This project was one of the most collaborative ones I’ve worked on. The university of Wyoming provided the funding for this interactive exhibit that is featured in the new welcome center. I researched and wrote the content for this exhibit at the American Heritage Center between January 2014 and December 2015. Together with a team of editors and archivists, I produced content that covers the history of the University of Wyoming from its founding in 1886 all the way up to the present. Below are examples for the work we’ve accomplished. The exhibit consists of static panels that are visually appealing and feature three or four short narratives, along with images. The second component of this exhibit is digital; the visitor can access it by sliding a movable computer panel on a decade. Highlights from the research for the digital content are also included below.
The Founding of the University of Wyoming
In 1877, John W. Hoyt, soon to be the governor of Wyoming and later the first president of the University of Wyoming, stated with a great deal of enthusiasm that “the public at large feels a great pride in the public schools of the Territory.…I have never known a community, whether in this country or in Europe, more zealously devoted to the cause of popular education.”
In his 1878 report to the Secretary of the Interior, Governor Hoyt first stressed the need for a college within the territory. Several legislative mandates paved the way for formation of the University of Wyoming. The Morrill Act of 1862 made available to each state 30,000 acres of federal land for each U.S. Senator and Representative (based on the 1860 census). This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used for “the endowment, support and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
In 1866, the U.S. Congress expanded the so-called Land Grant Act to include the territories, thus making Wyoming eligible for funds to establish a college. In 1886, the Ninth Territorial Legislature authorized the organization of the University of Wyoming in or near Laramie. The lawmakers appropriated $50,000 for construction of a university building and to provide income for the university’s operation and maintenance and levied a one-fourth-mill tax on all taxable property within the territory.
The land that bordered the corner of 9th Street and Ivinson Street was once Laramie’s City Park. When the town sought the university for Laramie, it offered that site for the new campus. Construction of University Hall (now Old Main) commenced almost immediately, and workers laid the building’s cornerstone in the summer of 1886. Denver architect Frederick Albert Hale designed the three-story multipurpose structure. Like the Territorial Penitentiary built on the southern periphery of town fifteen years earlier, University Hall was constructed primarily of locally quarried rock-faced sandstone, which would become a trademark of later UW buildings. The campus remained in a relatively barren state for the first few years until college administrators took the first steps to beautify and landscape the grounds in 1891 by grading the terrain and planting grass and trees.
UW welcomed its first students the following autumn. The first class consisted of 42 students between 12 and 23 years of age, most of whom were still at the preparatory level due to the scarcity of high schools in the territory. Seven professors taught four courses of study: classical, literary, philosophical, and scientific. When Wyoming entered the Union in 1890, only 39 students were enrolled in the university, but by 1915 enrollment had grown to 234. During that period the campus expanded from 20 to 54 acres and from one to eight major buildings.
The mission of the land-grant universities was expanded by the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided federal funds to states to establish a series of agricultural experiment stations under the direction of each state’s land-grant college, as well as pass along new information, especially in the areas of soil minerals and plant growth. The outreach mission was further expanded by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 to include cooperative extension—the sending of agents into rural areas to help bring the results of agricultural research to the end users. Beyond the original land grants, each land-grant college received annual federal appropriations for research and extension work on the condition that those funds are matched by state funds. UW was eligible and received these funds throughout its early years, which explains the heavy emphasis on agriculture and outreach.
On January 10, 1891, the Wyoming Legislature placed the control of the appropriations from the Morrill and Hatch Acts into the hands of the Board of Trustees of the University of Wyoming. It enabled the university to establish an agricultural experiment station, which initiated the dissemination of scientific information to the farmers and ranchers throughout the state for the next hundred years (and ongoing). Indeed, at the turn of the century, farmers and ranchers in Wyoming had extensive learning needs. Through the Homesteading Acts, a large number of inexperienced farmers and ranchers had settled in Wyoming, often lacking the necessary skills and knowledge needed to eke out a living in the arid climate. By 1900, the number of homesteads in Wyoming was around 3,500, but in 1920, over 16,000 were listed by the Bureau of Land Management. The need for agricultural instruction was stated in the publications of the Wyoming Experiment Station:
“Many of these settlers are wholly unacquainted with the business of irrigating the land, while in the districts where dry farming is to be practiced, there is need of careful and thorough instruction on the principles of cultivation and care of crops to be grown under our western conditions. There is a demand for scientific instruction along the various lines that are being undertaken by these new settlers, such as irrigation, dairying, stock feeding, stock breeding, control for alkali, rotation and cultivation of crops, veterinary subjects, and other questions of a scientific nature which may arise from time to time.”
The Hatch Act made provisions to address exactly these educational needs by funding an experiment station and six substations in Wyoming through which “useful and practical information on subjects connected with agriculture” was to be distributed throughout the state and “scientific investigation and experiments respecting the principle and application of agricultural science” to be conducted. On March 27, 1891, Dice McClaren, former professor of natural history at the Maryland Agricultural College, was appointed as the first Director of Experiment Stations. He and his personnel began in earnest to study the special problems connected with arid and high altitude lands. Since Wyoming was a pioneering state, agricultural knowledge regarding farming and ranching under Wyoming conditions was virtually non-existent. Knowledge about the land, climate, and appropriate techniques for farming and ranching thus had to be gained through research and experimentation before it could be carried to the farmers and ranchers of the state. As results and research became available, it was published by way of bulletins and a monthly journal called the Ranchman’s Reminder. By 1902, 57 bulletins had been published. The Reminder was available for free upon request. In 1911, the Ranchman’s Reminder name was changed to the Wyoming Farm Bulletin, and by 1913 the circulation was reported to be 11,500.
