I decided over the summer that I really wanted to do an SEC series this year during football season, especially after talking about the general history of the SEC. Each week, I’ll give a history of one of the 12 SEC schools, coinciding with the football schedule. So, when Tennessee plays Florida in a few weeks, I’ll use that week to highlight The University of Florida. As for the other SEC schools that aren’t on Tennessee’s schedule, I’ll use non-conference game and bye-weeks to highlight those universities. But, I figure what better way to hit it off than starting with my alma mater: The University of Tennessee.
The University of Tennessee is located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Knoxville, TN, the largest city in East Tennessee, the 3rd most populous city in the state, and the 2nd most populous city in Appalachia. The city has a metro population of just a hair under 700,000 and the university has a student body of 27,000, though the university is actively working to have a larger student body. The biggest obstacle in the face of this is where to house students. After the institution of the HOPE (lottery) Scholarship with the high school graduating class of 2004, universities in Tennessee began to swell with new students now able to afford college. The university continues to acquire new property and expand into the surrounding neighborhood, Fort Sanders, and is currently renovating most of the buildings to transform the 60’s era architecture to the neo-gothic of the original buildings. The school’s color are orange and white, which originated in 1891 when a football player looked at the daisies that grow wild in and around campus. The funny thing is, he thought the flowers were red and white, not orange and white, as he was somewhat colorblind. The school mascot is somewhat of a confusing topic for non-native residents. The University of Tennessee Volunteers take their name from the state motto of the “Volunteer State,” which, in turn, came from the volunteer soldiers from Tennessee that routinely travelled to aid other states in their battles, but that were made famous by Davey Crockett and the Battle of the Alamo. But the mascot itself is either Davey Crockett or “Smoky,” a Bluetick Coonhound, selected in 1953. The current incarnation is Smokey IX. Smokey is always cared for by ΑΓΡ, the largest agricultural fraternity on campus.
The University of Tennessee is a land grant university that was founded as a non-sectarian institution in 1794 as Blount College, 2 years before Tennessee was even a state. Although UT is the second oldest institution in the SEC, it was the first to open its doors; The University of Georgia was founded in 1785, but didn’t open its doors until 1801. This was incredibly unusual for it’s time, as most colleges were run through a religious denomination. It only held this name for a few years and was rechartered as East Tennessee College in 1807, and then again as East Tennessee University in 1840.
The University of Tennessee played a major part in the American Civil War. The Fort Sanders neighborhood, immediately north of the university campus, takes its name from the earthen Civil War fort that the area is built on top of. Knoxville was always an area of Union sympathizers, making Knoxville all the more pivotal of a location for the Union to control. Just across the river from Fort Sanders was Fort Dickerson, on the south bank of the Tennessee River, leaving the university squarely between two warring factions. During the Siege of Fort Sanders, the university had to be shut down and the the buildings served as hospitals and barracks for injured Confederate soldiers before the area was taken by Union troops.
After the War of Northern Aggression, the university re-opened and, thanks to the Morrill Act, accepted the state’s land-grant initiative, promising to focus education on military strategy, agriculture, and mechanical ingenuity. In 1879, the university once again underwent a name change and officially became The University of Tennessee.
While the main Knoxville campus is home to the vast majority of the programs including the College of Veterinary Medicine founded in 1974, over the years The University of Tennessee has expanded to include other instituions and to better serve the state of Tennessee. There are approximately 44,000 students in the University of Tennessee System, which has a presence in each region of the state. The medical campus, originally Nashville Medical College, was the first major acquisition in 1879. That same year, the first dental program in the South was founded there. In 1889, UT opened Tennessee Medical College in Knoxville, by 1904 was accepting female applicants, and in 1911, the two medical colleges combined and moved to Memphis. The University of Tennessee College of Medicine remains one of the top programs in the country today.
Founded as the Hall-Moody Institute in 1900, the University of Tennessee acquired the Martin institution in 1927 when it was in danger of closing. Local leaders asked the state to take over the college and The University of Tennessee did so, renaming the institute The University of Tennessee Junior College. UT Martin operated under that name until 1951 when it became The University of Tennessee Martin Branch and added 4 year programs leading to bachelor degrees. In 1961, it became the first school in the University of Tennessee System to begin the process of desegregation and the name of The University of Tennessee at Martin was bestowed in 1967.
After being founded in 1886 as Chattanooga University, and going through a few name changes, the then named University of Chattanooga merged with Zion University and Chattanooga City College to form the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Other members of The University of Tennessee System include the University of Tennessee Space Institute at Tullahoma, formed in 1956 and launched in response to WWII and the Russian launch of Sputnik, and The University of Tennessee College of Social Work which operates dually in Knoxville and Nashville.
Nashville and Jackson are the only two major cities in the state that don’t have major UT affiliations and there are good reasons for this. Jackson is only about an hour or so from Martin and is home to several private universities. Recently, The University of Memphis took control of Lambuth University as it was collapsing and will offer students in the area a public university option. Nashville was home to a UT campus from 1947 to 1979, with it being considered a primary campus form 1971-1979, but was ordered closed by the courts and merged with Tennessee State University after a law suit was filed alleging that having 2 separate state universities in Nashville, education was being effectively segregated because of Tennessee State University’s HBCU status.
Even before the state of Tennessee was a part of the Union, The University of Tennessee has been a bastion of learning. From its humble beginnings as William Blount College to today’s 300+ bachelor degree programs, UT strives to be one of the nations top academic universities. Oh, and we play a little football.