Online Degrees Blog Kansas trailblazers: The story of the University of Kansas

Kansas trailblazers: The story of the University of Kansas

31 May
Female asian teacher supports a female special education student during a classroom project.

Situated in Lawrence, Kansas, the University of Kansas (KU) stands as a prestigious public university celebrated for its broad array of satellite campuses, research, and educational centers, as well as medical facilities that span the entire state.

Founded on September 12, 1866, in Lawrence, Kansas, the University of Kansas (KU) initially began as a preparatory school with 55 students, including 26 female and 29 male students. Distinguished as one of the early pioneers of gender equality in education, KU was among the first public institutions in the United States to admit both men and women on equal terms. The university took its first strides in offering collegiate-level courses in 1869, and it celebrated its inaugural graduation in 1873, with four students earning their degrees.1

Today, the University of Kansas (KU) is renowned for its strong academic programs, research contributions, and vibrant campus life. KU excels in fields such as education, special education, and human sciences, offering comprehensive programs that prepare students for impactful careers.

The KU campus area is a historic district listed in the National Register, featuring 52 resources on 85 acres. The district showcases buildings, structures, sites, and objects constructed between 1878 and 2008, reflecting the evolution of the university's academic core along Jayhawk Boulevard. Architectural styles and landscape designs vary, capturing the campus's development over nearly 90 years.1

With a commitment to innovation and excellence, KU continues to shape the future through groundbreaking research, a diverse and inclusive community, and a dynamic range of extracurricular activities.

Read on to explore the intriguing journey of KU, from its modest origins to its emergence as an institution that has left an indelible mark in the world of higher education and pioneering research.

Pioneering education: How the University of Kansas built its legacy

In its early years, the University of Kansas embarked on a path that would shape its academic structure and pave the way for its future achievements.

Initially, the course of study leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree required a lengthy seven-year commitment, with three years spent in the preparatory school and four years in college. The goal was to eliminate the preparatory department swiftly, but it took 25 years before this objective was realized. It wasn't until 1869 that the university started offering collegiate-level courses, and the first class of four members proudly graduated in 1873.

These formative, founding years witnessed many notable changes and developments:

  • 1858: The Presbyterian Church of the United States secures Amos Lawrence's funds and establishes a school on Mount Oread, leading to the chartering of Lawrence University
  • 1859: The initial preparatory school, "University of Lawrence," opens but is discontinued due to low student enrollment
  • 1861: A new organization under the control of the Protestant Episcopal Church emerges, and the institution is renamed "Lawrence University of Kansas"
  • 1864: The university finds its permanent location, and the legislature officially organizes the institution
  • 1865: Reverend R. W. Oliver, rector of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Lawrence, was elected as chancellor of the University of Kansas
  • 1865: Construction begins on North College, which is completed in 1866
  • 1866: The preparatory school admits its first cohort of 26 women and 29 men, becoming one of the earliest public institutions in the US to admit both genders equally
  • 1867: Lawrence University experiences growth with 105 students enrolling
  • 1867: Reverend R. W. Oliver resigns from his position as chancellor
  • 1867: General John Fraser, president of the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, becomes the new chancellor of the University of Kansas
  • 1872: Construction of Fraser Hall, the first building on the present university campus, begins under Chancellor Fraser's leadership
  • 1873: Chancellor John Fraser's tenure concludes, with 173 students enrolled and 11 instructors employed at the university
  • 1876: Establishment of a normal department, focused on teacher training, which remained operational for several years
  • 1878: Opening of the law school, with an initial enrollment of 13 students.
  • 1880: Introduction of a preparatory medical course under the administration of the college of liberal arts and sciences
  • 1890: Notable figure F. H. Snow assumed the position of chancellor.
  • 1890: The University of Kansas launched its football program, marking the beginning of a rich and storied tradition in the sport
  • 1891: Elimination of the preparatory department, leading to the reorganization of the college. The reorganization included the establishment of a school of arts and schools of engineering, law, fine arts, and pharmacy
  • 1894: Construction of Spooner Library and the chancellor's residence, made possible by the generous contribution of another major donor1,2

By the end of the 1890 academic year, the university experienced substantial growth, with 508 students enrolled across all departments. The faculty consisted of 36 professors, and the university's physical infrastructure expanded to occupy five fully utilized buildings.

