Historic Timeline and Memorable Moments: 1917 – 2017

collage of images from the 30s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s


January 1917 cover of the Tennessee Alumnus

  • First issue of Tennessee Alumnus publishes.
  • Brown Ayres is president.
  • Hugh M. Tate is president of the UT Alumni Association.


  • UT President Brown Ayres dies.
  • Harcourt Morgan succeeds Ayres.


January 1920 cover

1921: It’s Barnwarmin’ Time in Tennessee

Morgan Hall in 1921
The UT Ag Club holds its first annual Barnwarmin’ in the newly completed Agricultural Hall (Morgan Hall), and 1,000 people attended what was then described as “the biggest social event in the history of UT.”

1923: Graduation

students and family members gathered on a hillside
Summer commencement debuts, 27 students receive diplomas.

1927: Hall-Moody Junior College in Martin, Tennessee, closes, and the University of Tennessee Junior College is established under the leadership of chief executive officer Calvin Porter Claxton.

1927: Tennessee’s First 4-H Campers

young 4-H boys gathered around a young dairy cow
UT Extension organizes the first Tennessee Delegation to attend National 4-H Camp.


April 1932 cover with Torchbearer model

1932: The Torchbearer
The “Torchbearer”—symbolized by a man holding a flaming torch upright—is chosen from submissions from throughout the nation in a competition to design a campus statue. Yale University art student Theodore Andre Black won the $1,000 prize, donated by the UT classes of 1928-1932.

1933: TVA Hires UT Extension and Begins a Landmark Project

two children pump water from a well in a rural community
The newly created Tennessee Valley Authority contracts with Extension to educate rural people about TVA. Among the first assignments: the resettlement of 900 farm families so that Norris Dam can be built.

1934: UT President James D. Hoskins takes office.

1938 – present: Football Force

Archival photo of a Tennessee football player in 1938
The 1938 Tennessee Volunteers football team establishes the program as a force to be reckoned with when it won UT’s first national championship. Since then, the Vols have also won national titles in 1940, 1950, 1951, 1967 and 1998.


January 1944 cover portraying 4 soldiers under the American flag

1941 – 1950: World War II’s Impact on Enrollment and Faculty
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the University of Tennessee was made up of the Knoxville campus, the Health Science Center in Memphis, and the Martin campus. Total enrollment in 1940 was 5,229. By 1943, enrollment had dipped to 3,166 and was largely comprised of women. Then came the post-war GI Bill, and enrollment soared. By 1948, the university had more than 11,000 students and growth continued from there.

A total of 84 faculty also left on wartime assignments, including those called to other universities for special projects. Katherine Way, a physicist, was sent to the University of Chicago to join the team that helped develop the atomic bomb before the Manhattan Project was brought to Oak Ridge.

1941: UT loses its football coach and athletic director when the U.S. Army calls Maj. Robert Neyland to active duty.

1944: Tennessee 4-H’ers Go Above and Beyond for the War Effort

Archival photo of naval ship in port and Charles Keffer
Tennessee 4-H members raise so much money for war bonds that Tennessee 4-H is honored with the naming and christening of a new military ship: the S.S. Charles A. Keffer, named for the first director of Tennessee Extension.

1946: UT President C.E. Brehm takes office.


Spring 1951 cover featuring rows of seated men and women

1951: University of Tennessee Junior College achieves four-year status and becomes known as the University of Tennessee Martin Branch.

1958: Chattanooga ‘Mocs’ Knoxville

Chattanooga football player intercepting the ball
November 8 is a day that will live in infamy or everlasting glory, depending on your point of view. The University of Chattanooga, as UT Chattanooga’s forerunner was then known, ends 51 years of frustration as its football team defeats the Vols 14-6 in Knoxville. On Shields-Watkins Field. A 45-minute riot ensued, injuring police officers and requiring arrests, tear gas and firehoses to restore order.

1959: UT President Andy Holt takes office.


Fall 1965 cover portrays a graphic map: UT's changing campus

1961: African-American students are admitted to UT.

Theotis Robinson Jr and Charles Edgar Blair
Theotis Robinson Jr. (right) and Charles Edgar Blair (left) sign UT Knoxville admission papers as William G. Smith, Assistant Dean of Admissions, looks on.

1964: The University of Tennessee Space Institute is established.

1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Unscheduled Visit
LBJ greets a crowd at UT Knoxville
President Johnson is just “passing through Knoxville on a three-state tour of Appalachian poverty regions” on May 7, 1964, when his motorcade passes near the University Center and the president sees “10,000 students and faculty lined up along Cumberland Avenue,” wrote the late Milton Klein in Volunteer Moments: Vignettes of the History of the University of Tennessee, 1794-1994.

