Cornell University

Cornell University welcomed its first 412 students to the rural campus overlooking Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, New York, on October 7, 1868. Cornell is one of the original institutions funded as a result of landmark federal legislation, the Morrill Act of 1862. Named for Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, this legislation offered states grants in the form of federal lands proportional to their population to establish public institutions (colleges) in agriculture, mechanic arts (engineering), military science, and classical studies. Proceeds from the sale of these federal lands were meant to build and operate the new colleges.

Cornell University #4, Ithaca, N.Y. Haines Photo Co., c1909. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division 

The land-grant colleges also provided greater access to college for women. Women were formally admitted to Cornell in the spring of 1872.

Cornell Co-Eds Organize Suffrage League [Scrapbook 7 1908-1909, p. 156]. March 20 [1909]. Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. Part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Cornell is proud of many firsts. These include the nation’s first university degree in veterinary medicine and the first doctorates in electrical engineering and industrial engineering. Cornell established the first four-year schools of hotel administration and industrial and labor relations. The Cornell University Press was the first university publishing enterprise in the U.S. and is one of the country’s largest university presses. Cornell was the first among all U.S. colleges and universities to allow undergraduates to borrow books from its libraries.

Morrill Hall and the Library, Cornell University. [ca 1900]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Cornell University was one of the first colleges to field a football team. “Big Red,” the nickname for all Cornell’s varsity teams, was first “Big Red Bear,” when in 1916, the varsity football team collected $25 to purchase a black bear cub they nicknamed Touchdown. A student wearing a costume was substituted for the live bear not long afterward.

Rival MascotsExternal.”Cornellian, 1916. [Facsimile]. Animal Legends: From the Trojan Horse to GodzillaExternal. Courtesy of Cornell University Library.

A second Morrill Act, passed in 1890, sought to extend access to higher education through additional endowments for all land-grant institutions as established in the 1862 act. This legislation withheld funds from states that failed to provide, at minimum, separate but equal educational facilities for African Americans, and led to the founding of many historically black colleges and universities.

Some of the most well-known land-grant institutions are Purdue University in Indiana, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Tuskegee University in Alabama, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Today, Cornell is the only land-grant institution in New York State and equally a privately endowed university, the only land-grant member of the Ivy League/Ancient Eight, and a partner of the State University of New York.

Learn More

  • Search across the photograph collections on Cornell or Ithaca to see more photographs of Cornell University, as well as the scenic Ithaca Falls and Cascadilla Gorge.
  • Search on Cornell University in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885 to find the “Cornell University Polka” and the “Cornell University Defilé March.”
  • Explore the wide range of materials available on other institutions of higher learning. Search across all the collections on college, or university, or on the names of individual institutions.
  • Explore the research guide on the Morrill Act in Primary Documents in American History for more information on this groundbreaking statute.

Fall Roundup Time

October 7, 1979, was the final day of the fall roundup and trail drive for the Ninety-Six Ranch. The ranch lies along Martin Creek, a tributary of the Little Humboldt River in the upper section of Paradise Valley, Humboldt County, Nevada.

Les Stewart with Sign Made for Exhibit [Paradise Valley, Nevada]. Carl Fleischhauer, photographer, April 1980. Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982. American Folklife Center

The cattle ranch’s annual cycle began in spring with the birth of the calves. The calves were branded and turned out with the rest of the herd to summer on grazing range about fifteen miles due north of the ranch in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Each fall, some 2,000 cattle were gathered from the range and driven home.

Stirrups and Cinch [Cold Springs Camp, Nevada]. Suzi Jones, photographer, October 1978. Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982. American Folklife Center

One week before the fall roundup, the buckaroos, as cowboys are known in this region, packed their gear and traveled from the Ninety-Six Ranch in the valley to a line camp in the mountains. The (line) camps along the trail were located near a spring or stream, and consisted of a permanent cabin with a wood-burning cookstove and bunks, a fenced area to hold the cavvy (a string of horses), a place to store hay, and a corral where the day’s mounts were caught and saddled.

A buckaroo’s day started early during roundup time. At 5:30 in the morning, the buckaroos ate breakfast, put away bedrolls, and began to gather the cattle that they found throughout the range. It took three days to round up the cattle and three more days for the trail drive back to the ranch.

Chuck Wheelock on Horse [Ninety-Six Ranch, Nevada]. Howard W. Marshall, photographer, May 1978. Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982. American Folklife Center

During part of the year, the herds grazed on public land managed either by the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Department of the Interior, or on lands overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture. The federal land managers followed detailed regulations governing the date upon which a herd could come onto the land, the date for the roundup, and the permitted herd size, expressed in “Animal Unit Months”(AUMs).

Cattle and Newly-Wattled Calves [Quinn River Line Camp]. Carl Fleischhauer, photographer, June 1978. Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945 to 1982. American Folklife Center

Buckaroos used a variety of techniques to move the animals. To drive cattle from a thicket, they made noisy cattle calls—perhaps by banging on a tin can or by shaking a can full of stones. They were always careful not to cause a stampede. Cowboys often rode to a site above the cattle and positioned themselves out of sight, then rode down the hill so that the cattle would move in the desired direction. Activities such as card playing, conversation, good food, and, even frisbee, provided recreation along the trail.

At the end of the roundup, any calves born during the summer or overlooked in the spring were branded, and the marketable cattle sold. During the winter, the remaining herd, mostly cows, was fed hay and kept in nearby pastures. In the spring, with the birth of new calves and a turnout to the grazing range, the cycle began again.

Learn More