“An act to establish the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts of the Territory of Hawai‘i” was passed by the Hawai‘i’s Territorial Legislature and was signed into law by Governor George Carter on March 25th, 1907.
The University of Hawaiʻi began as a land-grant college, initiated out of the 1862 US Federal Morrill Act funding for “land grant” colleges.
The Morrill Act funded educational institutions by granting federally-controlled land to the states for them to develop or sell to raise funds to establish and endow “land-grant” colleges.
Since the federal government could not “grant” land in Hawaiʻi as it did for most states, it provided a guarantee of $30,000 a year for several years, which increased to $50,000 for a time.
Regular classes began in September 1908 with ten students (five freshmen, five preparatory students) and thirteen faculty members at a temporary Young Street facility in the William Maertens’ house near Thomas Square.
The Territory had just acquired the Maertens’ property as a potential site for a new high school. Instead, it became temporary quarters for the new college.
Planning for a permanent University campus originally called for Lahainaluna on Maui as the site; Mountain View, above Hilo, was also considered.
The regents chose the present campus location in lower Mānoa on June 19, 1907. In 1911, the name of the school was changed to the “College of Hawaiʻi.”
The campus was a relatively dry and scruffy place, “The early Mānoa campus was covered with a tangle of kiawe trees (algarroba), wild lantana and panini cactus”. It appears the first structures built were a poultry shed and a dairy barn.
1909 marked the beginning of the school’s first football team, called the Fighting Deans; the team played its opening game against McKinley High School … and won.
In 1912, the college moved to the present Mānoa location (the first permanent building is known today as Hawaiʻi Hall.) The first Commencement was June 3, 1912.
The “orienting” of the new campus was determined by the Morrill Act, which saw “land grant” colleges as occupying large squares or rectangles, arranged by surveyors along the cardinal points of the compass. Thus the original quadrangle of so many campuses (including UH) is laid out on a true compass base, ignoring in the process our mauka/makai orientations, ignoring the flow of the trade winds.
With the addition of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1920, the school became known as the University of Hawaiʻi. The Territorial Normal and Training School (now the College of Education) joined the University in 1931.
The University continued to grow throughout the 1930s. The Oriental Institute, predecessor of the East-West Center, was founded in 1935, bolstering the University’s mounting prominence in Asia-Pacific studies.
World War II came to Hawaiʻi with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Classes were suspended for two months and gas masks became part of commencement apparel. In 1942, students of Japanese ancestry formed the Varsity Victory Volunteers and many later joined the 442nd Regiment and 100th Infantry Battalion.
Statehood brought about a significant shift in the relationship of the University to the land it occupied. Under territorial government, the land was really on loan; the Territory had title.
The new state constitution stated, “The University of Hawaii is hereby established as the state university and constituted a body corporate. It shall have title to all the real and personal property now or hereafter set aside or conveyed to it. … ”
One effect has been that now the State may occasionally choose to lease land to the University, rather than set it aside, because once given, such land becomes University property.
UH Mānoa’s School of Law opened in temporary buildings in 1973. The Center for Hawaiian Studies was established in 1977 followed by the School of Architecture in 1980.
The School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology was founded eight years later and in 2005 the John A Burns School of Medicine moved to its present location in Honolulu’s Kakaʻako district.
From its initial enrollment of 10 in 1907, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa now schools over 20,000.
In the 1950s, after three years of offering UH Extension Division courses at the old Hilo Boarding School, the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo Branch, was approved; the UH Community Colleges system was established in 1964.