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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 14, 2008

Morrill Act highlights campus exhibit

by Anne Kassel, News Service

The Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities nationwide, is one of the most significant documents in Iowa State University history.

So it's appropriate that the document, which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and has never been seen outside of Washington, D.C., will be featured in an ISU exhibit that opens on March 22 -- the date of the university's 150th birthday.

"The Morrill Act of July 2, 1862: The Land-Grant Act and the People's College," will be in Morrill Hall's Christian Petersen Art Museum through April 27. It will include historical ISU pictures and artifacts, educational programs for students in an 1870s-style classroom, and a full history of Iowa State.

Iowa State was established by the Iowa Legislature on March 22, 1858. Four years later, Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, creating a new kind of university called a "land-grant." The state of Iowa eagerly signed on and Iowa State became a leader in shaping the land-grant university, also known as the "people's college."

Getting it here

Bringing the Morrill Act to campus was not an easy task, particularly since it hasn't been publicly viewed since 1979. Planning began a year and a half ago when ISU officials contacted the National Archives and Records Administration. Following an inspection by a federal government employee, Morrill Hall was confirmed as a secure site and the university received permission to display the document.

Due to its age and sensitivity, the 146-year-old document requires a concealed delivery, special lighting, strict environmental controls, 24-hour security and a special display case.

"We knew it would be difficult to obtain the document, but we chose the Morrill Act for the exhibition because we wanted to illustrate the roots of Iowa State and its 150th birthday," said Allison Sheridan, University Museums exhibit coordinator. "We hope this unprecedented exhibit enlightens Iowa Staters."

The first

The signing of the Morrill Act brought higher education to the federal level in the United States by requiring courses in agriculture, mechanical arts, military tactics and liberal arts and sciences without discriminating on the basis of gender, race or wealth. When the federal government presented the act to state legislatures, Iowa was the first state to approve the provisions as it had already developed its own agricultural-based college with a mission similar to that of the Morrill Act. The existing Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm on land west of Ames was then established as the state's land-grant university.

As Iowa State wraps up its year-long sesquicentennial celebration, university marketing director Carole Custer sees great significance in the exhibition.

"Iowa State is delighted that University Museums has taken on this exhibit as a way to communicate one of the largest milestones that gave even more focus to this university's purpose," Custer said. "This monumental exhibition is an opportunity for Iowans to see the groundbreaking legislation that has impacted Iowa State's success."

Exhibit hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends. Special Veishea hours on Saturday, April 12, will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free of charge. Additional details are online.

Morrill Act

The Morrill Act of 1862, on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration.

"The Morrill Act of July 2, 1862: The Land-Grant Act and the People's College"

Exhibit hours

Weekdays: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Weekends: 1-4 p.m.

Veishea Saturday (April 12): 9 a.m.-4 p.m.