The professors carried a heavy load. They had to teach in the college of Agriculture, do research, write the bulletins, and handle a great deal of correspondence. Expeditions were carried out to gather information and conduct research. In 1896, three such expeditions occurred, according to Professor Aven Nelson, professor of botany at the time. During those expeditions, the botanist identified plants, gathered samples, catalogued and classified, and published his findings about “various botanical subjects such as weeds and the determination of other plants.” He answered an increasing number of inquiries about plant and weed identification “promptly,” with “the best information at hand on the subject of the inquiry.” Wyoming newspapers also published a variety of press releases regarding new agricultural insights. The efforts of the experiment station and its tireless researchers certainly paid off. Farmers and ranchers increasingly turned to the university as a source of information. “Hundreds of personal letters” reached the staff every day, with inquiries pertaining to soil conditions, how to handle various crops, kinds of animals to use for dairying-in fact “all manner of questions relative to agriculture.”
Womens’ Cadet Corps
Military drill for women was first organized in 1895/96 by Captain Charles A. Varnum of the 17th cavalry. Varnum stayed at UW until 1898 and was succeeded by Professor William F. Gilkison, who was not in the service during his time as military instructor but had gained military experience during the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. Gilkison was succeeded by Captain William Yates of the 14th cavalry, who trained the Wyoming University troops from 1902 to 1905. Captain Yates is pictured in the image below with the “girls’ battalion” in 1904. The suits were brown with trimmings of yellow silk cord.
The Chronicle, which was published to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the university, described the early years of the women’s battalion. Initial awkwardness that perhaps pervaded some skeptics’ minds at the thought of women at arms was assuaged by the fact that Captain Yates, the commanding officer, “inspired such enthusiasm that no notion of the ridiculous remained to hamper the girls acquiring an efficiency in military tactics to make them worthy competitors of the boys.”
The women’s battalion consisted of two companies, Company C and Company D. They frequently drilled with A and B Companies, which were the male counterparts. Since the women were not allowed to compete for the Gramm-Wilson medal, a prize awarded annually to the best-drilled military company, they competed for their own award: each year, they strove to win “the handsome yellow silk banner awarded by Dr. Hebard to the best-drilled girls’ company. The banner was inscribed with the word ‘Maxima.’ The color yellow was chosen as a compliment to Captain Yates, who came to us from the cavalry.” (Yellow is the color of the Cavalry branch of the U.S. Military, which became Armor after World War II).
According to the Chronicle, the girls did not trail the boys in any aspect of military drill. Several of them won medals in individual competition, and the girls’ battalion could have won the Gramm-Wilson medal if they had been allowed to compete for it. The girls’ competition often lasted three times as long as the boys’, indicating superior skills among the women.
The Chronicle continues to note that “many old students remember the excitement of these contests and some, too, remember the ‘dee-lighted’ smile that greeted them when the girls passed in review before Colonel Roosevelt and how stubbornly they drilled in a sixty-mile-an-hour wind when the legislators visited the ‘Uni’ and afterwards came in dusty, disheveled, and tired to escort the visitors about the campus and call their attention to the fact that a gymnasium was conspicuously absent.”
President Roosevelt had visited Laramie in May 1903, and according to the Laramie Republican, the university cadets indeed marched in review for the President. The paper stated: “First came a company of young men with arms at ‘present,’ and then the two companies of girl cadets, followed by the other company of boys. The cadets stood at ‘attention’ and then the President… responded by raising his hat and bowing.”
To the delight of the campus community, the “gym” bill passed in February 1903 and a gymnasium and armory was erected in 1904. The women continued to drill for some time after the building of the gymnasium and the departure of Captain Yates in 1905, but the female cadet corps didn’t survive into the next decade.
World War I at UW
World War I did not affect the university in a significant way until the United States entered the fray in the spring of 1917. The tranquil campus was transformed into an armed forces training camp filled with the sights and sounds of military preparedness. The athletics field became a parade ground, and the gymnasium was converted into a barracks. “Men marched to and fro in uniform over the campus, stood at attention in classes, saluted, jumped at barking orders,” stated historian Wilson Clough, “or, with distorted faces and strange sounds, thrust bayonets at dummy Germans. Military discipline was the watch word; almost a thing of the past were the carefree students.”
UW President Aven Nelson declared 1918 “Loyal Year,” as the university contributed both faculty and students to the war effort. Despite the ongoing war, he noted, enrollment at UW had fallen by only 10 percent as compared to the national slump of 28 percent. In his president’s report of 1918, Nelson also lauded the physical improvements to the campus made by the first “campus gardener,” William Zeller, who supplemented the usual flower beds with “war gardens of vegetables and potatoes.”
Although short-lived, one of the most notable accomplishments of UW during World War I was providing for the Students’ Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.). When many universities in the country were straining their resources to meet the exigencies of war time, UW educated officers in order to bolster the American war effort. The UW S.A.T.C. was “born” October 1, 1918, and ended 2 months later on December 9, 1918—a month after the war itself had ended. One hundred seventy-five men from Wyoming and the U.S. were sent to UW, registered, were given regular army physical examinations, and inducted into the service of the United States Army. On October 1, the formal inauguration ceremony took place, which, according to the yearbook, “was one of the most impressive that has ever been enacted at the University campus, symbolizing as it did the willing proffer of so many young lives to the country, the willingness of so many Wyoming men to offer ‘the last full measure of devotion,’ if need be.”
