Although the University of Nebraska at Omaha was founded in 1908, its creation may have began even earlier. Perhaps, it occurred in Flintshire, England, in 1866 when the founder, Daniel Jenkins was born. Or possibly it may have occurred in Boonville, Mo. in 1898 when Milo Bail, another UNO president and chancellor was born. Either way, it is safe to say that over the past century UNO has undergone some major changes in a variety of areas.
UNO history has been collected by Les Valentine. Valentine has been the university’s archivist since 1986 and collects materials to add to the school’s accessible history.
“I enjoy finding ways to make primary resource materials accessible to researchers interested in UNO history,” said Valentine. “Also, it is very interesting working closely with original materials…early collections and artifacts from UNO offices, staff, or alumni.”
The archives reveal the founding of UNO. On Sept. 4, 1908, a group of people met to talk about establishing a new university. A month later, on Oct. 8, 1908, the University of Omaha was founded. The next year in September of 1909, 26 students came to UNO for the first day of classes. At the time, the University of Omaha was located in a former mansion (Redick Hall) on 24th and Pratt Street.
Two years later, in June of 1911, Claudia Galloway became Omaha University’s first graduate, followed by the second graduate in the summer of 1912. In 1913, the first commencement ceremony was held to honor Omaha University’s first graduating class, which consisted of 11 graduates. 25 years later, the graduating class had increased to 85 graduates.
Omaha University was previously a private religious university. It wasn’t until 1931 that OU finally became a public municipal university. However, the university did not join the University of Nebraska system until 1968. In 1936, the OU Regents voted to move OU to UNO’s current location and ground for Arts and Sciences Hall was broken the following the year. Courses also changed throughout UNO’s time. In 1938, a marriage course was taught with tuition costing only $2. UNO also offered a “Charm School” for women along with courses that focused on church ushering and church music.
While the location of UNO changed, housing problems also changed over the years. In 1999, University Village housing was established, follow by Scott Residence Halls in the next years. Parking also changed as a result of moving locations. In 1986, both parking garages opened on campus. Before then, 300 parking meters had been established on campus in 1955. In fact, according to the alumni association website, in 1963, a student agency put Santa hats on a total of 956 parking meters to raise Christmas spirit. In 1994, Omaha transformed the five-way intersection in Elmwood Park into a four-way one instead, in addition to adding new parking lots.
Although UNO has been red and black since 1916, the school has seen many changes in its mascot. In 1935, “First Down” became the football team’s mascot. First Down was a brown female terrier who wore a red, black and white jersey to the games. Later that year, OU voted for the University to become the “Indians”. In 1971, the student body voted on the Mavericks to be the new mascot, which barely defeated the option of the Unicorns. In 1993, the Durango mascot made its debut as the new school mascot at a game against Wayne State. UNO’s school song was written by a former OU student in 1922.
In addition to sports events, UNO students have also participated in a variety of “unique” activities and competitions over the last 100 years. In 1983, a UNO engineering student won a radio contest by going down a water slide 1,710 times in under 90 hours. According to the Gateway archives website, a college election was also held to name superlatives such as “Best Roller Skater” “Most ‘It’”, “Worst Flirt” and “Biggest Bluff” in 1929. Another strange competition included Arnie Kriegler, a UNO student, winning the Ugliest Man contest in 1951.
UNO competitions have also found success in turtles. In 1961, Pi Kappa Alpha sent a 30 pound snapping turtle to participate in the annual Turtle Trudge in Detroit. Later, in 1979, “Thirsty Thursday Turtle Races” began being held in Elmwood Park.
In 1950, OU students broke the Douglas County record, also beating Creighton, by donating 130 pints of blood. In 1970, students also had the chance to participate in a hamburger eating contests. Although students have SnapChat today, in 1938 students were granted a Candid Camera Day, where they were allowed to take pictures during class as long as they didn’t disturb others.
Clothing has also been a problem for UNO over the last century. In fact, UNO had a dress code implemented until 1968. Scandal also occurred in March of 1974, when two girls ran naked through ASH.
The University also dealt with the country’s national depression. In fact, at a dance in 1933, a student was named the title of “Depression Queen”.
