The University of Alabama, established in 1820, is one of the largest public universities in Alabama. It serves as the flagship campus of the University of Alabama System, which includes the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. With over 200 fields of study, the university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and consistently ranks among the top public universities in the nation.
The University of Alabama comprises 13 colleges and schools, including the College of Arts and Sciences, Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, College of Communication and Information Sciences, College of Community Health Sciences, College of Continuing Studies, College of Education, College of Engineering, Graduate School, Honors College, College of Human Environmental Sciences, School of Law, Capstone College of Nursing, and School of Social Work. The university offers the state’s only doctoral programs in anthropology, library and information studies, metallurgical and materials engineering, music, Romance languages, and social work. It also boasts the state’s only publicly supported law school. The University of Alabama is known for its high number of National Merit Scholars and its recognition on USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Teams. In 2012, Judy Bonner became the university’s first woman president.
In 1819, the University of Alabama was planned by the board of trustees and established through an act of the Alabama legislature in 1820. The city of Tuscaloosa was chosen as its location in 1827, and the campus was designed by the state architect, William Nichols. The university opened its doors in 1831 with four faculty members and 94 students. The curriculum included subjects such as Latin, Greek, geography, English grammar, history, mathematics, rhetoric, elocution, and more. The early years were marked by disciplinary issues and conflicts between students and faculty members. Despite these challenges, the university continued to grow and expand its offerings.
During the Civil War, many students joined the Confederate Army, while others remained on campus. In 1865, U.S. troops burned the campus, but the board of trustees and President Garland were determined to resume classes in the fall of 1866. The campus was rebuilt, and classes began with 54 students. Col. James Thomas Murfee played a significant role in the reconstruction of the campus, overseeing the construction of the University Building, which housed various facilities.
The post-war era brought changes to the governance of the University of Alabama. The 1867 Alabama Constitution replaced the board of trustees with a politicized board of regents, leading to a series of leadership changes. Nathaniel Lupton became president in 1871 and successfully saved the school from closure. He established a law school and improved the institution’s reputation. In the 1880s, under President Henry DeLamar Clayton Sr., the university expanded its curriculum to include more science and engineering courses.
Coeducation Comes to UA
The University of Alabama was slow to admit women, despite discussions dating back to the 1870s. In 1892, social reformer Julia Tutwiler petitioned the board of trustees to allow women’s admission. In 1893, women were finally admitted to the upper classes, and by 1897, they were allowed to enter the freshman class. These early female students took courses alongside their male counterparts in various subjects.
During the early 1900s, the university faced challenges with its military discipline system, which eventually led to its abolition in 1903. President John William Abercrombie implemented reforms to improve the quality of high school education and expand the university’s administrative structure. His efforts resulted in campus expansion, new buildings, and enhanced academic programs.
UA and Civil Rights
The University of Alabama played a significant role in the civil rights movement. In 1956, Autherine Lucy became the university’s first African American student, facing protests and challenges. In 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood successfully integrated the university, despite Governor George C. Wallace’s initial opposition. This event became known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.” These pivotal moments in the university’s history symbolize its journey towards inclusivity and equality.
New Schools Added
In the 1960s, the University of Alabama underwent significant growth and organizational changes. The University of Alabama School of Medicine merged with the Birmingham Extension Center to become the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1966. The Huntsville Extension Center also became a separate institution known as the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The University of Alabama System was established to oversee these institutions. Over the years, the university expanded its programs, improved academic standards, and invested in research and development.
Under the leadership of President Robert Witt, the university experienced significant growth and development. With a focus on increasing enrollment, raising salaries for faculty and staff, and expanding research programs, the university underwent a major building program and saw an increase in student enrollment. Efforts were also made to honor the university’s history, including the dedication of a plaza and clock tower outside Foster Auditorium.
The University of Alabama continues to thrive as a prestigious institution, offering a wide range of academic programs and maintaining a strong athletic tradition. It is home to several museums and historic sites, including the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the Paul W. Bryant Museum. The university’s commitment to excellence and its contributions to education and research make it a prominent institution in the state and the nation.