When the Armistice was declared in Europe on November 11, 1918, the yearbook described the reaction on the Wyoming campus as follows:
“It was dark, pitch dark in the barracks, when the pandemonium of whistles stirred the rookies from their slumbers. In a moment pandemonium equally vociferous had broken loose in the barracks. It took no one more than a second to realize what it meant, and there was no more sleep that night. Who has forgotten that impromptu song celebration, with Professor Pease leading, Murray at the piano, and the rest of the gang grouped around in bizarre costumes of hastily-snatched blankets? And who does not remember the bonfire on the campus, the speeches and the songs, the Kaiser’s funeral parade, all the mad orgy of celebration that thrilled the old campus, while the stars slowly paled and the glorious day —peace day—dawned in the east. And then came that jubilant march down town, with the flag tugging joyously at its staff above us, and the people cheering as we passed. That day won’t soon be forgotten.”
On the morning of November 27, when Captain Daly read to the corps the orders for immediate demobilization, it was greeted with joy. Yet, the yearbook stated that “when the time actually came to leave, there were few who did not feel some little regret, few who did not recall the many good times they had had here, and wish in their heart of hearts that they might not have to go.”
Old Main Tower
Originally, Old Main featured a tower. After almost 30 years, however, it was deemed structurally unsound. According to the minutes of the Board of Trustees, “the failure of the tower is considered to have been a matter of excessive weight and poor masonry.” The Board of Trustees contracted with Archie Allison of Cheyenne, who removed it in May 1915.
Initially, the Board of Trustees had plans to replace the tower and consulted with then-instructor of engineering Wilbur Hitchcock and Professor John Fitterer, Professor of Civil and Irrigation Engineering, to obtain a plan and an estimate of cost for “taking down the tower and refinishing the building in accordance with the lines of the plan.”
The board considered replacing the tower because of the criticism that had already been voiced about it not being replaced. At the board meeting in June 1915, a month after the removal of the tower, a letter from Mr. Oviatt was read to the Board of Trustees, “protesting against the permanent removal of the dome on the old main building of the University at Laramie… I feel that if the dome is not replaced, the Uni. will not hold the same place in the hearts and lives of very many old students and Alumni. If possible to keep the old building intact in its original outward form, I trust that you will use your influence to that end. I personally urge the replacing of the dome at an early date if the Board can see any way of doing it.”
The board discussed the matter and decided to postpone the tower’s replacement due to lack of funds. Architect William Dubois offered to the board to make “sketches of finishing the building without the tower,” free of charge. At the December 14, 1915, Board of Trustees Meeting, Dubois’ sketch was presented to the board members. The board minutes note that “this particular sketch by Mr. Dubois does not contemplate the rebuilding of the tower.”
Six months later, on June 6, 1916, the board carried the following resolution in regard to the tower on Old Main: “Resolved: That $500.00 of the sum appropriated in the budget for repair and improvement of the Liberal Arts building be set aside for refinishing the tower. This sum will be available for restoration of the tower if the Alumni Association request such action and will, before June, 1918, raise a further sum of $3,000.00 for this purpose, independent of State appropriations.”
The Alumni Association, being a strong advocate of having the tower replaced, sent a delegation to the next board meeting on June 11, 1918, which presented “the following motion with reference to the re-construction of the University Tower: “The Alumni Association by a unanimous vote—52 members being present—has adopted a resolution requesting the Board to make a decision that the tower of the main building be restored as it appeared formerly as soon as war conditions will permit.” In the same meeting, the Board recognized the “just claims of the Alumni with reference to the restoration of the Tower to its former appearance” and carried the motion to “place itself on record as being in favor of such restoration as soon as war conditions will permit.” There is no mention whether the Alumni Association was able to raise the $3,000 that the board set at the previous meeting. Most likely, due to the fiscal demands of World War I, the money was invested in other endeavors, especially when considering the cost of restoration of the tower would have been between $12,000 and $15,000. In contrast, “the construction of a gable to replace the tower, as suggested in Mr. Dubois’ drawing, would cost from $5,000 to $7,000.”
To this day, Old Main is waiting to be topped with its tower once again.
Oil – A Bright Spot in Wyoming’s Economy
Oil has been important to Wyoming since shortly after its founding. Wyomingites began purchasing automobiles in 1900, and by the end of the decade, cars were commonplace throughout the state.
The early 1920s were the heyday of Wyoming oil production and refining. Numerous wells were in production in the Big Horn Basin in the Oregon Basin, Elk Basin, Greybull, Garland, and Grass Creek fields. In eastern Wyoming, the Lance Creek oil field near Lusk was one of the state’s largest, causing the town of Lusk to grow to an estimated population of more than 5,000 people by the early 1920s. Refineries popped up throughout the state. By 1917 there were five refineries in the state, and by 1923 Casper alone boasted five refineries. One of these was the giant Standard Oil refinery in southwest Casper, which opened in March 1914 and expanded in 1922 into the largest gasoline-producing refinery in the world. Completed in 1923, the Producers and Refiners Company (PARCO) built a refinery and town for its employees. When the firm went into bankruptcy in the early 1930s, Harry Sinclair bought the town and renamed it “Sinclair.”
But the biggest and most significant oil field in Wyoming in the early twentieth century was in northern Natrona County—the Salt Creek oil field. Oil wells were already in production at Salt Creek in 1908 when H. L. “Dad” Stock took a chance on drilling in a nearby formation just northwest of the company-owned town of Midwest. The result was the “Stock gusher” that spewed oil high above the derrick, coating the prairie for hundreds of feet around when it rumbled in. Stock made a fortune, lost it, and regained it before turning operations over to his son, Paul Stock.