Throughout the 1900s, UNO also faced dealing with racism and civil rights controversy. In 1924, Dorothy Williams became Omaha University’s first black graduate. In 1928, OU students performed a play that displayed the harms of racial prejudice, entitled “The Color Line”. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta also spoke to UNO students in 1984. In fact, speakers like Malcom X’s oldest daughter, and Nelson Mandela’s daughter both came to speak at UNO in 1989.
The Gateway newspaper has also seen evolution over the past century. The first student newspaper at UNO was titled “The YELL-ow Sheet” and began in 1911. The Gateway wasn’t established until 1913, when it became a club to advertise for sports and school activities.
Although UNO doesn’t face newspaper debt today, in 1922 the Gateway hosted candy sales in order to relieve student newspaper debt. Their fundraiser was successful enough to raise a total of $18.70. The Gateway’s reporters over the century got to report on some history-creating moments. In 1952, two Gateway reporters got the chance to cover president elect Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit at AkSarBen.
Fires and smoking controversy have recently been discussed at UNO. However, campus fires and smoking policy changes are nothing new to the campus’s history. In 1935, a vote determined that smoking would be banned in all university buildings. In 1985, a policy was passed to ban smoking except for in designated campus areas. Similar to this year’s Scott fire, in 2010, a disposed cigarette was also the cause of a fire in Arts & Sciences Hall. Other fires have also taken place on campus. In February of 1938, students helped an Omaha fireman extinguish a fire in a janitor’s room in Joslyn Hall. Later that year, students also used branches to put out a fire on a campus bus stop.
Similar to the fires, crimes and threats have also occurred at UNO over the last century. A night security guard in 1934 was shot at when a thief tried to open the university bursar’s safe. In January of 2000, bombs, created out of explosives and pop bottles, went off at University Village. Later that year, a stolen jeep crashed into the university’s power plant, which turned off gas resources to the campus for hours. In 2008, a graffiti threat was found in an ASH bathroom about a Valentine’s Day bomb. After further investigation, no bomb was found. A similar threat happened in 1997 when an anonymous letter was written that threatened harm to black students who were going to attend commencement. In 2004, technology on campus was also attacked when an e-mail virus was spread.
Over the last century, crime has happened to UNO students both on and off campus. A UNO Student was involved in a high-speed cop chase in 1980, which ended in him being shot to death by a policeman. In 1983, an international UNO student was stabbed to death in Council Bluffs. In 1955, 26 tires were slashed on OU students’ cars by vandals. A few days later, an OU female student was waiting for a bus on campus when she was violently murdered. In 1987, a student senator threatened a peer with a toy pistol at a student government meeting, according to the Gateway archives. $53,342 was also reported stolen from a Fieldhouse drawer in 1976. In 1981, 2,500 new locks were installed to reduce the safety problem around campus. Tragedy has even struck UNO faculty. In 1935, an OU president killed himself after being fired by the Regents.
Natural disasters have also acted as a problem for UNO’s students over the last century. In 1913, a detrimental tornado came through Omaha, only narrowly avoiding Omaha University. During this time, an OU freshman was rewarded for sprinting miles to get help from Fort Omaha soldiers. Like today, snowstorms have always affected the university. In 1975 the campus was closed due to a blizzard. Only two years later, a snow storm destroyed $141,950 worth of trees on campus. In 2008, a windstorm destroyed Elmwood trees in a similar fashion, putting out power on campus. UNO students have proven to be helpful in the face of natural disaster many times. In 2005, MavRadio held a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims and also joined other universities to help with relief efforts. In 1952, classes were canceled so that 1,000 university students could help combat Missouri River flooding.
More information can be found about UNO’s history on the Alumni Association’s website or in the online Gateway archives. Although anniversaries make it a great time to look back at UNO history, the history is always accessible.
“It is important for the entire UNO community to remember that without the effort of those faculty, staff, and students who came before us, the university we have today would not exist,” said Valentine. “University Archives is much more accessible than people think. We go out of our way to provide access (in person or via email) to the materials under our care, including publications from UNO offices and departments, catalogs, and photographs.”