Student Life at Illinois: A Timeline


The University of Illinois has a rich history, dotted with events prominent and obscure, which – put together – are an excellent way to visualize what life was like there in decades past.  This resource, “Student Life at Illinois: A Timeline,” is the result of an effort to compile such a list.  Navigate between the decades in the pane at right, or begin below with the events of 1867, the year it all began.


John Milton Gregory, 1875
John Milton Gregory, 1875


  • Illinois Legislature passed act “to provide for the organization, endowment and maintenance of the Illinois Industrial University.”
  • First meeting of the Board of Trustees elected John Milton Gregory as regent of the Illinois Industrial University.


  • University inaugurated and formally opened on March 11th.
  • Philomathean and Adelphic literary societies are organized.
  • Tuition set at $5.00 a term, $15.00 annually.
  • Seventy-seven students were enrolled during the first term.
  • University Band organized.
  • Thomas J. Burrill appointed assistant professor of natural history.
  • First University catalog issued.
  • Student attendance at daily chapel services made compulsory.


  • Agricultural Society organized, became the Scientific Association.
  • Department of mechanical engineering created.
  • Trustees agreed to admit women in a 5-4 vote.
  • A system of student government adopted consisting of a general assembly, a judicial department and an executive body.
The first university building known as "The Elephant" by students, circa 1870
The first university building known as “The Elephant” by students, circa 1870


  • University received its first building appropriation from the Illinois Legislature. The measure provided $75,000 for a building to cost no more than $150,000.
  • Twenty-two women were reported to be in attendance at the school.
  • Cornerstone of University Hall laid.
  • University women organized Alethenai literary society.
  • A contingent of 157 students sent to Chicago to help keep order during and after the Great Fire.
  • The Student, the first Illinois Industrial University student publication, appeared. It was published monthly.


  • Chapter of Delta Tau Delta secretly organized.
  • University YMCA organized.
  • University established a boarding hall for women.
  • First athletic contest at University occurred on May 8, 1872, when a student team defeated the Eagle Baseball Club by a score of 2-1.
  • Class of 1872 donated to University a bronze medallion set within a stone tablet. Tablet was placed between double windows of University Hall. This was the first class gift.
  • First presentation of “certificates” to the following graduates: John J. Davis of Freeport, Willis A. Reiss of Belleville, Alonzo L. Whitcomb of Urbana, Stephen A. Reynolds of Belvidere, James N. Matthews of Mason, and Charles W. Rolfe of Montgomery.


  • Law passed providing for a nine-person Board of Trustees to be appointed by the governor.
  • University student participated in first interstate oratorical contest held in Midwest.
  • Andrew White, President of Cornell University, gave the Commencement address.
  • Alumni Association formed with fifteen charter members.
  • The name of The Student changed to The Illini.
  • University Hall dedicated.
View of Campus, 1874
View of Campus, 1874


  • Nathan C. Ricker appointed assistant professor of architecture. One year later he was promoted to full professor.
  • University hired elocution instructor Jennie C. Bryant.
  • University students participated in formation of Illinois Collegiate Association (later the Illinois Intercollegiate Oratorical Association), and compete in first annual Intercollegiate
  • Oratorical Contest.
  • First Class Day–an exercise by seniors on the Monday before graduation–held.
  • Louise C. Allen joined the faculty and established a domestic science course. In 1879 she married the recently widowed Regent Gregory.
  • University Battalion took part in dedication of Lincoln Monument at Springfield.
  • Adelphic and Philomathean societies form Inter-Society Oratorical Association.


  • University’s Art Gallery formally opened its doors. “It opened a new epoch in all our lives,” one student said of it.
  • Board of Trustees permitted conscientious objectors to be excused from military drill.
  • First annual exercises of the Alumni Association were held.
Morrow Plots, circa 1904
Morrow Plots, circa 1904


  • The Morrow Plots, America’s oldest soil experiment field, were established.
  • Under Regent Gregory’s prodding, the Board of Trustees condemned secret societies. As a result, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity went underground.
  • Class of 1876 donated an elm tree to the University. A boulder inscribed ‘Class of 1876’ northeast of Altgeld Hall now marks former location of this tree.


  • Class of 1877 donated an elm tree. Limestone marker inscribed ‘Class of 1877’ still exists.
Mary Page, 1878 graduate and temperance union activist
Mary Page, 1878 graduate and temperance union activist


  • Students organized a temperance union.
  • Students decided to fund a clock for a tower of University Hall as a class memorial. The clock cost $300 and is now lodged in the north cupola of the Illini Union.
  • The first degrees were granted. Requirements were set for the awarding of MS, ML and MA degrees.
  • Seniors organized a dancing club.
  • Chemistry Hall (now known as Harker Hall) constructed. Nathan Ricker was appointed University architect and dean of the College of Engineering.
  • The Illini advocated intercollegiate baseball matches and the adoption of school colors.
  • University Baseball Association formed.
  • Selim Peabody appointed professor of mechanical engineering.
  • First “football” game played on campus on Thanksgiving Day. The game may have been soccer.


  • Board of Trustees committee approved a woman’s hall but was unable to finance construction.
  • The University won a gold medal for its exhibit at Paris Exposition.
  • Ira O. Baker named assistant professor of engineering.
  • Tree planted by seniors uprooted.
  • The charter of Delta Tau Delta withdrawn.
  • First University intercollegiate baseball game held. Illinois Industrial University defeated Illinois College 12-5.
  • Students adopted silver on a cardinal background as the University colors.

Continue to 1880-1889