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One hundred fifty years ago, Vermont Representative Justin Morrill had a big idea that helped shape the future of Tennessee and the rest of the nation: He believed higher education should be available to everyone.

President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862, which provided federal funds to establish many of America’s public colleges and universities to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts to all.

The spirit of the “people’s colleges” continues today through teaching, research, and service at the University of Tennessee, one of 107 land-grant institutions in the country.

UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, UT System President Joe DiPietro, and UT Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington will dedicate a plaque commemorating the signing of the Morrill Act at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 3, outside the Ellington Plant Sciences building, near the intersection of Joe Johnson and E.J. Chapman drives on the Agriculture Campus. The event is part of the Ag Day street fair which will be held from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Though the Morrill Act was enacted in 1862, the Civil War prevented Tennessee and other southern states from accepting land-grant status. Congress passed a special law in 1867 to allow Tennessee to be eligible for land-grant funds, and in 1869 the Tennessee legislature designated the university as the state’s land-grant institution.

“The Morrill Act put UT on the road to becoming a modern university,” Cheek said. “Our university, then called East Tennessee University, was still trying to make physical repairs from damages the campus incurred during the Civil War when the state legislature designed it as a land-grant university. That legislation helped us grow and expand. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, AgResearch, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and UT Extension are all direct results of the Morrill Act and other legislation.”

Arrington said the theme of Ag Day, “Then and Now,” celebrates the anniversary of the Morrill Act and how it’s brought us to where we are today.

“It’s hard to believe that in the midst of the Civil War our forefathers had such a bold vision for the future,” he said. “Teaching agriculture at UT came about as a result of the Morrill Act.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,