In 1860, the Washington Territory Legislative Assembly moved to relocate the Territorial University to Seattle, with the proviso that a deed to 10 acres of land situated near Seattle must first be granted to the Territory of Washington for university determination.
Early in 1861, a forested site was donated on "Denny`s Knoll" overlooking Elliott Bay, in what is today downtown Seattle.
The city of Seattle, Washington was one of several settlements in the mid- to late-19th century vying for primacy in the newly formed Washington Territory.
In 1854, territorial governor Isaac Stevens recommended the establishment of a university in Washington State. Several prominent Seattle-area residents saw the siting of this university as a chance to add to the city`s image. They were able to convince early settlers of Seattle and a member of the territorial legislature, Arthur A. Denny, of the importance of Seattle winning the school.
The legislature initially chartered two universities, one in Seattle and one in Lewis County. Later the legislature repealed its decision in favor of a single university in Lewis County - provided that locally donated land could be found. When no site emerged, the legislature, encouraged by Denny, relocated the university to Seattle, in 1858.
The University of Washington officially opened in November 1861, as the Territorial University of Washington. The following year, the legislature passed articles formally incorporating the university and establishing a board of regents.
The newborn university appeared to be little more than a backwater school. The school struggled initially, closing three times: in 1863, for lack of students, and again in 1867 and 1876, due to shortage of funds. The first faculty was one professor who taught a basic classical curriculum that included Latin, Greek, English, history, algebra, and physiology.
However, by the time Washington entered the Union in 1889, both Seattle and the university had grown substantially. The university was resolutely entrenched as an institution of higher education. Burgeoning registration had increased from initial 30 students to near 300, and the relative isolation of the campus had given way to encroaching development; the lack of available space in what was becoming downtown Seattle, made a larger campus needful.
A special legislative committee headed by University of Washington graduate Edmond Meany was created for locating a campus better able to serve the growing student population. The committee selected a site on Union Bay northeast of downtown, and the legislature appropriated funds for its purchase and subsequent construction.
The university relocated from downtown to the new campus in 1895, moving into the newly built Denny Hall. The regents tried but failed to sell the old campus, and eventually settled on leasing the area.
Organizers of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition eyed the largely undeveloped campus as a nice setting for their world`s fair. They came to an agreement with the Board of Regents that allowed them to use the campus grounds for the exposition. In exchange, the university would be able to use the buildingd that were vacated after the fair.
This included a detailed site plan and several buildings. The plan for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, prepared by John C. Olmsted, was later incorporated into the overall campus master plan and permanently affected the layout of the campus.
Both World War I and World War II brought the military to the campus, with certain facilities temporarily loaned to the federal government. The subsequent postwar periods were times of growth for the university.
The period between the wars saw expansion on the upper campus. Construction of the liberal arts quadrangle, or "The Quad," began in 1916, and continued in stages until 1939.
The first two wings of the Suzzallo Library, considered the architectural centerpiece of the university, were built in 1926 and 1935, respectively. Further growth came with the end of World War II and passage of the G.I. Bill.
Among the most important developments of this period was the opening of the medical school, in 1946. It would eventually grow into the University of Washington Medical Center, now ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top teaching hospitals in the western United States.
In the 1960s and 1970s, enrollment at the university rose to 34,000, as the baby boom generation came of age. As was the case at many American universities, this era was marked by high levels of student activism, with much of the unrest focused around opposition to the Vietnam War.
The university opened branch campuses in Bothell and Tacoma, in 1990. These campuses offer curricula for students seeking bachelor`s degrees who have already completed two years of higher education. They operate master`s degree programs, as well.
In the 2004 Top American Research Universities report from the University of Florida, the university ranked in the top 25 overall and in the top 20 among public institutions. Additionally, the university ranked in the top 50 for Academic Ranking of Universities.