1817 : Catholepistemiad / University of Michigania Approved by Michigan Territorial Legislature

August 26, 2018 all-day

The Catholepistemiad, or university, of Michigania

On August 26, 1817, under the leadership of Augustus Woodward, the territorial legislature, meeting in Detroit, passed an act establishing the Catholepistemiad or the University of Michigania. Woodward, apparently, had strong interest in promoting a universal science. I believe that he coined the word Catholepistemiad. It is not Greek or Latin in origin. Woodward presumed that thirteen disciplines would be represented in this college, ranging, alphabetically, from Astronomy through Medicine to Universal Science or Catholepistemia which may have been his favorite. The Reverend John Monteith, who had arrived in Detroit the previous year from Princeton Theological Seminary, was named president of the Catholepistemiad and Father Gabriel Richard the vice-president. The act specified professors — presumably one for each of the 13 disciples—would govern the school.

On September 24, 1817 a cornerstone was laid for a two-story frame building located at the site where this historical marker is now found. By August 1818, the first floor was completed and an elementary school opened at this location. By 1819, the second story was finished and a classical academy began to operate. I presume that this academy sought to educate teenage students. Later, the Reverend John Monteith taught elementary grades in this building.

Territorial governor Lewis Cass mocked the name Catholepistemiad and labeled it pedantic and uncouth. He and the territorial legislature changed the name to the University of Michigan on August 30, 1821. This act also placed control of the institution in a Board of Trustees to be appointed, I presume, by the Governor and Territorial legislature. The Reverend John Monteith left Detroit the next year for an appointment at Hamilton College in New York.

The building on Bates streets continued to house an elementary school and a classical academy until 1827 when the University of Michigan suspended operation. In truth, I think that the institution was a university in name only until it was relocated in Ann Arbor. On March 18, 1837, the legislature accepted the offer of Ann Arbor business men to provide land to the University of Michigan. A new Board of Trustees was established and they gradually established a college. The modern University of Michigan opened in September of 1841 with seven students and two faculty members in 1871, the Trustees selected James B. Angell, who had been president of the University of Vermont, to be president of the Ann Arbor institution. He was president for 38 years and built the University of Michigan into a large and distinguished university.

Source : Catholepistemiad/University of Michigan Historical Marker

Also see Zlati Meyer, “This week in Michigan history: U-M founded in Detroit”, Detroit Free Press, August 26, 2012.

Martin Slagter, “The University of Michigan is 200 years old – older than Michigan itself“, MLive, August 26, 2017.

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