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Founding

Image of University seal The University of Kentucky was established by the state of Kentucky in 1865 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of the Kentucky University. The Kentucky University had been established in Harrodsburg in 1858 and in 1865 merged with Transylvania University, which was established in Lexington in 1783. Substantial initial funding was provided by the U.S. government through the Morrill Act, which created the land grant colleges. The first president was John Augustus Williams, who served only until 1868. He was followed by Joseph Desha Pickett, who served on a temporary basis until 1869, when James Kennedy Patterson was appointed after a long search. He remained in office until 1910.


The campus area on the edge of Lexington in 1877. The City Park became the campus and the A & M College area to the northeast became the Woodland Park and Ashland Park residential neighborhoods. Mulberry Street became Limestone Street and Winslow Street is now Euclid Avenue. A larger version of this image is available.

In 1878 the state separated the Agricultural and Mechanical College from Kentucky University and the next year established the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky. The city of Lexington provided additional funding and donated the City Park for use as a campus. A Normal Department was opened in 1880 and the first women were enrolled. Women were not initially eligible for degrees and the first woman graduated from the College in 1888.

Patterson House Mining Lab Pence Hall Norwood Hall Kastle Hall Mechanical Hall Mathews Building Miller Hall Carnegie Library White Hall Neville Hall Gillis Hall Main Building Barker Hall Frazee Hall


State University circa 1911. Select a building on the image for more information.

The Modern Era

The College was renamed State University, Lexington, Kentucky in 1908 (and Kentucky University reverted to the name Transylvania University to prevent confusion). In 1910 Henry Stites Barker became president following the resignation of James Patterson. Six years later, in 1916, the State University was renamed the University of Kentucky. The following year Frank LeRond McVey replaced Henry Barker as president.

Barker Hall Pence Hall Patterson House Mechanical Hall Norwood Hall Mining Lab Carnegie Library White Hall Miller Hall Neville Hall Gillis Hall Main Building McLean Stadium Botanical Garden


The University of Kentucky circa 1930. Select a building on the image for more information.

Image of circa 1930 seal Frank McVey retired as president in 1940 and his successor was Herman Lee Donovan, the first graduate of the University of Kentucky to serve as president. Herman Donovan retired in 1959 and was followed by Frank G. Dickey, another University of Kentucky graduate.

President Dickey served from 1956 to 1963 and was followed by John W. Oswald (1963-1968), Albert D. Kirwan (1968-1969), Otis A. Singletary (1969-1987), David P. Roselle (1987-1989), Charles T. Wethington, Jr. (1990-2001), and Lee T. Todd, Jr. (2001-2011). Since July 2011 the president of the University of Kentucky has been Eli Capilouto.

More UK Facts

Since at least the early part of the twentieth century the University’s athletic teams have been known as the Wildcats. Since the 1920s they have be spurred on by On! On! U of K.

Further Reading

The Kentucky Encyclopedia [J.E.Kleber, ed., 1992]
The University of Kentucky, Origins and Early Years [J.F.Hopkins, 1951]
Fiftieth Anniversary of the University of Kentucky, 1866-1916 [UK, 1916]
Hail Kentucky! A Pictorial History of the University of Kentucky [H.D.Irvin, 1965]
The University of Kentucky, A Pictorial History [C.B.Cone, 1989]

The University Archives has more information.