According to Klein, an Alumni Distinguished Service Professor of History and UT Knoxville historian, “LBJ, after being welcomed to the campus by University President Andrew Holt, stepped up on the trunk of his convertible and called on those listening to aid him in this campaign against poverty, specifically asking fraternities and sororities to help establish scholarships for deserving students.”

1965: The College of Law celebrates its 75th anniversary.

College of Law Building

1967: The University of Tennessee Martin Branch is renamed the University of Tennessee at Martin.


  • The UT Board of Trustees votes to establish the University of Tennessee system.
  • The UT Institute of Agriculture is formed.

1969: UC becomes UTC

UTCs Founders Hall
The University of Chattanooga joins the UT system as UT Chattanooga.

1969: Janis Joplin Rocks Stokely Athletics Center
Before her headlining performance in Stokely Athletics Center, Janis Joplin is spotted in the crowd during the performance of opening act, the James Cotton Blues Band. According to a then-student quoted recently in Torchbearer magazine: “Janis was in front of the stage dancing, along with a bunch of other students, having a great time. She obviously had an intense and troubled life, but that night on the UT campus she was happy…listening to the blues.”


Summer 1978 cover: graphic depiction of Swiss flag, mountains, grapes, and cheese

1970: Webster Pendergrass is appointed the first UT vice president for agriculture.

1970: The Beginning of the Boling Era

Ed Boling at a UT Trustees meeting
Edward J. Boling becomes UT president, overseeing a reorganized university
composed of a multicampus system in which the heads of the constituent campuses are designated chancellors.

1970: President Richard Nixon’s Brief Visit

President Nixon appears at Neyland Stadium for a Billy Graham crusade held during finals week

The antiwar movement is at a fever pitch when President Nixon makes a brief appearance on campus on May 28, 1970, during a Billy Graham crusade in Neyland Stadium to ask for the full support of American policy after the U.S. had bombed Cambodia.

“When Nixon began to speak, several hundred protestors, both faculty and students, created a disturbance, holding up critical signs and shouting profanities,” Milton Klein reported. “The protesters were removed, arrested for disturbing a religious meeting, and ultimately fined.”

1970: The Summitt Legend Begins

A young Pat Head photographed in her UTM uniform and Chuck Taylors with basketball in hand
Eighteen-year-old Cheatham County native Pat Head (Summitt) joins the UT Martin Lady Pacers basketball team.

1971: The Tennessee General Assembly amends state law to call for one woman to serve on the UT Board of Trustees. Ann Baker Furrow becomes the first woman trustee.


  • Madge Harrison becomes the first woman president of the national UT Alumni Association.
  • President Boling’s vision for taking university expertise to governments and industries statewide is realized with establishment of the UT Institute for Public Service.

1972: Elvis Presley Was In the Building

Elvis Presley in his rhinestone Nudie suit
Elvis Presley

Presley performs to a sold-out crowd in Stokely Athletics Center on April 8, 1972, and the longtold tale of a post-Elvis show announcement proves true. An alumnus who was there told Torchbearer magazine: “ The instant he ended his set, an announcer filled the auditorium with the announcement: “ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING. ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.”

1974: Another effort led by President Boling establishes the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, one of only 30 accredited such schools in the nation.

1977 UT Martin celebrates its 50th anniversary.

1979: First Class Veterinary Grads

1979 UTCVM Yearbook
Five years after the UT College of Veterinary Medicine is established by the Tennessee General Assembly the College graduates its first class of 39 students.


Winter 1983 cover: depicts Columbia space shuttle
1980: President Carter Visits UT Knoxville
Jimmy Carter greets faculty historians at UTK
U.S. President Jimmy Carter visits UT Knoxville to see the first set of the Andrew Jackson Papers, compiled by a UT team of scholars. The project began in 1971, funded by the UT Ladies Hermitage Association, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Tennessee Historical Commission.

1980: Kate Coleman Building Dedicated

Kate Coleman
Funded by what is at the time the single-largest gift ever to the UT Health Science Center, the $11 million Kate Coleman College of Medicine building is dedicated in Memphis.

1981: James Drinnon becomes the first chancellor of UT Chattanooga after more than 12 years since the university joined the UT system. Drinnon succeeds William Masterson, who guided the university through its transition.

1982: The World’s Fair

1982 Worlds Fair illustrated postcard
UT Knoxville and the entire city eagerly anticipate the1982 World’s Fair.

1982: Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station celebrates 100 years of formal service
Today known as UT AgResearch, the state’s agricultural research program predates the 1887 Hatch Act establishing experiment stations at the nation’s land-grant universities.

1982: UT Has Liftoff
UT alumni astronauts Henry W. Hartsfield, Donald Pearson and Dr. Rhea Seddon prepared for their space shuttle flights—Hartsfield in 1982, 1984 and 1985; Pearson in 1985; and Seddon in 1985, 1991 and 1993. She is among the first women chosen for astronaut training.

