James Wickersham, via Tanana-Yukon Historical Society

The Origins of the University of Alaska

On May 3, 1917, Governor John F. A. Strong signed the bill that created the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was a logical place for it, since mining and farming went on in the area, but people were skeptical about the territory’s ability to support higher education.

Delegate (Judge) Wickersham (in photo, credit Tanana-Yukon Historical Society) had wanted the college for a while. (Learn more about him here: http://lynnlovegreen.com/judge-james-wickersham/.) He laid a cornerstone on the site on July 4, 1915, and met with indigenous chiefs from the area in the following two days, hoping to jumpstart the idea into action.

It seemed to work, as the bill passed a couple years later. The Main Building was erected in 1918, and classes started in 1922.

The College started off small, with seven professors (one female and six males)  and six students (two females and four males). I was impressed by the number of women included, but they were pretty progressive back then— women’s suffrage was the first bill passed by the Alaska Territorial Legislature.  There was no housing at first, so people lived in town and came to campus for classes. Over time, more buildings and programs were added. The school became the University of Alaska in 1935.

Later, other campuses were added in Anchorage and Juneau, leading to our system of University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, and University of Alaska Anchorage with satellite campuses all over the state. Almost 31,000 full- and part-time students are enrolled in 400 programs. University researchers help Alaskans and others with economic, scientific, and other research projects that enhance our lives. Not bad for what started as a tiny college in the middle of nowhere!

You can learn more about the university and its history at 


and https://www.alaska.edu/alaska/about-ua/.

I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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