The date February 12 has special significance in the history of Michigan State University. It was on February 12, 1855 that Michigan Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed into law the legislation that established the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.
Carved out of 676 acres of woodlands less than four miles east of the state’s capitol, the college formally opened on May 13, 1857 with five faculty members and 63 students.
The establishment of an agricultural school did not happen overnight. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s farmers and others in the state clamored for an agricultural school. Progress was made at the state constitutional convention that rewrote the Michigan Constitution in 1850. It was put into law the desire to establish an agricultural school, however it did not specify whether it would be an independent institution or if it would be a part of the University of Michigan. The battle during the next four years was fierce to determine where the agricultural college would be placed. I think all students, alumni, faculty and staff of Michigan State University are glad that the government of Michigan finally decided that a separate institution would be the best solution for the agricultural college. The rest, as they say, is history.
Michigan’s fledgling agricultural college served as the prototype for the nation’s “land-grant” institutions created under the Morrill Act in 1862 sponsored by Justin Morrill, a representative who went on to be a senator, from Vermont.
Happy Founders’ Day!
For more information about the early years of Michigan State University you can consult Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925 by Keith R. Widder.
Rachel Jackson, “Happy Birthday MSU”, State News, February 12, 2012.