A hard winter in 1919 wreaked havoc in agriculture, and people flocked to Wyoming oil fields for work. Oil worker and author J. Tom Wall recalled, “Salt Creek field became a beehive—vehicles and teams going in every direction, crews building wooden rigs, gangs connecting lines, and tank batteries springing up.” Primitive conditions prevailed until the mid-1920s or later. Geologist Charles Hares wrote that, “Lights for drilling rigs were by kerosene, tallow candles and yellow dogs.”
Most of these first Wyoming oilfields were discovered on public lands. Under federal laws at the time, an oil “prospector” could locate a “provable” oil claim on federal lands, pay a minimal filing fee, and hope for a strike. If he struck oil on private land, he would have to pay the land owner a royalty, but if he found oil on a federal claim, it belonged entirely to him and he paid the government nothing. Congress changed the law, however, and with passage of the Oil and Gas Leasing Act in 1920, oil men could no longer “claim” oil on federal lands. They could lease such lands, paying royalties for production to the federal government as though it were any other landowner.
Through the influence of several Wyoming congressmen, the federal government was required to turn back part of the royalties from oil produced on federal lands to the state where the oil was produced. For many years, the Wyoming state government enjoyed federal mineral royalty payments for oil found on federally owned land in the state. Federal mineral royalties from coal, trona, and oil production have remained an important source of state revenues throughout Wyoming’s history.
Throughout the 1920s, when Wyoming agriculture was in economic ruin, the oil industry remained a bright spot in the state’s economy. Oil company profits faltered, however, when the rest of the country plunged into the Great Depression in wake of the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Rapid and often uncontrolled development was the typical pattern in a new oil field. Waste of natural gas and petroleum was widespread. The general rule was that the first person to “capture” a resource owned that resource. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission was established in 1935 by six oil-producing states, and thus oil overproduction and waste were alleviated through conservation efforts.
The oil industry has had a major impact on UW. In 1916, oil was found on UW’s land grant near Glenrock. Royalties from “University well” production in the Big Muddy oil field made it possible for the university to stave off the bleak economic conditions of the 1920s. The oil industry is also the source of a large portion of Wyoming’s budget, hence the block grant that supports UW. It would not be an understatement to say that Wyoming’s university would not be where it is today without the economic powerhouse that is oil.
Outdoor Laboratory: The UW Science Camp
Of Doc Knight’s many achievements for the University of Wyoming, he was proudest of the Science Camp. The camp became a base for fieldwork in geology, zoology, and botany during the summer months. Knight recognized early in his teaching career that field experience was necessary for a comprehensive education in geology, and the terrain around Laramie was ideal for that purpose.
Thus, in the summer of 1923, Knight, Professor James Kemp (a colleague from Columbia University, where Knight had studied towards his Ph.D. in geology), and two students established a temporary field camp at the head of Long Canyon in the Laramie Mountains, 25 miles northeast of Laramie. The following summer, a similar camp was set up in the southern Laramie Basin, with 25 students enrolled. Doc Knight also persuaded UW Professor Aven Nelson to add a course in botany to the camp’s curriculum, and then a year later, zoology was added. According to the Branding Iron, the university “has devised a plan whereby summer school students can enjoy the exceptional advantages afforded by the mountainous environs of Laramie for field study in geology, botany and zoology without interfering with residence study on campus.” The founding of the Science Camp was the beginning of a cooperation between the Geology departments of UW and Columbia University that lasted more than 30 years.
Construction of the Science Camp
In 1925, the professors selected a permanent campsite 6 miles west of Centennial, Wyoming, on 27 acres of land in the Medicine Bow Mountains at 9,500 feet in elevation. They began the construction of tent houses and a wooden building that served as a dining room and study hall. Popularity of the camp grew steadily, and between 1929 and 1935, botany and zoology labs and sleeping quarters for faculty and students were added.
Up until 1935, Doc Knight himself built and supported the Science Camp, receiving construction help from his friends and students. The UW administration supported the camp in concept but not financially. Building material was acquired from the surrounding area, and native logs, lumber, and stone dominated the architecture. Over the years, a modern kitchen with electricity, refrigeration, and plumbing was added. In his “Historical Resume of the Science Camp,” Doc commented on the construction of the main lodge:
In order to support the heavy winter snow load, this building was constructed of spruce logs a foot or more through and up to 50 feet long. These logs were cut in the area, trimmed and snaked to the site with a team of horses, and built into the walls and roof. The north wing (lecture hall) was built in 1929, the central assembly room and kitchen in 1930, and the dining room in 1935. Just how this was accomplished by inexperienced student crews with a minimum of skilled supervision is difficult to explain.
About the construction of the “electric plant” Knight wrote:
To describe the construction of this power plant would be a subject in itself. The ingenuity that went into the plant can be appreciated by the fact that for several years, the power was transmitted from the turbine to the generator by the rear axle assembly of a junked automobile. Full credit for the idea and installation of this novelty belongs to the students. It suffices to say that once their interest is aroused, American youth is hard to stop.
In 1935, New Deal labor crews helped with the construction of the camp. The dining room wing of the lodge was built around a large tree that Doc did not want to cut down. The Works Progress Administration assisted with the construction of the wing, and a couple of visiting ladies supposedly commented on the presence of the tree. One of the WPA workers allegedly replied: “Ladies, when we started, the tree wasn’t there.”
