Blount College Founded
Blount College was founded two years before the state of Tennessee in what is now downtown Knoxville on September 10, 1794. The legislature of the Southwest Territory chartered the college during a meeting in the capital. Blount College, named after territorial Governor William Blount, operated in a frame house near the site of the present-day Tennessee Theatre on Gay Street. Although the school had to survive on tuition and fees and conferred only one degree, it was in operation for 13 years. Blount College was the first public university chartered west of the Appalachian Divide, one of the first coeducational colleges in America when five women were admitted in 1804, and may have been the first school in the country open to students of all religions when most colleges were affiliated with Christian denominations. The motivation of the founders is unknown, but a wave of college foundings followed the American Revolution. Nineteen new colleges were founded between 1782 and 1802, including the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina.
1794 – 1809
Samuel Carrick Presidency
Before Blount College opened, Presbyterian minister Rev. Samuel Carrick spent two years educating students using a classical curriculum at a seminary in his home. He had been educated at Liberty Hall Academy in Virginia. In 1794, Carrick became the only president (UT’s first president) and the sole faculty member of Blount College for an unknown number of students. He continued to serve when the name changed to East Tennessee College in 1807. Carrick was the first preacher in Knoxville and served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church concurrently with his presidency of Blount College. Records show Carrick’s salary as president in 1808 as $450 a year. Carrick died suddenly in 1809 at the age of 49 after he stayed up all night to finish a sermon. He was buried in the graveyard across the street from East Tennessee College, which closed for a decade. At his death, Carrick was owed a salary of $87.82 which his heirs received 12 years later with interest of $59.61. A former president’s residence, which is no longer standing, was named in Carrick’s honor, as well as two residence halls.
First Women Admitted
Five women—Jenny Armstrong, Barbara Blount (daughter of territorial Governor William Blount), Mattie Kain, Kitty Kain, and Polly McClung—were among Blount College’s admitted students in 1804, making it one of the first coeducational colleges in America. Women were not regularly admitted to the University of Tennessee until 1893.
1807 – 1820
East Tennessee College
When Blount College was renamed East Tennessee College in 1807 during Samuel Carrick’s presidency, student conduct prohibited blasphemy, wearing women’s clothing, and fornication, among other rules. Gifts and tuition of $8 per semester were insufficient to sustain the college very long. It closed for a decade after Carrick’s sudden death in 1809.
East Tennessee College Lottery Failed
A lottery to raise money for East Tennessee College was canceled in 1812, despite letters asking President James Madison and former President Thomas Jefferson to participate. Jefferson’s response letter in 1810 praising the state of Tennessee’s effort but declining to personally participate in a lottery is archived in the Jefferson Papers in the Library of Congress. In that letter, Jefferson suggested that the college spread out a little to become “an academic village.” Sixteen years later in 1826, the college trustees purchased the land now called the Hill and moved campus there.
1820 – 1825
David Sherman Presidency
When East Tennessee College reopened in 1820, its new president (UT’s second president) was David Sherman, formerly principal of Hampden-Sydney Academy (a struggling Knoxville preparatory school which now merged with East Tennessee College). Sherman was a New Englander and a graduate of Yale College. Strict laws concerning church attendance, absences, damages, and misdemeanors and crimes were adopted during his administration. Sherman, whose salary was $900, resigned in 1825 due to poor health although he later became president of Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee. Sherman’s departure would have left East Tennessee College without a library, but the school’s trustees purchased his books for $161.63. Sherman had allowed the students to use his own volumes during his presidency.
Graduate Education First Mentioned
The first references to graduate education came on October 11, 1821, in the minutes from an East Tennessee College Board of Trustees meeting. Sixty-four students were awarded post-baccalaureate degrees before the graduate department was formally established in 1879, at the same time our institution was renamed the University of Tennessee.
