Annals of MSC: 1893-1899
The second Land Grant Act of 1890 provided up to $25,000 annually to fund instructional programs. Montana Governor Rickards signed a bill in February, 1893, accepting and claiming those endowments. The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) was brought in under the auspices of the 1887 Hatch Act which authorized an additional appropriation of public lands, and too, provided an additional $15,000 annually through the second Land Grant Act. To secure that Land Grant funding, the College had to begin formal instruction before July 1, 1893.6
Governor Rickards nominated five Bozeman-area leaders as the local Executive Board. The Board was made official and it was directed to direct and control the affairs of the college, subject only to the general direction and control of the State Board of Education. To meet the funding deadline, an imaginative strategy was employed. While negotiating for a permanent site for the College, it was arranged to commence instruction on April 1, 1893 in the classrooms of the Bozeman Academy, a private prep school, located on the SE corner of Main & 3rd. The eight students of the academy (5 men and 3 women) suddenly found themselves enrolled as students in the College although their academic experience was unaffected.9
Luther Foster, a professor at the South Dakota Agricultural College, was appointed Acting President of the College. He and three local instructors made up the initial faculty. College classes had begun in time to secure the $40,000 in operating funds from the Federal Government. The federal funds were crucial because of the national depression (Panic of 1893). The precursor of the University of Montana in Missoula was also authorized in 1893 by a combination of legislative action and some political maneuvers. But it was not immediately formally established and funded, and didn’t open for classes until 1895. No buildings were constructed until 1897. The Missoula school completed much of its organizing efforts before the first classes were offered.
The Executive Board in Bozeman selected a permanent College site on the hill south of town, obtained commitments for land, and recruited a faculty. Forty acres of that site at the head of Eighth Avenue was available because it had been set aside for Bozeman’s unsuccessful bid to be the Montana State Capitol. The Local Board appointed the College’s first President, Augustus M. Ryon (MSC's First President 1893-94), a 31- year old established professional mining engineer from New York.
Under Ryon's leadership, an academic committee developed a four-year program framing the early intellectual underpinnings of the college. It was organized according to the recently-accepted pattern by which “universities were divided into disciplines and departments, each with a claim to secular, and especially scientific, expertise. The social sciences—political science, economics, sociology, and anthropology—used the methods of science, and especially of quantification, to study history, government, the economy, society, and culture.”12
Many different college names, all conforming to the intent of the Land Grant Act, were applied during the creation of the College. The name that stuck was used in the first course catalog, “Montana State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts,” with the latter part of the name in subdued characters in the 1900-01 College Catalog. The accepted abbreviation was MSC.15 The college’s first motto was “Culture and Skill”.18
With MSC operations now underway, the new faculty and local board confronted the awesome task of giving form to their ideas. What kind of school would be its destiny? “The local Executive Board and the college faculty awaited the opening of the fall term with trepidation. However, a total of 139 students seized the opportunity to attend classes in the fall of 1893. There were deep sighs of relief in Bozeman’s stately homes.”21 Many were enrolled into the preparatory high-school level rather than collegiate-level program. But discussion, argument, disagreement and a contest of wills continued, and before the end of the 1893-94 academic year, Ryon resigned as president. James R. Reid (MSC President, 1894-1904), a 44 years old Presbyterian minister, was appointed President of MSC. Reid gave stability to the College for the next ten years.
MSC became a permanent visual presence in Bozeman by the end of the 19th century. In 1894, MSC completed construction of the first building on the campus site, the agricultural experiment station, now called Taylor Hall. In 1897, a one-room, dirt floor building, intended to provide shelter from the weather for military drill, was constructed SE of Taylor Hall. The building was also used for social activities and physical exercise. Main Hall (now Montana Hall) opened in 1898. It held the library, classrooms, and laboratories as well as being the administrative center of the campus. Also in 1898, MSC constructed west of Montana Hall a chemistry and physics building (now Traphagen Hall). The heating plant, with space for engineering laboratories, was constructed around the turn of the century. A stone, two-story building was build southeast of Montana Hall for veterinary science, but soon became an engineering laboratory; a frame addition was added in 1900.24
(Last revised: 2021-04-17)