That same year, KU’s storied sporting legacy took shape.

A journey through KU’s sports legacy and triumphs

From its early days, the University of Kansas (KU) has established itself as a sports powerhouse, captivating fans and leaving an indelible mark on the world of collegiate athletics. KU's sports programs have earned a reputation for excellence, showcasing remarkable talent, tenacity, and a relentless pursuit of victory.

The year 1890 marked a turning point in the history of the University of Kansas, as it received significant donations that would shape its development and leave a lasting impact on its sports legacy. These contributions set the stage for the university's athletic programs to flourish and established a tradition of excellence that continues to this day.

From the creation of McCook Field to the introduction of football and the iconic "Rock Chalk" cheer, these milestones laid the foundation for a vibrant sporting heritage at KU. Furthermore, the arrival of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, further propelled the university's athletic prominence, ushering in a new era of intercollegiate competition.

These pivotal events and generous contributions paved the way for KU's ongoing commitment to excellence in various athletic endeavors. Here are KU’s early sports history highlights:

  • 1890: Significant donations received by the University of Kansas pave the way for its development and sports legacy
  • 1890: Colonel John J. McCook's donation enables the creation of McCook Field, a dedicated athletic ground spread across a 12-acre tract
  • 1890: The University of Kansas launches its football program, playing its inaugural match against Baker University
  • 1886: The iconic "Rock Chalk" cheer emerges, gaining popularity and even capturing the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt
  • 1898: James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, joins the KU faculty, sparking the rise of intercollegiate competition in the sport
  • Early 20th century: Forrest "Phog" Allen becomes a prominent figure in basketball coaching, leaving a lasting impact on KU's basketball legacy1,2

KU athletics today: A storied path to excellence

The university's rich athletic history is punctuated by iconic moments, legendary coaches, and a tradition of winning that has become synonymous with the Jayhawks. From the thrilling cheers of "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" to the resounding victories on the national stage, KU has cemented its status as a formidable force in collegiate sports.

The University of Kansas (KU) has a rich sports tradition and is known for its powerhouse programs and notable achievements. KU's sports programs are guided by a commitment to excellence, both on and off the field. The university prioritizes the overall development of student-athletes, emphasizing academic success, character building, and community engagement.

KU boasts strong programs in a variety of sports, including baseball, volleyball, soccer, and track and field. These teams have achieved success at both conference and national levels, with notable individual and team accomplishments.

Here are two highlights:

Basketball dominance

KU's men's basketball program has carved a storied legacy and stands as one of the most accomplished in NCAA Division I. With an astounding 51 tournament appearances, the Jayhawks have consistently showcased their prowess on the national stage. Their remarkable journey includes an impressive tally of 16 Final Four appearances, a testament to their consistent excellence and ability to reach the pinnacle of college basketball.3

Building upon this foundation of success, the Jayhawks have clinched four national championships, securing the ultimate triumph in 1952, 1988, 2008, and most recently in 2022. Their resolute dedication and remarkable win-loss record of 116-49 underscores KU’s reputation as a powerhouse program with a storied history that continues to captivate fans and inspire future generations.3

Notable achievements, by year, include:

  • 2022 6-0 Defeated North Carolina in National Championship, 72-69
  • 2018 4-1 Defeated Duke in regional final, 85-81
  • 2017 3-1 Defeated Michigan State in second round, 90-70
  • 2013 2-1 Defeated North Carolina in second round, 70-58
  • 2012 5-1 Lost to Kentucky in National Championship, 67-59
  • 2009 2-1 Lost to Michigan State in regional semifinal, 67-62
  • 2008 6-0 Defeated North Carolina in National Semifinal, 84-663

KU’s Football Program

While KU's football program may not have achieved the same level of success as its basketball counterpart, it has seen notable achievements in the past.