Moved to the Hill
In 1826, the trustees of East Tennessee College decided to move from a building in what is now downtown Knoxville (on the corner of Gay Street and Clinch Avenue) to a new location they purchased west of town, known as the Hill. The trustees were of the opinion that, “The shape of the Hill, the commanding view from it and to it in every direction, the excellence of the water, its distance from the town, being near and yet secluded, its position between the river and main western road ... together with its unquestionable healthfulness, render it a scite [sic] as eligible, almost, as the imagination can conceive.” The Hill is sometimes thought to be the one nicknamed “Barbara Hill,” a reference to the daughter of territorial Governor William Blount, Barbara Blount, who was admitted to Blount College in 1804. The Hill was the principal home of campus buildings from 1826 until the 1920s. During the Civil War, the Union took control of Knoxville and the Union Army built a fortification called Fort Byington on the Hill. After the war, the entrenchments were taken down, campus buildings were repaired as best they could be, and the Hill was re-landscaped. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Hill’s well-known buildings included: Science Hall on the southeastern slope, and on the summit South College (built in 1872), as well as Old College (which had a distinctive cupola), West College, and East College. To make way for Ayres Hall, completed in 1921 and now the most recognized academic building on campus, Old College, West College, and East College were demolished. Science Hall was demolished in 1967. South College is still in use as the oldest building on campus.
1827 – 1832
Charles Coffin Presidency
In 1826, the East Tennessee College trustees tendered the (third UT) presidency to Charles Coffin, president of Greeneville College (Tusculum) and a Presbyterian minister with a doctor of divinity degree from Williams College. A native of Massachusetts and graduate of Harvard, Coffin had come to Tennessee in 1800 to join the faculty of Greeneville College. Ten years later, he assumed its presidency and also the pastorship of the local Presbyterian church. As a special enticement to get him to come to Knoxville, the trustees offered a $1,500 annual salary, generous for that time, and a president’s home, purchased when an additional 74 acres including a spacious residence were added to the original tract. Coffin remained as the president of East Tennessee College for five years, teaching full-time in addition to performing administrative work. During his tenure, fierce public opposition was expressed over the expenditure of $13,OOO on the college’s first building (Old College, which was razed in 1919 to build Ayres Hall) located on the Hill. Additional criticism was directed at the college for being primarily a school for the wealthy. This opposition was partly a factor in Coffin’s resignation. He told the trustees that the public feeling of East Tennesseans was not sufficient to support a college. Although Coffin was 57 when he left the presidency, he thought a “younger man, of unfailing health” should be selected to lead the institution.
1833 – 1834
James Piper Presidency
When he was selected as president of East Tennessee College (UT’s fourth president) in 1833, James Hays Piper had been president of Columbia College (formerly Woodward Academy) in Columbia, Tennessee, for two years and a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at East Tennessee College for three years. The 33-year-old native of Rockbridge County, Virginia, received a bachelor’s degree from Washington College (later Washington and Lee) in 1819 and a master of arts degree from East Tennessee College in 1830, the latter apparently as a reward for his joining the faculty. After serving only one year as president, Piper resigned and returned to his home state of Virginia, where he became a surveyor, engineer, and turnpike builder. He also served in the Virginia state senate from 1840 to 1846 and for a short time in the administration of US President James K. Polk as principal clerk of public lands in the General Land Office.
1834 – 1850
Joseph Estabrook Presidency
Joseph Estabrook, whose habits included a “prodigious use of snuff” and who was also known for wearing “elegant ruffles and fine boots,” was selected as president of East Tennessee College (UT’s fifth president) in 1834 when he was 42. A native of New Hampshire, Estabrook graduated from Dartmouth in 1815 and began preparing for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary when throat trouble interrupted his studies and ended his ministerial career. He had been principal of academies in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Knoxville when East Tennessee College came calling. “Old Joe,” as students called him, relaxed discipline, employed scholarly professors for the faculty, and oversaw the building program. Courses of instruction became more organized, catalogs were published for the first time, an alumni association was formed, and the first literary societies were established during his tenure. It was also during Estabrook’s presidency that the school assumed its military character. He was instrumental in persuading the legislature to change the institution’s name to East Tennessee University in 1840. Estabrook’s reforms were said to have raised the college “from almost total prostration to a respectable rank among the educational institutions of the country.” One indication of the effect of his reforms was the near doubling of the student body during his administration, from 95 to 169. During a trustees’ dispute over the religious affiliations of faculty members, Estabrook resigned in 1850.