A 1948 article on the UW Science Camp described it as completed, with “a main lodge, four laboratory buildings, a bath house, forty dormitory cabins, and several service buildings.”
Work and Leisure at the Science Camp
The base camp was the departure point for field trips to the Freezeout Hills, Como Bluff, Bates Hole, the Medicine Bow ridge, the Centennial syncline, and the Big Hollow. Usually, groups would spend a few days in the field before returning to the camp on Friday evenings in time for dinner. While in the field, the participants slept in sheepherder tepee tents and received meals from a camp kitchen, which fed as many as 75 hungry students at a time. The weekends were spent at the base camp preparing maps, reports, and evaluations of the previous week’s work.
In addition to great learning experiences, students had fond memories of camp. According to camp alumni, Doc Knight frowned on the consumption of alcohol. If he found an empty beer can, he would pick it up, examine it as if it were a geologic specimen, and declare that it must have floated upstream from Centennial. The alumni also recalled sightings of wildlife and howling of coyotes, which raised the hair on the back of the eastern students’ necks. They remembered “iced” cream for breakfast and the evening campfire sings. They also recalled how hard it was to keep up with Doc Knight as he charged up and down hills with a gait like a young bull. The camp also had a reputation as a “marriage maker.”
According to Doc Knight, “one of the most challenging problems during the earlier years of the camp was adequate transportation.” In the beginning, purchasing new vehicles was not within the budget. In the spring of 1927, the camp acquired “what was probably the most picturesque caravan to travel the roads of Wyoming.” Used touring cars were purchased for the camp, and by 1929, the fleet contained 11 used Franklins. “These cars were painted a bright yellow with an appropriate dinosaur seal on the door.” Flat tires and mechanical breakdowns were common problems on the rough unpaved roads and trails. When difficulties arose, Doc would get out and perform the required repairs, using spare parts that were always carried along. Thus, he also instructed his students in basic auto mechanics.
Former First Lady of the United States Lou Henry Hoover—who was also president of the Girl Scouts of America from 1935 to 1937—visited the UW Science Camp in search of a site for a national Girl Scout retreat. Hoover was the first woman to graduate from Stanford in geology and had heard about the camp in the Medicine Bow Mountains through her geology connections. Even though the site was not selected, Doc Knight and his daughter Eleanor guided Hoover around the camp, during which the distinguished visitor engaged the nine-year-old Eleanor in meaningful conversation.
Closing of the Camp
The UW Summer Camp became one of the nation’s premier science camps. It attracted over 2,000 scientists, instructors, and students from all over the country. In the summer of 1966 during a reunion of alumni at the camp, it was officially named the S. H. Knight Science Camp. In 1973, however, the Geology department withdrew from the camp because of a change in the academic calendar. With the spring semester ending as early as May and the fall semester starting in August, use of the camp was shortened by more than a month due to the heavy snow still covering the mountains in May. Zoology and botany classes continued until 1976, but afterwards, field classes were moved to a different area and the S. H. Knight Science Camp came to an end. The university sold the lodge, which had fallen into disrepair, and it is now under private ownership and operated as a recreational lodge and restaurant.
The Engineers’ Ball and a Student Strike
In 1931, the Engineers’ Ball, an annual event held in the Half Acre Gymnasium, led to a short-lived student strike. The strike was called December 4, 1931, to protest the activities of President Arthur Crane during and after the ball.
During the ball, the President took note of a “wholesale exodus” of about fifty students. He followed them outside, and went from car to car in the parking areas while brandishing a flashlight in an attempt to determine whether any “hanky-panky” was occurring in the vehicles. He allegedly whipped open car doors and “visited,” “accosted,” and “interviewed” (in his own words) a number of couples he found in the vehicles and expressed “amazement and chagrin.” According to the students, Crane also shouted, “you come out here for all your drinking and petting. You ought to go to First Street where you belong.” These remarks were clearly aimed at the women in the vehicles, and the reference to First Street was understood as a moral rebuke and a clear hint at Laramie’s red-light district.
The “First Street” remark and the president’s attitude aroused the ire of many students. After a student gathering, they demanded an apology from Crane, who told them “not to hold their breath.” Consequently, students declared a “strike” that would end only with an apology from the President. Crane was enraged at their insubordination and declared they were no longer students of the university. After calling the police to break up larger groups of picketers, the students were persuaded to give up the strike and return to classes. Afterwards, Crane imposed a moratorium on campus events. Students agreed to a moral code of behavior afterwards, which included more careful chaperoning (including the hiring of a doorman); designation of special areas for smoking; and the “loyal cooperation” of the students in a “code of honor.” The moratorium was lifted in early February.
Crane was a staunch moralist and had difficulties adjusting to the student attempts at liberation in the 1920s. He believed that the university and its administrators and professors acted as guardians of the students, and especially of the girls’ virtues. This concept of in loco parentis was normal for the time and only began to erode in the 1960s. After this incident, however, Crane most likely stayed away from darkened parking lots.
The Radio Hour-Today from the University of Wyoming
During the radio hour program, which was transmitted from the UW campus on September 28, 1938, President Crane and the college deans had the opportunity to highlight their programs and advertise the advantages of an education at the University of Wyoming to the nation.
President Crane, who was the first to speak, noted the following:
“In no other state may Wyoming young people learn so much about Wyoming as at their own state university. Whether it be mining, agriculture, history, banking, pre-medical, oil or bees, Wyoming, because of her altitude, her dry mountain air, her particular geology, must work out her own problems to suit the various conditions.”