1982: UTC Arena Opens
A new venue—now known as McKenzie Arena—opens its doors as 11,000 fans pack the house that gave Chattanooga an arena large enough to attract superstar musical acts. Headlining opening night were Kenny Rogers and the Gatlin Brothers.

Reba McIntyre
Reba McIntyre

Others who’ve performed there since: Reba McIntyre (shown above), Diana Ross, Alabama, Tina Turner, Bob Seger, Cher, Billy Joel, Motley Crue, Elton John, Heart, Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart, Billy Idol, The Doobie Brothers, Hank Williams Jr., Van Halen, Randy Travis, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jackson Browne, ZZ Top, and many, many more.

1983: UT Gardens are founded in Knoxville

Hosta plants at UTIA
Thirty years later, with additional sites in Jackson and Crossville, the three locations are together named the State’s Botanical Garden in 2013.

1984: The Victory Tour Comes to Neyland Stadium
Despite the record ticket price of $30 each, all three shows sell out in August when Michael Jackson and his brothers bring their Victory Tour to Knoxville. According to the Volunteer yearbook, tour promoters and UT officials haggled over everything from protection for the performers to protection of Neyland Stadium turf, but a press conference was held for the contract signing, just two weeks before the first show.

1986: Margaret Perry becomes the sixth chancellor at UT Martin and the first woman chancellor on any UT campus.

UT icon
1986: Birth of An Icon
A new logo makes its debut. It was revived 20 years later in a system-wide 2006 UT re-branding campaign.

1987: President Reagan Visits UT Chattanooga

Ronald Regan at UTC
President Ronald Reagan comes to town to deliver an address emphasizing the need for excellence in education to city and county high school graduates in McKenzie Arena on the UT Chattanooga campus. Reagan’s communication chief at the time was Tom Griscom (Chattanooga ‘71).

1987-present: The Lady Vol DynastyLady Vols logo
The UT Lady Vols win their first women’s basketball national championship and begin a reign of dominance. The Lady Vols took national titles in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007 and 2008 and are actively in pursuit of the next.

1987: UT Martin honors Pat

McWherter, Perry and Summitt
Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter along with UT Martin Chancellor Margaret Perry recognize former Lady Pacer standout and Tennessee Lady Vols head basketball coach Pat Head Summitt with the Outstanding Alumni Award in 1987.

1988: Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander becomes UT president.

Lamar Alexander
Lamar Alexander

1989: UTHSC Medical Technology Advancement
The UT Health Science Center becomes world’s first to use combined MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) technologies for patient care.


Fall 1991 cover: depicts President Joe Johnson
1991: UT President Joe Johnson takes office.

1994: UT Knoxville celebrates its bicentennial.

1994: Plants in Space
An orchardgrass genotype developed by UT plant scientist Bob Conger is used in experiments aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Additional experiments were conducted in 1998.

Captain Skyhawk logo
1995: The Skyhawk Takes Flight
UT Martin officially changes its athletic mascot to the “Skyhawk.”

1998: Maya Angelou in Story, Song and Verse

Maya Angelou in 1998
Maya Angelou in 1998

UT Knoxville’s Issues Committee and Black Cultural Programming Committee brings author Maya Angelou to campus. She shared stories punctuated with song and verse, according to the Volunteer yearbook, “to show the audience a brief glimpse of the gold at the end of her rainbow, reinforcing her message to be an inspiring and encouraging person in someone’s life.”


Winter 2010 cover: illustration of Tennessee wildlife

2000: UT-Battelle wins the U.S. Department of Energy’s contract to manage Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

2000: The World’s First Cloned Calf

UT AgResearch animal scientists introduce Millie, the world’s first cloned Jersey calf.
UT AgResearch animal scientists introduce Millie, the world’s first cloned Jersey calf.

2010: UT Extension celebrates its 100th anniversary.


  • UT President Joe Dipietro takes office.
  • UT Health Science Center celebrates its 100th anniversary.
  • UT Chattanooga celebrates the 125th anniversary of its original founding as the University of Chattanooga.

2015: Vice President Biden Attends Chattanooga Memorial

Vice President Biden at podium, with memorials to fallen military personnel to his left on a stage
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends the memorial service at McKenzie Arena for five men killed when a gunman attacked two military sites in Chattanooga on July 16. Biden, whose son died in May 2015, told the families, “I wish that I was not here. For I have some sense of how hard it is for you to be here.”

2016: Science Superstars Dazzle

Bill Nye “the Science Guy” stands in front of a podium and his speaker notes on a laptop at Thompson Boling Arena
Bill Nye “the Science Guy” draws a crowd of 8,000 to Thompson-Boling Arena in 2015, a visit made possible by the Ken and Blaire Mossman Distinguished Lecture Series. In November 2016, the series brought actor-turned-science-educator Alan Alda to a packed Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building.

2017: Tennessee Alumnus celebrates 100 years of publication.