University


History of Auburn University

Auburn University was chartered by the Alabama Legislature as the East Alabama Male College on May 6, 1856, under the guidance of the Methodist Church. However, from its very first day, it has always been called "Auburn."

The first President of the institution was Reverend William J. Sasnett, and the school opened its doors in 1859 to a student body of eighty and a faculty of ten. The early history of Auburn is inextricably linked with the Civil War and the Reconstruction era South. Classes were held in "Old Main" until the college was closed due to the Civil War, when most of the students and faculty left to enlist. The campus was used as a training ground for the Confederate Army, and "Old Main" served as a hospital for Confederate wounded.

To commemorate Auburn's contribution to the Civil War, a cannon lathe used for the manufacture of canons for the Confederate Army and recovered from Selma, Alabama, was presented to Auburn in 1952 by brothers of Delta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. It sits today on the lawn next to Samford Hall.

The school was reopened in 1866 following the end of the Civil War and has been open ever since. In 1872, control of the institution was transferred from the Methodist Church to the State of Alabama for financial reasons. Alabama placed the school under the provisions of the Morrill Act as a land-grant institution, the first in the South to be established separate from the "state" university. This act provided for 240,000 acres (971 km²) of Federal land to be sold in order to provide funds for an agricultural and mechanical school. As a result, in 1872 the school was renamed to the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama.

Under the provisions of this act, land-grant institutions were also supposed to teach military tactics and train officers for the United States military. In the late 1800s, most students at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama were enrolled in the cadet program, learning military tactics and training to become future officers. Each county in the state was allowed to nominate two cadets to attend the college free of charge.

In 1892, two historic events occurred: women were first admitted to the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, and football was first played as a school sport. Eventually, football replaced polo as the main sport on campus. In 1899, the school name was again changed, this time to Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

On October 1, 1918, nearly all of Alabama Polytechnic Institute's able-bodied male students 18 or older voluntarily joined the United States Army for short-lived military careers on campus. The student-soldiers numbered 878, according to API President Charles Thach, and formed the academic section of the Student Army Training Corps. The vocational section was composed of enlisted men sent to Auburn for training in radio and mechanics. The students received honorable discharges two months later following the Armistice that ended World War I. API struggled through the great depression, having scrapped an extensive expansion program by then-President Bradford Knapp. Faculty salaries were cut drastically, and enrollment decreased along with state appropriations to the college.

During World War II, API again found its place training officers for the U.S. Military on campus; Auburn produced over 32,000 troops for the war effort. Following the end of World War II, API, like many colleges around the country, experienced a period of massive growth caused by returning soldiers taking advantage of their GI Bill offer of free education. In the five-year period following the end of the war, enrollment at API more than doubled.

Recognizing that the school had moved beyond its agricultural and mechanical roots, it was granted university status by the Alabama Legislature in 1960 and officially renamed Auburn University, a name that better expressed the varied academic programs and expanded curriculum that the school had been offering for years. Like most universities in the American South, Auburn was racially segregated prior to 1963, with only white students being admitted. The first African-American student was admitted in 1964, and the first doctoral degree being granted to an African-American in 1967.

Today, Auburn has grown since its founding in 1856 to have the largest on-campus enrollment in the state of Alabama, with over 23,000 students and a faculty of almost 1,200 at the main campus in Auburn. Additionally, there are over 6,000 students at the Auburn University at Montgomery satellite campus established in 1967.


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