He continued to describe the university, with its roughly 1,800 students enrolled in the 1938/39 school year. At the end of his remarks, Crane summarized the value of the university in these words: “To the youth of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming offers a high quality of instruction at remarkably low cost, an interest in the students’ welfare, a democratic campus, modern equipment, and a special concern for fitting young people to take an active part in Wyoming life.”
Dean Maxwell spoke about the summer school program next. With the slogan “The Coolest Summer School in America,” the program annually attracted students from all over the country, along with a group of distinguished scholars. As the Dean of the College of Education, Maxwell also noted the advantages of “having one institution for the training of teachers in connection with the University” instead of locating a teacher training school somewhere else in the state. According to Maxwell, “There is no duplication of plant and equipment; the facilities in a university are much greater where there are several colleges on one campus than in an institution that confines itself to one field. Such an organization is much more economical to the state, and gives students preparing for teaching a broader social background, as they are associated with students who have different vocational objectives.”
College of Agriculture Dean John Hill brought attention to a course unique to the University of Wyoming: dude ranching. As Professor Hultz added:
“the official name is ‘recreational ranching.’ You see, many of our western ranchers have paying guests during the summer…folks who want to view the scenery, to ride horseback, and get acquainted with the west. But our four-year course in dude ranching is first of all an agricultural course, intended to give the student as thorough a training in ranching and farming as we can give him in four years. Besides that, we teach them something about writing letters or circulars to attract guests, how to serve appetizing food, some of the interesting facts about Wyoming’s geological and historical past and the interesting things about present plants and animals. We feel that if our ranch host knows these things, he’ll be more interesting to his guests and they’ll get more enjoyment out of their visit. The first year we had four boys and one girl and the next year eight boys and another girl. Incidentally, she married one of the boys and now they have a little dude ranch of their own, in South Dakota. But last week five more girls entered the course so we still have girls among the fifteen now enrolled.”
When asked if the students in the course are predominantly from ranches in Wyoming, Professor Hultz revealed that while there are several from Wyoming, a good number of students have been from other states, such as North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado, and Massachusetts.
World War II
With the advent of World War II, the University of Wyoming once again became a center of military training and preparation. In 1939, UW President Arthur Crane encouraged students and others to be more aware of American values and to keep alive the idea of people capable of governing themselves. He urged the university and the local community to come together on the issue of national defense. In January 1941, Crane established a Committee on National Defense that cooperated with local defense agencies and centralized the university’s defense activities.
In September 1940, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act, establishing America’s first peacetime military draft. All males between 21 and 36 were obliged to register. A month after its adoption, over 400 UW undergraduates and faculty had signed up for the draft. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor that launched America into the World War, enrollment dropped as male students left at an increasing rate. By the 1942-1943 school year, enrollment was down from 2,110 to 1,449, and the following year it hit a low of 662 students. Education continued, however, as military authorities recognized the need for youths to be educated in mathematics, history, geography, and foreign languages. The university added courses embracing world history, the history of World War I, the background for the present conflict, the history of peace efforts, the nature of totalitarianism, and defense radio communication.
The 1942 yearbook recorded some of the war-related activities on the UW campus, along with a description of classes that were added to the curriculum. Under the title “The University in Defense” that yearbook stated: “Besides organizing a committee to deal with local efforts at saving defense materials, and a committee on information and morale, the University is now offering new and special courses.” Some of the newly listed courses were “Home Nursing,” in which “women students learn to care for the sick or injured in the home,” a course in First Aid that enabled students to “cope with any emergency, for they are taught bandaging, splinting, tourniquet, and stretcher work.” In addition, nutrition classes were offered to “instruct housewives and students how to cook and prepare food intelligently if food shortages become a thing of fact. The effect of different vitamins on the health of the population is discovered.” Men learned the “fundamentals of drafting techniques” in a Defense Drafting class, and in the Radio Telegraphy class students were familiarized with the basics of the Morse code. Lastly, according to the yearbook, “Gasoline Engines is a course designed to teach girls the fundamentals of mechanics in case they are called upon to operate farm machinery or drive ambulances. They learn to change tires and repair motors.”
In addition to the academic courses, UW initiated a wide range of military training programs. The possibility of American military involvement in Europe led to implementation of a Civil Aeronautics Authority Pilot Training Course (CPT) in 1939. Other programs included the Army Specialized Training, Assignment and Reclassification School (STAR), the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program (ASTRP).
Members of the ASTP arrived on campus in June 1943, and the formal instruction program began on July 12. UW served as a training center for basic phase students and for advanced engineers. The Engineering Building served as the center for training. During 1943, UW hosted 1,025 Army men and 100 Navy Air Corps trainees. They resided on campus for one or two 12-week periods. To house men participating in these programs, the university built temporary structures such as the Cowboy Dormitories (demolished in 2009) and commandeered campus housing such as Hoyt Hall, McWhinnie Hall, and Merica Hall until the spring of 1944, when most of the programs ended.
James Lewis Morrill, UW President from 1942 until 1945, strongly supported the university’s war efforts. He was adamant that “the university shall serve the nation in a most vital role both during the war and afterward. That the university is able to carry on such an extensive program should be a point of pride with all the alumni.” In fact, by mid-1943, more than 1,500 UW students served in the military. The majority served in the Army (902 students), 481 were in the Army Air Corps, 174 in the Navy, 60 in the Navy Air Corps, 53 in the Marines, and five in the Coast Guard. In addition, 25 female students served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS); WAVES, or “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service;” SPARS (U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve); and the women’s reserve of the Marines.
