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ASU History ASU Mission A New American University

On February 26, 1885, House Bill 164, “An Act to Establish a Normal School in the Territory of Arizona,” was introduced in the 13th Legislative Assembly of Arizona Territory by John Samuel Armstrong. The bill, strongly supported by Charles Trumbull Hayden of Tempe, passed the House on March 6 and the Council on March 11 and was signed by Governor F. A. Tritle on March 12, 1885, thereby founding the institution known today as Arizona State University. Under the supervision of Principal Hiram Bradford Farmer, instruction was instituted on February 8, 1886, when 33 students met in a single room on land donated by George and Martha Wilson of Tempe.

The institution began with the broad obligation to provide “instruction of the art of teaching and in all the various branches that pertain to good common school education; also, to give instruction in the mechanical arts and in husbandry and agricultural chemistry, the fundamental law of the United States, and in what regards the rights and duties of citizens.”

With the growth of the state, especially the surrounding Phoenix metropolitan area, the school has carried forward this charter, accompanied by successive changes in scope, name, and governance.

The Early Years. For the first 14 years, the school was governed by six principals. At the turn of the century and with another new name, Normal School of Arizona, President Arthur John Matthews brought a 30-year tenure of progress to the school.
He assisted in changing the school to an all-college student status; the Normal School had enlisted high school students who had no other secondary educational facilities in Arizona. He embarked on a building schedule that included the state’s first dormitories. Of the 18 buildings constructed while Matthews was president, six are still in use. His legacy of an “evergreen campus,” with the import of many shrubs and trees and the planting of Palm Walk, continues to this day: the Tempe campus is a nationally recognized arboretum.
Matthews also saw to it that the Normal School was accredited outside the state. His service on national education organization boards was conducive to this recognition. The school remained a teacher’s college in fact and theory during Matthews’ tenure, although the struggle to attain status as a university was ongoing.
An extraordinary event occurred March 20, 1911, when former President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Tempe school and spoke from the steps of Old Main. He had dedicated the Roosevelt Dam the day before and was impressed with Arizona. He noted that construction of the dam would benefit central Arizona’s growth and that of the Normal School. It would be another year before the territory became a state.

During the Great Depression, Ralph W. Swetman was hired as president for a three-year term. This was a time of uncertainty for educational institutions. Although enrollment increased due to the depression, many faculty were terminated and faculty salaries were cut. The North Central Association became the accrediting agency for Arizona State Teachers College.

The Gammage Years. In 1933, Grady Gammage, then president of Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff, became president of Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe, a tenure that would last for nearly 28 years.

The Graduate Division was created in 1937, and the first master’s program was established the same year.

On March 8, 1945, the three state institutions of higher learning came under the authority of one Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees ASU today.

The phenomenal growth of the college began after the end of World War II. Dr. Gammage had foreseen that the G.I. Bill of Rights would flood campuses everywhere with returning veterans. Many of the veterans who had received military training in Arizona had fallen in love with the state and vowed to return after the war. The numbers within one year were staggering: in the fall semester of 1945, 553 students were enrolled; over the weekend semester break in January 1946, enrollment increased 110 percent to 1,163 students. Successive semesters saw continuing increased enrollment.
Like his predecessor, Dr. Gammage oversaw the construction of a number of buildings. His greatest dream, that of a great auditorium, came to fruition after his death. He laid the groundwork for it with Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed what is now the university’s hallmark building, Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, built in 1964.

Years of Growth and Stature. During the 1960s, with the presidency of Dr. G. Homer Durham, Arizona State University began its academic rise with the establishment of several new colleges (the College of Fine Arts, the College of Law, the College of Nursing, and the School of Social Work) and the reorganization of what became the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Perhaps most important, the university gained the authority to award the Doctor of Philosophy and other doctoral degrees.
The next three presidents—Harry K. Newburn, 1969-71, John W. Schwada, 1971-81, and J. Russell Nelson, 1981-89—and Interim President Richard Peck, 1989, led the university to increased academic stature, expansion of the campuses, and rising enrollment.

Under the leadership of Dr. Lattie F. Coor, from 1990 to June 2002, ASU grew to serve the Valley of the Sun through multiple campuses and extended education sites. His commitment to diversity, quality in undergraduate education, research, and economic development underscored the university’s significant gains in each of these areas over his 12- year tenure. Part of Dr. Coor’s legacy to the university was a successful fund-raising campaign. Through private donations, primarily from the local community, more than $500 million was invested in targeted areas that significantly impact the future of ASU. Among the campaign’s achievements were the naming and endowing of the Barrett Honors College, the Katherine K. Herberger College of Fine Arts, and the Morrison School of Agribusiness and Resource Management at the East campus; the creation of many new endowed faculty positions; and hundreds of new scholarships and fellowships.

A New Vision. ASU entered a new era on July 1, 2002, when Michael M. Crow joined the university as its 16th president. At his inauguration, President Crow highlighted his vision for transforming ASU into a New American University— one that is open and inclusive; that embraces its cultural, socioeconomic, and physical setting; and that promotes use-inspired research. As the only research university serving the entire metropolitan Phoenix area, ASU is in a unique position to evolve together with the city into one of the great intellectual institutions in the world.

A strong foundation already is in place to move Dr. Crow’s vision forward. ASU admitted its largest and highest-quality freshman class ever in fall 2003 and has developed nationally recognized programs in a number of fields, including accounting, astrobiology, design science, creative writing, music, ecology and evolutionary biology, electron microscopy, nanotechnology, psychology, solid-state science, and supply chain management.
In addition, ASU has embarked on its most aggressive capital building effort in more than a decade. The university is adding one million square feet of world-class, grade A research infrastructure, with the first building— Phase I of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University— was completed in October 2004. ASU will take a leading role in biomedicine and biotechnology, designing new therapies, new vaccines, new diagnostic devices, and better delivery methods.

In addition, the university has undertaken a significant realignment initiative known as “One University in Many Places,” which adopts a college/school-centric model for restructuring ASU across four distinct full-service campuses Valley-wide.

Research Extensive Status. ASU was named to Research Extensive (formerly Research I) status by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in early 1994. Nationally, 88 universities have been granted this status, indicating successful garnering of support for research projects and educating future scientists.


The original nickname for the Normal School of Arizona athletic teams was the Owls. Athletics other than Sunday hikes and lawn tennis were not part of the early curriculum.

During President Matthews’ tenure, some team competition began. The Tempe Bulldogs saw some interesting and rough competition with the University of Arizona Wildcats. In the 1940s, the college’s teams became the Sun Devils.

In 1979, the university joined the Pacific-10 Conference. In 1987, ASU became the first Arizona football team to play in the Rose Bowl, defeating the University of Michigan Wolverines 22-15. ASU made its second appearance in 1997 against Ohio State.

In 2003, ASU finished 10th nationally in the Sears Directors’ Cup, which recognizes the top athletic programs in the country. Ten teams finished in the top 20 nationally with five teams posting top 10 finishes. Wrestling finished fifth; men’s golf, sixth; baseball, seventh; gymnastics, ninth; and women’s swimming/diving, 10th.