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Iowa State University

Morrill Act & Land-Grant Universities   Tags: history, land-grant, morrill act  

This guide is for researchers interested in learning more about the history of the Morrill Act and land-grant universities in the U.S. Each tab contains links to web-accessible resources and tips for finding additional information.
Last Updated: Jun 6, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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The 150th Anniversary of the Federal Land Grant College Act (also known as the Morrill Act of 1862) will occur on July 2, 2012.

On September 11, 1862, the Iowa legislature officially accepted the provisions of the Morrill Act, becoming the first U.S. state to do so.

The Act helped fund educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states to create "land-grant" colleges.  The states could either develop the land or sell it to raise funding for the colleges.  The stated focus of these institutions was the teaching of agriculture and the mechanical arts. 

There are also many aspects to the Morrill Act that tend to be forgotten – such as the role it played in engineering education, the creation of the ROTC program, and the history of home economics. The Morrill Act of 1862 also generated considerable controversy, including the fact that it failed to pass before the Civil War but once the southern U.S. states seceded from the Union (and were no longer members of Congress) the Act passed. It also introduced a radical idea --that higher education should be practical and available to the masses, not just the wealthy. In addition, there is some dispute over the true "father" of the land-grant idea - Jonathan Baldwin Turner or Justin Smith Morrill.

If you need assistance in locating additional information please use our AskUs! service or contact a librarian using the box on the right side of this page.

  • Land-Grant Universities
    Good general introduction (via Wikipedia) about the creation of the land-grants.
  • Morrill Land-Grant Acts
    Information about the Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890, as well as later acts similar to them.
  • Spirit of the Land-Grant Institutions
    Four addresses by land-grant university administrators explain the background and the nature of the movement. Originally published by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in 1931 and reprinted in 1961.
  • The Land-Grant Tradition
    Published by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in 2012. This document provides an overview and history of the land-grant system, as well as copies of the original and amended legislation affecting the land-grant colleges.
  • The Origin and Early History of Iowa State College
    Written by Benjamin Gue around 1891, 11 pages, scanned and made available by the ISU Libraries Special Collections Department.

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