On this day in 1785, the Georgia General Assembly incorporates the University of Georgia, the first state-funded institution of higher learning in the new republic.
The previous year, the assembly had set aside 40,000 acres from which they planned to earn the money they would need to endow such an institution. In 1786, the future university’s board of trustees met for the first time in Augusta, Georgia, choosing Yale University alumnus Abraham Baldwin as president and drafting the school’s charter. In 1801, John Milledge, future governor of Georgia, donated 633 acres along the Oconee River in what is now Athens to serve as the site of the new university. Three years later, the school graduated its first class.
In its first incarnation, the new institution was named Franklin College, in honor of the ubiquitous Benjamin, and modeled in architecture and pedagogy after Baldwin’s alma mater, Yale. An important distinction existed, however, in the founding of the two institutions. Yale was founded by Congregationalist ministers on explicitly theological grounds, while the University of Georgia–a religiously tolerant institution founded in a more religiously tolerant age–remained purposely independent of any theological affiliation.
Reflecting the trajectory of the nation as a whole, it took an additional century and a half for the university to complete a shift from religious tolerance to gender equity and racial integration. The university began admitting women in 1918, the same year President Woodrow Wilson gave his support to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. In 1961, after a three-year legal battle, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes became the first African-American students to enroll at the University of Georgia.