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The Great Justin Morrill to Speak at UVM July 2
Performance commemorates 150th anniversary of the Land-Grant Colleges Act, launch of UVM's fifth season of historic tours
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Land-Grant College Act of 1862 and the June 30th launch of the University of Vermont’s fifth season of free, weekly historic tours, the university will host a very special guest on Monday, July 2, at noon: the author of the landmark legislation himself, Vermont Sen. Justin Morrill -- or at least a reasonable facsimile of the great man.
Morrill will be brought vividly back to life by David McWilliams, a board member at the Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford, and a well known – and much sought after this anniversary year -- Morrill recreator.
McWilliams will speak in front of UVM's Morrill Hall, named for the senator. In the event of rain, the event will move inside the building.
McWilliams’s Morrill was also cast as the opening attraction June 26 at the American Association of Public and Land Grant University’s Morrill sesquicentennial celebration in Washington, D.C. McWilliams performed before more than 600 college presidents and higher ups in the federal government at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
The Land-Grant College Act of 1862, which made a gift of land to states to either sell or build on, was designed to create a practical new curriculum that focused on the teaching of agriculture, engineering and science. It helped create more than 70 so-called land-grant public universities -- including some of America’s biggest and best known. It is generally credited with democratizing and modernizing American higher education and propeling the United States to its ascendant position in the world today. Before the Morrill Act, colleges were reserved for the elite and offered a courses heavy on classics taught mostly in the original Latin and Greek.
Today land-grant campuses collectively enroll more than 4.6 million students and have 645,000 faculty members. They conduct two-thirds of the nation’s academic research and charge on average a third as much as comparable private universities.
UVM became Vermont’s land-grant university in 1865.
One of Morrill’s most stirring speeches
At UVM, as he did in Washington, McWilliams will deliver one of Morrill’s most stirring speeches, an appeal he made in 1858 to the House or Representatives as a congressman to pass his land-grant legislation. The bill failed and only became law after Abraham Lincoln was elected president and the South seceded from the Union, taking its representatives and senators, who largely opposed the bill, with it. The bill initially applied only to the northern states but was extended to the South and to new states joining the union after the Civil War.
After the Morrill speech, UVM emeritus professor Bill Averyt, who leads UVM’s weekly historic tours, will speak on the history of Morrill Hall, named after Justin Morrill and home of UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and will take visitors inside the building to view two large portraits and bust of Morrill.
UVM’s free, historic tours take place Saturdays mornings from 10 to 12 through Oct. 13. For more information on the tour and to register, visit www.uvm.edu/historictour.
The Morrill Homestead will host a symposium on Justin Morrill on Aug. 11 and 12. For more information, visit: www.morrillhomestead.org/august-2012-symposium.