U-M Detroit History

Rooted in Detroit: The Founding of the University of Michigan 


Looking forward to the University of Michigan’s bicentennial celebration in 2017, the University of Michigan Detroit Center plans to sponsor activities that reaffirm and enlighten us on the roots of the University’s founding in the City of Detroit in 1817.  As part of this objective, the following timeline provides an overview of this historic event, as well as resources for more detailed study. This project is made possible by the Office of the Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and Arts of Citizenship.  


  • Augustus Woodward, Rev. John Monteith, Fr. Gabriel Richard and William Woodbridge devise an educational plan for the territory of Michigan modeled on the University of France.


                 Judge Augustus Woodward                   Rev. John Monteith                        Fr. Gabriel Richard

  • Judge Woodward drafts the Act of 1817 establishing Catholepistemiad, or the University of Michigania that is made into territorial law on August 26, 1817.
  • Rev. John Monteith named president and Fr. Gabriel Richard named vice-president of the University of Michigania.

Epistemia logo

  • The University’s original seal is adopted on September 12, 1817.  The meaning of “Epistemia” translates to knowledge.

Woodward’s Table of Professorships   Woodward’s Table of Professorships

  • Thirteen professorships established: literature, mathematics, natural history, natural philosophy, astronomy, chemistry, medical science, economics, ethics, military science, history, intellectual science, and universal science. Monteith is granted seven professorships, while Richard is granted the remaining six.

General Lewis Cass

    • General Lewis Cass, govenor of the Territory of Michigan negotiates the Treaty of Fort Meigs on September 29th, 1817 and persuades the Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), and Bodewadimi (Potawatami) tribes of the Ohio Valley to cede 3,840 acres of land: 1,920 acres are earmarked to the University of Michigania and the other half to St. Anne's Church of Detroit.

Original University of Michigania School Building


A school building is constructed on Bates Street near Congress Street in Detroit.
(University of Michigania photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)



  • The University Act of 1821 is passed on April 30, 1821; this repeals the earlier act of 1817 and establishes the University of Michigan.  This marks the end of University of Michigania; Monteith and Richards are replaced by a Board of Trustees.


  • Michigan establishes statehood. 
  • The Organic Act of 1837 creates the University of Michigan, with a Board of Regents, consisting of 12 governor-appointed individuals, replacing the former Board of Trustees.
  • On March 18, 1837, the Ann Arbor Land Company, offers to sell the state forty acres of land for the site of the University.  Two days later, the legislature passes an act to relocate the University to Ann Arbor.  

The University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus (1855, Cropsey)  The University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus; 1855, Cropsey


Significant Historic Markers in Detroit

University of Michigania - the original location of the University of Michigan, located at Bates St. and Congress St. in downtown Detroit.


Fr. Gabriel Richard - Historic St. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church (St. Anne St. & Lafayette Blvd.)

Significant Historic Marker in Ann Arbor

Native American Land Gift - located on the University of Michigan Central Campus Diag between the Chemistry and Natural Science buildings.


The University of Michigan was one of the first public universities in the United States, however, since the university was founded two decades before Michigan established statehood (1837), it cannot receive credit for being a “state” university from 1817-1837.

Related Historical Documentation


Research and Content Development

  • Erica Andrews, 2013 Arts of Citizenship Intern, University of Michigan Detroit Center
    Master’s Student, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, Rackham Graduate School
  • Jina Kim, 2012 Arts of Citizenship Intern, University of Michigan Detroit Center
    Doctoral Student, English and Women’s Studies, Rackham Graduate School

Exhibition Design and Fabrication

  • Stephen William Schudlich, Director of Exhibitions, work•detroit
    Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan
  • Andy Gabrysiak, Gallery Assistant, workdetroit
    Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan

Webpage Design and Development

  • Mike Morland, Communications Director, University of Michigan Detroit Center
  • Kevin Champion, Web Developer  

Special Thanks

  • Dr. Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, University of Michigan
  • Arts of Citizenship, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan
  • Bentley Historical Library, MLibrary System, University of Michigan
  • Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library