What does it mean to be a university? Iowa has been asking that question for 175 years—and shaping this institution as we answer it.  Our dynamic history cannot be contained in one summary, but here are some of the exceptional people and unforgettable moments that shaped the identity and character of this institution.

Milestones

  • A picture of the Old Capitol building circa 1853 when it was still the seat of the Iowa government.

    Founding of the University of Iowa

    1847

    The State University of Iowa is established February 25, 1847- 59 days after Iowa became a state- as the second official act of the General Assembly of Iowa.  Inside what is now known as ‘Old Capitol’, Iowa lawmakers declare that the fledgling school will serve as the state’s institution of higher learning, one that will provide the state its future doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.

  • picture of the Old Mechanic’s academy, first university building

    Instruction begins at Iowa

    1855

    The first faculty offers instruction at the University in March 1855 to students in the Old Mechanics Building, situated where Seashore Hall stood until 2021. In September 1855, the student body numbers 124, of which 41 are women.

  • A lithograph of the University of Iowa's Old Capitol building from 1860

    First coed public university

    1860

    The University of Iowa becomes the first state institution of higher learning to admit women and men on an equal basis.

  • A group photo of the University of Iowa's first College of Law graduating class (all men).

    The oldest law school in the West

    1865

    In the wake of the Civil War, Iowa Supreme Court Justices Justice George W. Wright and Chester Cole found what is now considered the oldest law school west of the Mississippi.

  • A picture of Old South Hall where the University of Iowa Medical Department was housed.

    One of the first co-educational medical schools

    1870

    The Medical Department holds its first classes, with 37 total students and eight women in the first class of students—making Iowa one of the first co-educational medical schools in the nation.

  • A picture of Mary Hickey Wilkinson

    Blazing new trails in law

    1873

    Mary Hickey Wilkinson, one of the first women in the U.S. to receive a law degree, graduates from the College of Law.

  • Bahamas Expedition participants aboard the E. E. Johnson, 1893

    Scientific expeditions

    1890s

    Iowa's program in the natural sciences gains national prominence, with large numbers of students attracted by innovative faculty and the chance to work in the field as well as the classroom. Expeditions led by Iowa faculty take students to the Laysan Islands, the Rocky Mountains, the Arctic, and the Bahamas. 

  • A portrait of Frank Kinney Holbrook

    Breaking barriers on the field

    1895

    University of Iowa student Frank K. Holbrook becomes the first African American to play on a varsity football squad for a public university.

  • A portrait of Carl Seashore, an older white man with a mustache

    Bridging science and art

    1897

    Carl E. Seashore begins his pioneering work at the University of Iowa in the areas of fields of speech–language pathology, music education, and the psychology of music and art.

  • W. S. Robertson Ward, University Hospital, The University of Iowa, 1900s

    One of the first university teaching hospitals

    1899

    University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics opens – the first university-based teaching hospital west of the Mississippi. Eventually it will be the largest such university-owned institution in America.

  • An image of the first Daily Iowan newspaper from September 1901

    The Daily Iowan is born

    1901

    Two student publications, the Vidette-Reporter and the SUI Quill, merge to become The Daily Iowan, the first daily campus newspaper west of the Mississippi.

  • Clarence Van Epps, the first professor of the University of Iowa department of neurology.

    Early leaders in brain science

    1919

    Iowa establishes a separate Department of Neurology with Clarence Van Epps as the first professor and head. It will be the oldest continuing program west of the Mississippi. 

  • A picture of the University of Iowa hydraulics lab from the early 1920s

    A century of hydroscience

    1920

    The University of Iowa establishes its first Hydraulics Lab which will eventually develop into an internationally renowned institute, IIHR- Hydroscience & Engineering, a preeminent center for the study of all things fluid.

  • A photograph of Iowa football great Fred "Duke" Slater in a three-point stance.

    A Hawkeye trailblazer on and off the field

    1921

    Hawkeye All-American tackle Duke Slater leads Iowa to an undefeated season 7-0 season as Big Ten champions.  Slater would go on to play in the NFL for ten years, would receive both his undergraduate and a law degree from Iowa, and would be the first black judge to serve on the Circuit Court of Chicago.

  • Aborigines by Eve Drewelowe, one of the University of Iowa's first recipients of the Master of Fine Arts degree in 1924

    Elevating art in the academy

    1924

    After the University’s pioneering decision in 1922 to accept creative work in lieu of academic theses from graduate students in the arts, Eve Drewelowe earns Iowa’s first master of studio arts degree.