Renamed East Tennessee University
A redesignation as East Tennessee University in 1840 by the state legislature during the presidency of Joseph Estabrook did not improve the institution’s economic fortunes. The faculty was small. It was difficult to secure competent teachers at salaries ranging from $500 to $1,000 a year. Even when good instructors were found, it was difficult to keep any of them for very long. The president received little more than the rest of the faculty, with his salary sometimes being supplemented by a percentage of the tuition receipts.
1850 – 1853
William Reese Presidency
A native Tennessean, William Reese was a prominent Knoxville lawyer and jurist who had attended Blount and Greeneville Colleges and, after reading law, was admitted to the bar in 1817. He served as chancellor of the eastern division of Tennessee and had finished a 12-year term on Tennessee’s Supreme Court before becoming president of East Tennessee University (UT’s sixth president) in 1850. Financial difficulties continued to plague the university during Reese’s brief administration. The trustees had adopted a plan under which the president and faculty would not receive fixed salaries: the president would earn $350 per year and each professor $250 yearly, and both would receive a percentage of the tuition receipts, providing that their salaries did not exceed $1,500 and $1,000, respectively. Five professors were invited to join the faculty; two immediately rejected their appointments. A third professor accepted on the conditions that his salary “certainly not be less than before” and that there be no “sectarian wrangling” about his selection. His terms were apparently not met, because he did not join the faculty. Eventually, five professors were hired, but enrollment declined and the institution remained in poor fiscal shape. Reese remained only three years as president, resigning in frustration in 1853.
1853 – 1857
George Cooke Presidency
George Cooke, a New Hampshire native and 1832 graduate of Dartmouth College, had served as pastor of Second Presbyterian Church on his arrival in Knoxville in 1852 from a church pastorship in Andover, Massachusetts. Cooke was also serving as principal of a Knoxville female academy when asked to be president of East Tennessee University (UT’s seventh president). The energetic Cooke set about with “almost unprecedented zeal…to recuperate the languishing university.” Salaries were reduced, tuition was increased, and laboratory fees for chemistry were charged for the first time. A plan of studies used at the University of Virginia was adopted which allowed students to be grouped by the academic fields where their talents lay. Students were also allowed to pursue degrees by examination, irrespective of the length of their attendance at the university. The alumni association, now formally organized, was encouraged to be more active in securing popular support for the institution. Unfortunately, such support was undermined by the slavery controversy. Local pro-slavery newspapers complained about the inappropriateness of a northerner presiding over a southern school. Although little is known about the political climate surrounding the university itself, sectional strife could hardly have failed to affect the increasingly frail institution. The resignation of Cooke in January 1857 and two other faculty members a month later resulted in the suspension of operations at the school for less than a year.
1858 – 1860
William Carnes Presidency
Although there was talk of closing East Tennessee University permanently, William Carnes accepted the offer to be president (UT’s eighth president) in 1858. A South Carolinian, Carnes had entered the ministry at age 19 and he became a student at East Tennessee University in 1839, when he was already a married man in his 30s with a family. He graduated in 1842 and was immediately made principal of the preparatory department, a position which he held until 1848. He later served as principal of Lafayette Academy in Bledsoe County and as president of Burritt College in Spencer, Tennessee. One of Carnes’s first proposals for East Tennessee University was the construction of a university gymnasium, an innovative idea in higher education since most colleges had no such facilities at this time. A military department was also authorized while Carnes was president. This was partly the result of a legislative act which provided arms and equipment for that purpose. Carnes was also an innovator in his attempts to obtain additional funds for the school; he appeared personally before the legislature in Nashville to appeal for more money. Personal tragedies—the almost fatal illness of his youngest son and the death of his wife—probably hastened Carnes’s resignation in May 1860.