The University was chartered as the state’s agricultural school in 1888. The Oliver Watson farm was purchased as a site for the school, and the old farmhouse, now restored, still stands on the campus. The school became the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1892, and the first class of 17 members was graduated two years later.
The Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the sale of public lands. Income from these sales was to be used to create at least one college in each state with the principal purpose of teaching agriculture and mechanic arts. From this grant of land comes the term “land grant,” which applied to the national system of state colleges. In a later adaptation of the concept, federal funds given to colleges for marine research and extension are called “sea grants.”
In 1909 the name of the college was changed to Rhode Island State College, and the program of study was revised and expanded. In 1951 the college became the University of Rhode Island by an act of the General Assembly. The Board of Governors for Higher Education appointed by the governor became the governing body of the University in 1981.
Oliver Watson House Museum
Watson House was built around 1796 and is the oldest structure on the campus of the University of Rhode Island.