Since its inception in 1890, the Kansas Jayhawks football program has proudly stood as one of the oldest in the nation. The team experienced its most successful era from 1890 to 1952, marked by four undefeated seasons, a remarkable .603 winning percentage, over 300 victories, multiple conference championships, and appearances in prestigious bowl games. From 1953 to 1968, the Jayhawks continued to shine, capturing three conference titles and participating in additional bowl games, although their overall winning percentage declined during this period. The years from 1969 to 2009 saw a dip in KU's winning percentage to .427, but the team still managed notable achievements, including two top-10 finishes in the AP Poll and a memorable 12-1 season in 2007 culminating in an Orange Bowl triumph.4

However, the following decade brought significant challenges for the Jayhawks, as their fortunes took a downturn. From 2010 to 2020, the team struggled, registering a 21-108 record with a meager .163 winning percentage. This period was marred by two winless seasons, marking some of the program's lowest points. In 2012, the team's all-time winning percentage fell below .500 for the first time since their inaugural season in 1890. Despite these setbacks, the Jayhawks remain determined to bounce back and restore their historic football legacy to a new height

While the football program is working towards resurgence, other sports also contribute to KU's athletic success. The university remains committed to achieving excellence in sports and continues to strive for future accomplishments.

KU continues to invest in its sports programs and facilities to remain competitive. The university is focused on recruiting top-tier athletes and hiring talented coaches to build winning teams. With ongoing dedication and support, KU aims to maintain its status as a prominent force in collegiate sports.

The Jayhawk mascot: The embodiment of the spirit of Kansas

The University of Kansas (KU) has gained a reputation for its exceptional athletic programs, and at the heart of its sports culture stands the iconic Jayhawk mascot.

The Jayhawk has become synonymous with KU's identity, representing the university's rich history, competitive spirit, and unwavering values. As a symbol of pride, strength, and unity, the Jayhawk embodies the collective spirit of the KU community and rallies fans to cheer on their beloved teams with unwavering enthusiasm. Whether on the field or in the stands, the Jayhawk serves as a powerful reminder of KU's enduring legacy in the realm of collegiate athletics.

The Jayhawk's origins can be traced back to the struggles of Kansas settlers in the late 1840s. The term "Jayhawk" likely emerged around that time and was used by pioneers crossing Nebraska, who referred to themselves as "The Jayhawkers of '49." This name spread from Illinois to Texas and became associated with the resilient and determined spirit of those settlers.5

During the 1850s, Kansas became a battleground between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists, with conflicts escalating between both sides. The term "Jayhawkers" referred to individuals involved in looting, attacking settlements, and engaging in other acts of violence. When Kansas was admitted as a free state in 1861, the name Jayhawk became associated with the impassioned free staters, particularly in Lawrence, a stronghold for the free state movement.5

Throughout the Civil War, the Jayhawk transformed from a ruffian image to a patriotic symbol. Kansas Governor Charles Robinson formed the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks regiment, further solidifying the connection between Jayhawks and the fight for a free state. In 1886, the Jayhawk made its appearance in the famous Rock Chalk Chant, becoming intertwined with KU's athletic spirit. When KU's football team debuted in 1890, they naturally adopted the name Jayhawkers.5

More than a mascot: The rich history of the KU Jayhawk symbol

The Jayhawk, a mythical bird with a fascinating history, combines the characteristics of the blue jay and sparrow hawk. It symbolizes a bird that is both noisy and quarrelsome, yet stealthy and formidable.

Over the years, the visual representation of the Jayhawk has evolved, reflecting the changing times and artistic interpretations. In 1912, Henry Maloy, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, created a memorable depiction featuring a Jayhawk with shoes, representing its ability to kick opponents.5

Subsequent designs included a somber bird perched on a KU monogram in 1920, a duck-like Jayhawk in 1923, and a fierce bird with menacing talons in 1929. In 1941, Gene "Yogi" Williams modified the Jayhawk's eyes and beak, giving it a more contentious appearance. However, it was Harold D. Sandy's 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk that has endured and was copyrighted in 1947. In 2005, the Jayhawk was reintroduced with the new KU Trajan font.5

