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‘Build on our legacies:’ UNG looks back to school’s history on 150th anniversary
University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs welcomes a crowd of community and school leaders to the celebration of UNG’s 150th anniversary. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

University of North Georgia and community leaders gathered at the Dahlonega campus on Friday, Jan. 6, to look back to when the school first started classes on the same day 150 years ago in 1873.

Interpretive historian Ken Johnston walks to the stage, acting as the university’s first president, Col. David W. Lewis. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

President Bonita Jacobs kicked off the celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary, thanking Forsyth, Hall and Lumpkin County leaders and community members.

“You don’t have a 150-year-old university very often, and we are very excited about this event and celebration we will have for the rest of the semester,” Jacobs said.

She went on to list some of the university’s biggest accomplishments over the past 150 years after first opening as North Georgia Agricultural College with a mission of providing quality, free educational opportunities to students across northeast Georgia.

During its first year, Jacobs said the school had 177 students, serving 98 men and 79 women during a time when most colleges did not allow women to enroll. The school ended up, shortly after, becoming the first college in Georgia to award a bachelor’s degree to a woman.

UNG also quickly became known for its Corps of Cadets and is now one of only six federally designated senior military colleges. The state legislator has recognized the university as The Military College of Georgia, and Jacobs said it has ranked as the No. 1 military college in the state for the past four years.

The school and its Corps of Cadets has expanded exponentially over the years, going through name changes and consolidating different campuses until finally becoming the University of North Georgia.

A guest looks into a glass case featuring items in UNG’s new exhibit documenting the school’s history. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Now, the university spans across five campuses and serves about 19,000 students.

“However, our commitments to quality, affordable education and leadership development in higher education …. remain unchanged,” Jacobs said. “In fact, that thread ties our institutions together with the same cultural values, regardless of decade, legacy institution or home campus.”

Taking an even deeper dive into the university’s history, Jacobs invited Interpretive Historian Ken Johnston to act as the university’s first president, Col. David W. Lewis, and read from one of his archived journals donated to the university in 2019 by his great-great granddaughter, Martha Lewis Hall.

Lewis had reflected on the school’s 10th anniversary in 1883, detailing his feelings about offering an affordable education to students, which included military science, languages, music and literature courses.

Johnston also read from archived newspaper clippings, telling the crowd about “an attempted duel” between two students on campus.

“I say ‘attempted’ because that is precisely what it was,” he said.

The two had gotten into a fight and decided to settle their differences by bringing rifles to campus where the two lined up and fired at each other. One of the students yelled, claiming he had been hit, ending the confrontation.

A glass case in the university’s new exhibit features documents and photos from Gainesville State College, which consolidated with North Georgia College and State University to become the University of North Georgia. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

“But as it turned out, neither had been touched,” the archived article read. “Nor had anyone else been touched, although quite a number of young men were present.”

Special Collections and Digital Initiatives Librarian Alison Galloup said Lewis’ journal and the newspaper clippings are available to see as part of a new exhibit in the library on the Dahlonega campus, where guests explored more of the university’s history after the program on Friday.

She said the exhibit tracks the evolution of the school, featuring a small portion of its large collection of newspapers, photographs, letters, scrapbooks, student handbooks and other documents and artifacts.

“All of that is possible because of the special collection and archives’ mission,” Galloup said. “Our task is to serve as the institution’s memory.”

A group of 36 university and community leaders also wrote a collection of essays titled, “The University of North Georgia: 150 Years of Leadership and Vision,” that will also join the collection.

Dr. Katherine Adams, an assistant professor and coordinator for UNG’s doctoral program in higher education, edited the book.

Jacobs also invited Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners Chair Chris Dockery and Dahlonega Mayor JoAnne Taylor to read proclamations declaring Jan. 6 as a day of celebration and recognition for the 150th anniversary in both the county and city.

“Over the past 150 years, UNG has equipped generations of professional civic and military leaders to serve our region, our state and our nation,” Jacobs said. “I am grateful to the UNG community, our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. As we look forward into the future, UNG’s momentum will build on our legacies of scholarship, leadership and service.”