The unique early path of public higher education in Florida
“A fine study of higher education in Florida during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The Making of Florida’s Universities, along with its valuable post-script that brings the story up to the present—should be required reading for policy makers, politicians, and all those who have an interest in higher education.”—James M. Denham, author of Fifty Years of Justice: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida
“A history of the politics of higher education in Florida, one that not only documents its origin in the nineteenth century but also gives us a lens to understand the present conditions of Florida’s public universities and colleges and their relationship with Florida politicians.”—Robert Cassanello, author of To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Life in New South Jacksonville
In this book, Carl Van Ness describes the remarkable formative years of higher education in Florida, comparing the trajectory to that of other states and putting it in context within the broader history and culture of the South. Central to this story is the Buckman Act of 1905, a state law that consolidated government support to three institutions and prompted decades of conflicts over where Florida’s public colleges and universities would be located, who would head them, and who would manage their affairs.
Van Ness traces the development of the schools that later became the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Florida A&M University. He describes little-known events such as the decision to move the University of Florida from its original location in Lake City, as well as a dramatic student rebellion at Florida A&M University in response to attempts to restrict Black students to vocational education and the subsequent firing of the president in 1923. The book also reflects on the debates regarding Florida’s normal schools, which provided coursework and practical training to teachers, a majority of whom were women. Utilizing rare historical records, Van Ness brings to light events in Florida’s history that have not been examined and that continue to affect higher education in the state today.
Carl Van Ness is university librarian emeritus at the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.