  • E. F. Lindquist and another University official with testing program machinery, The University of Iowa, 1950s

    The birthplace of educational testing

    1929

    E. F. Lindquist, educational leader, scholar, inventor, and teacher, creates the Iowa Academic Meet, the impetus for the development of the world-renowned Iowa Testing Programs. 

  • Call letters of W9XK, the University of Iowa and the world's first educational television broadcast.

    First in educational television

    1932

    The world’s first educational television station began broadcasting from a basement room in the Engineering Building. For seven years, W9XK transmitted the video signal of programs on a regular basis, with the audio portion of the broadcasts provided by University radio station WSUI. Station officials received letters from viewers as far as 500 miles away.

  • Detail of American Gothic by Grant Wood

    Grant Wood joins the Iowa faculty

    1934

    Artist Grant Wood joins the faculty of the Department of Graphic and Plastic Arts, just four years after painting American Gothic.

  • Wilbur Schramm, Paul Engle and students of the Writers' Workshop circa 1939

    The model for creative writing programs

    1936

    America’s first University-sponsored program in creative writing, the Writers’ Workshop, is established. It will become the model for more than 300 writing programs, many of which were founded by Workshop alumni.  Faculty and graduates of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop are a who’s who in American literature and associated with more than forty Pulitzer Prizes.

  • Iowa All-American halfback Nile Kinnick with the Heisman Trophy

    Kinnick leads the Ironmen on a legendary run

    1939

    All-American Nile C. Kinnick leads the Iowa Hawkeye football team known as the ‘ironmen’ on a thrilling season and is awarded the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s outstanding player in college football.

  • "Learning" by Elizabeth Catlett

    Iowa awards the first MFAs

    1940

    The nation’s first Master of Fine Arts degrees were awarded to three students: (Alice) Elizabeth Catlett Mora, Jewel Peterson, and Harry Edward Stinson. Catlett Mora was also the first African-American woman to receive the M.F.A.

  • A team photograph of the 1944 Iowa men's basketball team including Dick Culberson

    First African-American basketball player in the Big Ten

    1944

    Iowa's Dick Culberson is the first African-American to see varsity action in a Big Ten basketball game on December 9th, 1944, scoring 11 points in a victory over Western Illinois.

  • A photograph of Wang Shizen with radiology equipment during his time at the University of Iowa.

    The father of Chinese nuclear medicine

    1949

    Wang Shizhen obtains a chemistry master's degree in 1948 and a doctorate degree in 1949 from the University of Iowa.  Wang will eventually be highly regarded for his academic accomplishments and known in his home country as "the father of Chinese nuclear medicine". 

     

  • Ignacio Ponsetti in 1943

    Ponseti revolutionizes clubfoot treatment

    1950

    Ignacio Ponseti, MD, is appointed to direct the clubfoot clinic, where he develops the nonsurgical technique that would become the gold standard for treatment known as the Ponseti Method.

  • Mural by Jackson Pollock

    Iowa lands a modern masterpiece

    1951

    Peggy Guggenheim donates Jackson Pollock’s landmark work of abstract expressionism Mural (1943) to the University of Iowa, where it will eventually reside with the Stanley Museum of Art.

  • A group photo of the 1956 Iowa football team and coaches

    Evy leads the Hawkeyes to new heights

    1957

    Coach Forest Evashevski leads the Hawkeye football team to Iowa’s first Rose Bowl game, where the Hawkeyes defeated the #10 Oregon State Beavers of the Pacific Coast Conference by a score of 35–19.

  • James Van Allen and colleagues promoting the Explorer 1 mission in 1958

    Pioneers in space science

    1958

    Using data from America’s first earth satellite, Explorer 1, UI physics Professor James A. Van Allen discovers belts of radiation surrounding the earth, a phenomenon that eventually will be called the Van Allen belts. The cosmic ray instruments aboard Explorer I are the first of many that the University will provide for U.S. satellites, rockets, and robes and will propel America’s entry into the space race.

  • University of Iowa student Steve Smith burns his draft card at the Iowa Memorial Union on October 20th, 1965

    Draft protest sparks era of campus activism

    1965

    In defiance of a recently passed federal law, UI student Steve Smith burns his draft card during “Soapbox Sound Off” in the Iowa Memorial Union on October 20th- a pivotal moment in the campus protest era both nationwide and at the University of Iowa.  

