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Genesis of a university: the beginnings of UCLA

By Daily Bruin Staff

Oct. 8, 2010 1:15 a.m.

It wasn’t always clear that UCLA would be a top-notch university, or even a four-year one. In 1919, the Los Angeles State Normal School, a public teaching college, became the Southern Branch of the University of California. At first, the Southern Branch offered only two years of college instruction; students had to transfer to Berkeley to complete their degrees.

The decision to expand the Southern Branch’s curriculum was a contentious one, with Regent Rudolph Taussig declaring that the Southern Campus “will never be anything but a junior college.” Some worried that establishing a second full-fledged UC branch would cannibalize the university, dividing funds and promoting rivalry, but others argued that a growing California population required a second institution. The latter view won by one vote in a 1923 Regents decision.

The Southern Branch began offering four-year degrees during the 1924-1925 academic year, when the school was still located on Vermont Avenue and copies of the University’s “Announcement,” similar to UCLA’s present-day General Catalogue, cost 10 cents.

Prospective students were required to graduate from a high school accredited by the UC or a similar university, and they needed a recommendation from their principal. A 1920 state law required high school students to have a high school major such as English or a science, and college majors were considered the culmination of both high school and university work. Applicants were urged to plan for their degrees by studying prerequisites, such as foreign languages, in high school. Four years of high school Latin and three years of high school Greek were recommended for English degrees.

Thirteen Original Majors
When the Southern Branch first opened, students weren’t required to declare majors. Five years later, when the university began offering four-year degrees, Letters and Science undergraduates were asked to choose one of the university’s famed 13 original majors ““ chemistry, economics, English, French, history, Latin, mathematics, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, Spanish and zoology ““ as seen painted on the ceiling above the entrance to Royce Hall.

Historians Andrew Hamilton and John B. Jackson call chemistry “one of the liveliest departments on the Vermont Avenue campus,” featuring famous professors and, like many of the sciences, a requirement that students enter the major with a reading knowledge of French or German. The English department offered courses in Shakespeare, Italian literature and public speaking.

Graduation Requirements
Before students could begin taking upper division classes in their majors, they had to earn a junior certificate for their high school and lower division work. A four-year degree required military training for men, hygiene and physical education classes for both genders, and courses in psychology, natural sciences, foreign language and the humanities.

These general courses, according to the “Announcement,” were meant to endow a student with the “breadth of culture and a mental perspective that will aid him in reaching sound judgments.”

In 1922 the Southern Branch employed two professors and around 200 lower-level educators. At this time, and for many years afterwards, doctorates were uncommon among the faculty, most of whom held masters degrees.

One exception was Dr. Charles Waddell, who had been the director of teaching training at Los Angeles State Normal School. Waddell worked to develop and lengthen teacher education, believing that educators should have a college degree.

Other faculty members came to the Southern Branch from prestigious Ivy League universities, energized by the challenge of progressing the new university.

Home Economics
The Southern Branch didn’t offer a bachelor’s degree in home economics, but students could take classes, such as “elementary food,” “experimental cookery” and “clothing problems,” in preparation for a degree in household science or household art at UC Berkeley.

The classes ranged from anthropological and historical studies of domestic culture to practical lessons in cooking. Students pursuing the household art degree were also expected to have high school training in botany and mechanical drawing.

The household sciences degree required a college-level course in bacteriology.

In the early years the L.A. campus offered no dorms, and the “Announcement” recommended that students live in local boarding houses, listing the average rent as $40-60.

Female students had to submit their housing plans to the Dean of Women before they were allowed to register, and the “Announcement” cautioned that women without “satisfactory arrangements concerning chaperonage,” were forbidden to live in apartments.

For those considering how to cough up the $675 “ordinary yearly expenses” the “Announcement” estimated, the book’s authors warned that “not every kind of work is entirely compatible with the student’s purpose at the University, namely, his education. Only in rare instances can a student be entirely self-supporting.”

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