With the return of war veterans in the late 1940s, UW experienced a dramatic turnabout in enrollment, which in turn heightened the need for more housing and academic facilities. In 1946–1947, more than 3,000 students enrolled in the university, a number that increased steadily during the 1950s.Temporary housing for returning veterans was supplied in “Veterans’ Village” in the southeast section of Fraternity Park. This consisted of “Butler huts, prefabricated houses, row apartments and plain trailers,” designed to supply 1,000 housing units for single and married veterans.
In the spring of 1945, UW students formed the Veterans’ Club, “an organization of about sixty to eighty World War II returnees who have met and combined for the purpose of finding a common ground on which to readjust to the affairs of campus life.”
In order to meet the increased demand for student housing after World War II had ended, the university erected temporary housing units on campus. In July 1948, President Harry Truman signed federal legislation providing $1.45 million for temporary housing at UW. Consequently, UW erected several units: the Hudson Dormitory, which was located at the corner of 15th and Grand Avenue and provided housing for 376 students. Furthermore, the athletics dormitory was built next to Talbot Hall, and Veteran’s Village was assmbled from butler huts and row houses. Many of these temporary structures were removed long before the 1961 demolition started on the Hudson Dormitory, which was referred to by former students as the “Paper Palace,” making way for the new residence halls.
Athletics and Facilities in the 1950s
With student enrollment rising again after the end of World War II, the university’s athletic program was also revitalized. An athletic director and three coaches were appointed, and plans were developed for improving the athletic facilities. Dedication ceremonies of the new War Memorial Stadium were held on September 23, 1950, and for the War Memorial Fieldhouse on December 14, 1951.
“The War,” which replaced tiny Corbett Field, originally sat 20,000 in grandstands on the east and west sides of the field. In September 1950, the first football game was played in the new War Memorial Stadium against Montana State. UW won that game 61-13 in front of 6,000 fans. The stadium dedication was held at the game against Southwest Conference favorite Baylor University the following week, on September 23. The 18,000 who attended the game witnessed the laying of the field house cornerstone and the stadium’s plaque. The Cowboys defeated Baylor 7-0. According to the dedication brochure, “The stadium is a living memorial to Wyoming’s men and women who served their country in World War II.”
The brand-new athletics facilities apparently spurred Wyoming’s football and basketball squads to new heights. The 1950 gridders posted an undefeated season, were ranked among the top ten teams in the nation in all national polls, and were selected to play in the ‘Gator Bowl game at Jacksonville, Florida. The cowboys then climaxed their greatest season with a 20-7 victory over Washington and Lee University in this third gridiron classic.
Throughout the 1950s, the UW football squad consistently made headlines by winning four conference titles between 1955 and 1959. The climax of the 1958 season was the victory over Hardin-Simmons in the Sun Bowl game at El Paso. The year 1958–59 was especially outstanding for Wyoming athletes as they also won championships in wrestling, swimming, and baseball.
On July 1, 1962, the new Western Athletic Conference was established, encompassing the teams from Wyoming, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State. The UW team continued to be successful in the new conference: they won the conference title in 1960, 1961, 1962, and 1964.
In 1970, the western upper deck, containing 5,500 seats and a new press box, was added. In 1978, the eastern press box and northern bleachers were added. It is the highest NCAA Division I football stadium in the country at an elevation of 7,220 feet and now seats 29,181 fans, thanks to extensive renovations and upgrades over the past decade. These include the addition before the 2010 season of the new Wildcatter Stadium Club and Suites, which features 12 individual suites along with a stadium-club area that contains 256 indoor seats.
In 2005, the natural grass at War Memorial Stadium was replaced by artificial turf, the first of its kind in Division I-A football. It was again replaced in 2013 by FieldTurf with enhanced graphics. The field itself was renamed “Jonah Field” in honor of the Martin and McMurry families who have donated significantly to UW Athletics and own the Wyoming Jonah Gas Field.
Some of the great Wyoming coaches to walk the sidelines in War Memorial Stadium include Bowden Wyatt, William H. “Lone Star” Dietz, Phil Dickens, Bob Devaney, Lloyd Eaton, Fritz Shurmur, Fred Akers, Pat Dye, Paul Roach, and Joe Tiller. Former Cowboy head coaches Wyatt, Dietz, Devaney, and Dye have all since been inducted into the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame.
While the UW football team had its share of victories and championships, other sports were also having their moment in the sun in the 1950s. The first game in the new Fieldhouse attracted more than 9,000 spectators as Wyoming’s basketball team went on to win consecutive Skyline Conference championships in 1951–52, and the following year won the national Sectional Rifle Association championship plus recognition as one of the top ten teams in the country. Cowboy wrestlers were undefeated in 1950–51 and tied Colorado State University for the league title in 1954–55. Both the baseball and tennis teams won consecutive Skyline Conference championships in 1954 and 1955. War Memorial Fieldhouse opened in December 1951 with a seating capacity of 11,000, and the Cowboys and Cowgirls played basketball there until 1982, when the Arena-Auditorium was completed.
For a long time, the sight of freshmen wearing beanies on campus was common. According to a 1967 article in the Branding Iron, freshmen only needed to don the head wear until the first home football game of the season. After the UW Cowboys scored their first touchdown, the students threw their beanies in the air and never had to wear them again. The tradition of beanies goes back to 1908, when male freshmen had to wear green caps and women green stockings. During the 1920s, freshmen had to wear the beanies until Homecoming. The 1923 student handbook states, “Wear your little yellow and brown caps. It is decreed and you have no choice in the matter.” Members of the W Lettermen Club, composed of participants in varsity athletics, sold the beanies to incoming freshmen. If students did not comply and were caught without their beanie, members of the W Club stamped a W onto the delinquent’s cheek.
