Krannert opens Morrill Act Exhibit

The Morrill Act Exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum opened Wednesday to the public, showcasing the legislation that helped establish the University.

The Morrill Act of 1862 was a law passed and signed by Abraham Lincoln to provide funding to each state for the establishment of an academic institution.

The exhibit will display pictures of students’ campus life during the time of Lincoln’s administration, maps of the University’s layout and portraits of Jonathan Baldwin Turner and Justin Smith Morrill, propagators of the land grant movement.

Megan Puzey, program coordinator for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement, said she acted as a liaison between the Krannert Art Museum and the National Archives, where the act is primarily displayed.

“It’s only the second time the act has been out of the National Archives,” Puzey said. “It has been in Iowa State before, but it’s been a few years.”

Priscilla Fortier, assistant dean of students and adjunct professor in Education, said the act helped alleviate students’ education fees and provide an industrial and classical education.

She added that land grant universities were founded to accommodate “the average man” and promote the pursuit of industrial and agricultural education, while focusing on the liberal and classical arts.

“There really weren’t any acts before the Morrill Act that had its effect,” Fortier said.

Ryan Ross, graduate student and curator of the exhibit, said it took him 140 hours to work on the exhibit’s presentation.

“I was asked to do this around June, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “I finished up the research part of it around the last week of August and have been spending the time since writing the captions for (the exhibit’s visuals).”

Puzey said the exhibit may begin circulating land grant institutions around the nation.

“Lincoln, who signed the act, was a native of Illinois, and the chancellor was very passionate about getting the act here,” she said, referring to Interim Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka. “We have many in the history department, the political science department and (the) people on this campus in general that have strong ties and have done research on land grants. We are the only land grant institution in the state.”

Ross said the trends seen in the formation of the University are being repeated around the world.

“The land grant movement we had here in the 19th century that spawned the University of Illinois and what is the Big Ten is being copied really closely in other countries like India,” Ross said. “It was something we considered including in the exhibit, but there was too much to cover with just 50 years that it wasn’t feasible.”

Puzey said a national conference will be held at the end of October titled “Lincoln’s Unfinished Work: the Future of Higher Education.” The conference will continue discussion on the Morrill Act and access to higher education.