UMass Campus History

History of the University of Massachusetts campus.

Our History

The University of Massachusetts Amherst can trace its origins back more than a century and a half. Throughout that time, it has steadily and dramatically evolved and expanded. Even so, it has always been marked by a deep dedication to the public good—or, as old term had it, the common weal.

At first, that approach had one narrow target, scientific agriculture. The Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC) was founded in 1863 under the national Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act. Set on 310 rural acres, it offered its first classes in 1867. It then had four faculty members, four wooden buildings, 56 students, and a curriculum combining modern farming, science, technical courses, and a smattering of the liberal arts.

In 1892, MAC’s first female student enrolled and graduate degrees were authorized. Over time, the college’s curriculum, facilities, and student body outgrew its original mission. In 1931, to reflect its ever-broadening curriculum, “Mass Aggie” became Massachusetts State College; “Mass State” in turn became the University of Massachusetts in 1947.

Immediately after World War II, the university experienced rapid growth in facilities, programs, and enrollment, with 4000 students in 1954. By 1964, with the earliest Baby Boomers coming of age, undergraduate enrollment jumped to 10,500. The turbulent political environment of the time brought a sit-in to the newly constructed Whitmore Administration Building. By the end of the decade, the completion of Southwest Residential Complex and the Alumni Stadium and the establishment of many new academic departments gave the campus much of its modern look.

In the 1970s, continued growth gave rise to a shuttle-bus service on campus as well as several important architectural additions: the Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center, with a hotel, office space, fine-dining restaurant, campus store, and passageway to a multi-level parking garage; the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, the world’s tallest academic library, and the Fine Arts Center, with performance space for world-class music, dance, and theater.

By 1990 the campus, now called the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the flagship of the state’s new five-campus university system, was emerging as a major research facility with the construction of the Lederle Graduate Research Center and the Conte National Polymer Research Center. On the athletic front, UMass Basketball in 1996 became Atlantic 10 Conference champs and went to the NCAA Final Four. The new William D. Mullins Center, a multipurpose sports and convocation facility, and the Paul Robsham Visitors Center bustled with activity. In 1999, the founding of Commonwealth College (subsequently renamed Commonwealth Honors College) began attracting highly academically gifted students in unprecedented numbers.

During the first decade of the 21st century, UMass Amherst gained an ever-stronger national and international reputation for excellence. Notable additions to the campus included the Studio Arts Building, the Integrated Sciences Building, a new heat-and-power-generation facility, and the Commonwealth Honors College Living and Learning Complex.

More recently, under the leadership of Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, UMass Amherst has formulated overarching, comprehensive objectives. These include maintaining and improving student affordability and access; continually enhancing the student learning experience; strengthening the university’s research and development enterprise; promoting diversity and a welcoming and collegial campus climate; energetically and strategically renewing the faculty; increasing the university’s endowment; maintaining a leadership role in public service; providing state-of-the-art administrative and IT services; and positioning UMass Amherst among the top tier of state universities.

These guidelines have inspired memorable achievements across the board. Among them: the hugely successful UMass Rising fundraising campaign; the creation of the groundbreaking Institute for Applied Life Sciences, which has helped cement the campus’s international standing as a major locus of research in the life sciences; an ambitious collaboration with MassMutual to increase research on and faculty numbers in data sciences and cyber security; the construction of the new Physical Sciences Building, Business Innovation Hub, and John Olver Design Building; and the dramatic restoration and reconfiguration of the historic Old Chapel and South College buildings.

The university’s growing reputation has been reflected in its climb into the Top 30 public, four-year universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, in its online MBA program being ranked best in the country and third in the world, and in repeated kudos for having the best food among all American colleges. SAT scores and other benchmarks for incoming students have steadily increased for many years running and show every indication of continuing to do so. And while the campus remains a major economic engine and research resource for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its national and international standing and influence continue to grow.