John F. Kennedy Visits UW
On September 25, 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited the UW campus. He spoke at the UW Fieldhouse before an estimated crowd of 13,000—one of the largest indoor gatherings in Wyoming’s history at that time. He was greeted by a standing ovation as he walked toward the platform. UW President George Humphrey welcomed President Kennedy, Governor Clifford Hansen, and U.S. Senator Gale McGee (a former university History professor who had taken a leading role in the Textbook Controversy of 1947–48).
In his speech, Kennedy stressed the importance of education in realizing the full potential of the nation’s natural resources: “Our primary task now is to increase our understanding of our natural environment to the point where we can enjoy it without defacing it, use its bounty without permanently detracting from its value, and above all maintain a living balance between man’s actions and nature’s reactions. For this nation’s great natural resources are as elastic and productive as our ingenuity and skills.” In fact, according to Kennedy, the government “is pursuing new opportunities in the use of coal, especially in the development of practical and feasible techniques of converting oil-shale into usable petroleum fuels.”
The president also mentioned how much he enjoyed his trips to the West: “Anyone who is tied to a desk, to a city, to the eastern region of our country, can gain new strength and pleasure from a trip of this kind. He will discover, as I have discovered, the natural beauty, the wide diversity, and the great wealth of resources which comprise these United States.”
Throughout his speech, Kennedy directly addressed the important role of UW graduates for the future of the nation: “I hope that all of you who are students here will recognize the great opportunity that lies before you in this decade, and in the decades to come, to be of service to our country. The people of Wyoming contribute their taxes to the maintenance of this school in order that the graduates of this school may themselves return to the society which helped develop them some of the talents which that society has made available, and what is true in this state is true across the United States.”
Following the speech, Kennedy shook hands and signed autographs. Hundreds of people flooded Fraternity Row to get a last close look, slowing down the motorcade on its way back to Brees Field.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, less than two months after his visit to the University of Wyoming.
The George Duke Humphrey Science Center
With an increased emphasis on science and research, the university began one of the largest construction projects it had ever seen in 1965. One of the main debates concerned the future location of the George Duke Humphrey Science Center. When planning began two years earlier, the consensus was that the best location would be on the north end of the old Corbett Field and east of the Wyoming Union. However, further considerations led to the conviction that the most advantageous spot would be on the western side of campus close to the existing science-related facilities. The first building (physical science) was to be placed on the northwest corner of Prexy’s Pasture, and the second building (biological science) on the southwest corner. Following that announcement, comments poured in from around the state opposing the idea of placing buildings on Prexy’s Pasture. At the June 1965 board meeting, the trustees finally decided to place the new facilities west of the Arts and Sciences Building. The George Duke Humphrey Science Center, named for long-time UW President Humphrey (1945-1964), includes the Classroom Building as well as the Physical and Biological Science Buildings. In order to proceed with construction of the Science Center, two existing buildings had to be demolished: the Graduate (Normal) School building and the Art/Post Office Building.
In April 1970, just days after the Ohio National Guard shot anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State campus, hundreds of Wyoming students marched to the flagpole on Prexy’s Pasture to demonstrate their shock over the incident. Students attempted to lower the American Flag and fly a black flag in sympathy for the victims at Kent State. With the support of University President William Carlson, Governor Stan Hathaway ordered highway patrolmen and national guardsmen to end the demonstration. A confrontation was avoided, however, by the cool-headed intervention of Laramie law enforcement officers. A compromise was reached in which the black flag was flown underneath the American flag until the morning. After an all-night vigil around the flagpole, the student demonstrators dispersed.
The University of Wyoming ascended to the forefront of astronomy with the completion of the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) in September 1977. Built on Jelm Mountain, west of Laramie at an altitude of 9,656 feet, it cost $1.6 million, funds that were derived from a combination of state and federal sources. The telescope is used to study infrared energy levels given off by distant stars. UW faculty members and students, along with researchers from other universities, have used to facility, which is administered by the UW Department of Physics and Astronomy. The university held the dedication ceremony on July 28, 1978, at Washakie Center on campus. According to the Laramie Daily Boomerang, UW President William Carlson saw the observatory as a “unique tool for teaching and one which will greatly enhance UW’s academic programs.”
The combined weight of the telescope and its mount is about 110,000 lbs. Of this, 60,000 lbs moves when the telescope is operated. However, the precise balancing of the telescope means that the 30 tons of moving mass can be moved with a 1/10 horsepower electric motor. The drive gears are machined to very close tolerances and are capable of positioning the telescope with an accuracy of 1/10 arcsecond (1/36,000 of a degree). The telescope is operated under computer control in order to model and correct for the flexure of the telescope structure as it is pointed toward different positions on the sky. The hemispherical dome, which shelters the telescope and its instrumentation, is 45 feet in diameter. It features a 10-foot wide “slit” which can be opened for observations and rests on 18 rollers such that it can be driven by three 1 horsepower motors to follow the telescope as it points to various objects and tracks them across the sky. The telescope and instrument control room is located in an adjacent building to the telescope dome. This building also contains a small laboratory for instrument preparation and repair. Observers at the 2.3-meter telescope usually stay at WIRO while observing. The living facilities include three dorm rooms, a full-function kitchen, a bathroom, a living room and the control room.