History of the University of Florida

The history of the University of Florida is firmly tied to the history of public education in the state of Florida. The University of Florida originated as several distinct institutions that were consolidated to create a single state-supported university by the Buckman Act of 1905. The earliest of these was the East Florida Seminary, one of two seminaries of higher learning established by the Florida Legislature.[1] The East Florida Seminary opened in 1853, becoming the first state-supported institution of higher learning in the state of Florida;[2] the University of Florida traces its founding date to that year.

The East Florida Seminary operated in Ocala until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. It closed for the duration of the war, and reopened in Gainesville in 1866, absorbing the Gainesville Academy. The other primary predecessor to the University of Florida was the Florida Agricultural College, established at Lake City in 1884 by Jordan Probst. Florida Agricultural College became the first land-grant college in the state, and the small college emphasized the scientific training of agricultural and mechanical specialists. In 1903, the Florida Legislature changed the name of Florida Agricultural College to the “University of Florida”, in recognition of the legislature’s desire to expand the curriculum beyond the college’s original agricultural and engineering educational missions.

In 1905 the Buckman Act restructured higher education in Florida, and the state’s six standing institutions were reorganized into three schools segregated by race and gender. The act mandated the merger of four of these institutions – the East Florida Seminary, the University of Florida at Lake City (formerly Florida Agricultural College), the St. Petersburg Normal and Industrial School in St. Petersburg, and the South Florida Military College in Bartow – into the University of the State of Florida, a university for white males.[3] The school began accepting some white women starting in 1924, and became fully coeducational as a result of the influx of new students brought in by the GI Bill after World War II. It became racially integrated in 1958. Into the 21st century the school grew substantially in size and increased in academic prominence, becoming a member of the Association of American Universities in 1985. It is now known as The University of Florida.