  • Paul and Hualing Nieh Engle

    Bringing the world to Iowa

    1967

    Paul and Hualing Nieh Engle bring 27 writers from 18 countries to Iowa City as they found the International Writing Program, the first and only program of its kind in the world.  For their efforts to build international connections through literature they would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.

  • A photograph of the University of Iowa's African American Cultural Center from some time in the 1970s.

    UI establishes African American Cultural Center

    1968

    In the spring of this tumultuous year, the university’s Committee on Human Rights recommends establishment of an Afro-American Cultural Center. During Homecoming weekend, Oct. 11-12, 1968, the center opens in a house at the corner of North Capitol and Market streets that had been purchased by the university. In 1976, the center moved to its present-day location at 303 Melrose Ave.

  • A pride flag outside the University of Iowa's Old Capitol

    Creating an inclusive community

    1970

    UI's Gay Liberation Front was the first LGBT student organization in the U.S. to receive official university recognition.

  • A portrait of Phillip G. Hubbard, of the University of Iowa

    First African American vice president in the Big Ten

    1971

    Philip Hubbard becomes the first African American vice president at any Big Ten university when he his named the UI's vice president for student services.

  • Hancher Auditorium in 1972

    Hancher brings the performing arts to Iowa

    1972

    Hancher Auditorium, a performing arts center that will gain national stature, opens to wide acclaim.

  • A portrait of Christine Grant, Iowa women's athletics director from 1973 to 2000

    Christine Grant hired to lead women's athletics

    1973

    Iowa graduate Christine Grant begins her tenure as the first and only athletic director of the Department of Women’s Athletics, holding the position until her retirement in 2000. She will hold numerous leadership positions as an advocate of gender equity in sports, serve as the president of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, testify as an expert witness and advisor in Title IX lawsuits, and receive numerous awards and honors.

  • Exterior view of Old Capitol following the bicentennial ceremony in 1976

    The Old Capitol is restored

    1976

    Old Capitol reopens to the public following a six-year effort to restore the building to its original appearance as the first permanent seat of Iowa’s territorial and state governments.

  • Hayden Fry is carried off the field by players after the Hawkeyes clinch their first Rose Bowl berth in 34 years.

    The Hawkeyes return to Pasadena

    1981

    Hayden Fry delivers Iowa’s first winning football season in twenty years, culminating in the Hawkeyes’ first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1958.

  • Former Iowa women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer

    Iowa hires Stringer to lead the Hawkeye women

    1983

    C. Vivian Stringer became the first African-American to coach a Big Ten women’s basketball team and will lead the Hawkeyes to an unprecedented nine NCAA tournament appearances.

  • The fatal victims of Gang Lu's 1991 shooting: Christoph K. Goertz, Robert A. Smith, Linhua Shan, Dwight R. Nicholson, T. Anne Cleary and Gang Lu himself.

    A dark day in UI history

    1991

    Doctoral student Gang Lu shoots and kills fellow graduate student Linhua Shan, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Robert Alan Smith, Professor of Physics and Astronomy Christoph K. Goertz, Professor and Chair of Physics and Astronomy Dwight R. Nicholson, and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs T. Anne Cleary. He also wounds Miya Sioson, an honors student in Spanish and Portuguese working in the Office of Academic Affairs.

  • Jeffrey C. Murray, MD, Professor of Pediatrics-Neonatology

    Advancing understanding of human genetics

    1994

    Faculty member Jeffrey Murray, MD, and colleagues published a paper in Science on the collaborative work of three large groups that resulted in a comprehensive human linkage map—achieving one of the first major goals of the Human Genome Project.

  • Macular degeneration image courtesy of Vinit Mahajan, Department of Ophthalmology.

    A leading role in vision research

    1997

    The Center for Macular Degeneration is established as the first center of its kind in the U.S., later renamed the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration in 2006 through the generous support of the family of Roy J. Carver Sr.

  • A photograph of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable during a match

    A legendary athlete, coach and career

    1997

    Dan Gable retires as Iowa’s wrestling coach after an unprecedented 15 NCAA titles, 21 consecutive Big Ten Championships and a 355-21-5 dual meet record, firmly establishing the University of Iowa nationally as an elite wrestling program.