In the 1960s, the Jayhawk took on a three-dimensional form when the KU Alumni Association provided a mascot costume known as Big Jay. During the 1971 Homecoming halftime, fans witnessed the hatching of Big Jay's companion, Baby Jay, from a huge egg placed on the 50-yard line.5

Today, the Jayhawk is prominently featured on the Lawrence campus. Dyche Hall, erected in 1901, showcases a birdlike iconography reminiscent of the Jayhawk. Strong Hall houses a large Jayhawk statue with sleek, modern lines, gifted by the Class of 1956. Additionally, visitors to the Adams Alumni Center are greeted by a bronze Jayhawk statue in mid-stride, adorned with feathers, symbolizing the enduring spirit of the university.5

As for its colors, in May 1896, the official team colors for the University of Kansas were adopted by the KU Athletic Board as crimson and blue.

The University of Kansas today

The KU campus area stands today as a cherished historic district listed in the National Register. Encompassing 85 acres along Jayhawk Boulevard, this district comprises 52 remarkable resources that have shaped the academic core of the university over the years.1

From its inception in 1878 to its growth in 2008, the district showcases a captivating blend of architectural styles and landscape designs that have evolved with the campus. Within this district, 26 contributing and 20 non-contributing resources can be found, with six resources holding individual listings in the National Register.1

Adjacent to the main campus, a second historic district unfolds, spanning 13 acres and housing 15 contributing resources among a total of 18. These buildings and objects shed light on the transformation of residential and religious facilities catering to the needs of KU's students and faculty. Notably, eight of the contributing resources were established as scholarship halls, a popular housing arrangement at state universities nationwide.

The visionary Elizabeth Miller Watkins generously donated the funds for KU's inaugural cooperative dormitory in 1925, inspiring the construction of seven additional scholarship halls over the following three decades. This cluster of residences symbolizes the dedication to providing reputable housing options, especially for women, amidst the growing student population.1

The district also features significant structures such as Smith Hall and the Wesley Building, which serve as educational and gathering spaces, reinforcing the social and cultural well-being of students. Furthermore, the Danforth Chapel offers a serene environment for reflection and ceremonial events. Together, these distinctive elements within the second historic district reflect the unwavering commitment to fostering an enriching college experience for the KU community.1

Charting online frontiers: Embracing innovation, empowering students

Today, the University of Kansas (KU) is renowned for its diverse programs and commitment to academic excellence, which extends to its online educational offerings. With a strong emphasis on accessibility and flexibility, KU provides a range of online programs to accommodate the needs of students who prefer or require remote learning options.

In addition to its traditional on-campus programs, KU offers online programs in education, including specialized programs in special education, educational leadership, and counseling psychology. These online programs allow students to pursue their educational goals while maintaining their personal and professional commitments.

Through its online platform, KU provides a dynamic and interactive learning environment. Students engage with expert faculty members and collaborate with peers from around the world, fostering a rich and diverse educational experience. The university's online programs uphold the same rigorous standards and academic quality as their on-campus counterparts, ensuring that students receive a valuable and comprehensive education.

By offering online educational opportunities, KU extends its reach beyond the physical campus, allowing students from various locations to access its esteemed programs. Whether students choose to pursue their education on-campus or online, they benefit from KU's reputation for excellence and the university's commitment to providing high-quality education.

Don't miss your chance to be part of the prestigious Jayhawk community

Take the next step in your educational journey with the renowned University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences (KU SOE). Embrace the opportunity to expand your horizons and create a lasting impact in your local Kansas school district.

Experience top-ranked online programs, including the #1 Best Online Master's in Education Program for Special Education and the #19 Best Online Master's in Education Program for Curriculum and Instruction, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.6 KU SOE also takes pride in being recognized among the Top 30 Best Online Master's in Education Programs.6 KU SOE's top-ranked 100% online programs offer the perfect blend of flexibility, affordability, and quality for busy educators in Kansas.

Join a thriving community of fellow educators, all dedicated to shaping the future and making a difference in students' lives. Connect with like-minded professionals, share insights, and collaborate on cutting-edge teaching strategies to elevate the educational landscape in Kansas and beyond.

Don't miss the chance to advance both student success and your career opportunities. Reach out to a KU SOE admissions advisor today.