  • A photograph of the Old Capitol dome on fire in 2001

    Old Capitol catches fire

    2001

    An accidental fire in the cupola of the Old Capitol Building destroys the cupola, dome, and bell, causing smoke and water damage throughout; the Old Capitol will undergo four and a half years of repairs and renovations before reopening to the public.

  • Aerial photograph of the Iowa River entering the University of Iowa campus in June 2008

    The flood of 2008

    2008

    An historic 500-year flood overwhelms much of campus along the Iowa River, forcing the evacuation of many facilities, and resulting in damage in excess of $750 million.  The event impacts more than 22 buildings and leads to the eventual replacement of Hancher Auditorium, the Voxman Music Building, the Museum of Art, and the Studio Arts facilities.

  • Eric Ortiz performs a research task for the University of Iowa Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center

    A commitment to fighting diabetes

    2008

    University of Iowa and Carver College of Medicine leaders announced a $25 million gift commitment from the Fraternal Order of Eagles—a nonprofit philanthropic organization with nearly 1 million members worldwide—to fund a new center dedicated to diabetes research at Iowa. 

  • A University of Iowa reading event at Prairie Lights in March 2018

    Iowa City, City of Literature

    2009

    Iowa City is designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as the world’s third and North America’s first City of Literature, joining Edinburgh and Melbourne.

  • Exterior of the University of Iowa Medical Education and Research Facility

    UI steps up fight against blinding eye disease

    2010

    The Institute for Vision Research is established at the University of Iowa, committed to preventing and curing blinding eye diseases.  The institute is a collaborative interdisciplinary effort based in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences but spanning four UI colleges and eight academic departments.

  • Staff of the University of Iowa Health Care LGBTQ Clinic

    UI Health Care establishes LGBTQ Clinic

    2012

    The LGBTQ Clinic—led by Katie Imborek, MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine, and Nicole Nisly, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine—is Iowa's first clinic established to specifically serve the health care needs of the LGBTQ community.

  • A photograph from the Iowa versus Purdue game in 2015

    Hawkeyes return to the Rose Bowl

    2015

    The Iowa Hawkeyes conclude their first 12-win season, including an undefeated regular season, resulting in Iowa’s first Rose Bowl appearance in thirty-four years.

  • Interior shot of the University of Iowa's Visual Arts Building

    Iowa's new arts facilities unsurpassed

    2016

    The opening of the new facilities including Voxman Music Building, Hancher Auditorium and Visual Arts Building are a major milestone in the recovery from the 2008 flood and significantly enhance Iowa’s academic and creative missions.

  • Aaron Boes, MD, PhD, demonstrates a brain stimulation technique

    Transformative gift establishes neuroscience institute

    2016

    A transformational $45 million grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust establishes the Iowa Neuroscience Institute at the University of Iowa as a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary center dedicated to research on diseases and conditions that affect the brain and nervous system. 

  • Catlett Residence Hall at the University of Iowa

    Catlett Hall honors pioneering artist

    2017

    Catlett Residence Hall opens, named for Iowa graduate and renowned artist Elizabeth Catlett, one of the first three MFA recipients at the University of Iowa and the first African-American to earn the degree.

  • Iowa graduate and filmmaker Nick Meyer speaks with University of Iowa students

    UI introduces screenwriting major

    2019

    Building on a long history of Iowa alumni making impact in the film and television industry, the University of Iowa introduces a new undergraduate screenwriting degree program to foster the next wave of storytellers on the big and small screens.

  • An illustration depicting solar plasma encountering the earth's magnetosphere

    UI wins its largest-ever research award

    2019

    A team led by University of Iowa physicist Craig Kletzing wins $115 million from NASA to study the mysterious, powerful interactions between the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth.  The contract award is the single largest externally funded research project in UI history. 

  • A person wearing a mask walking on the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa

    A global pandemic upends university life

    2020

    In response to the global coronavirus pandemic and surging cases of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), University of Iowa researchers scaled down laboratory research activities. For students, courses moved to online instruction, and nearly all in-person activities were suspended. Across the university and health care enterprise, building entrances were restricted; masks and face shields were distributed, and social distancing guidelines were implemented. University of Iowa medicine, public health and pharmacy faculty are instrumental in responding to the threat of COVID-19—establishing clinics and screening capabilities for patients; providing virtual care to patients recovering at home; and participating in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine clinical trials.