UA History

'A' Mountain

'A' Mountain, 1916.It was a sensational 7-6 Arizona football victory over Pomona College on Thanksgiving Day, November 6, 1914, that led to the building of the "A" on Sentinel Peak, west of Tucson.

In what was doubtless a burst of enthusiastic pride for his alma mater, Albert H. Condron, a member of the 1914 team and a civil engineering student, suggested to one of his professors that a class assignment be made to survey Sentinel Peak for the location of an "A".

The site was cleared of shrubbery and cactus, trenches dug to outline the letter's foundations, rock at hand was mixed with mortar and water hauled up the mountain by six-horse teams. The total cost of materials, equipment, and transportation was $397. The back-breaking work was done by the students themselves, Saturday after Saturday, with many difficulties and discouragements, but the "A" was finally whitewashed on March 4, 1916. No one called it Sentinel Peak anymore. It was known thereafter as "A" Mountain. The "A" is 70 feet wide and 160 feet long (or "tall").

The basalt rock quarried from the construction site was used to build the Rock Wall surrounding most of the university's historic district.

Berger Memorial Fountain

1902. Berger Memorial FountainSituated at the west entrance of Old Main, the Memorial Fountain, honoring those UA students who lost their lives in World War I, was the gift of Alexander Berger, an uncle of Alexander Tindolph Berger, one of those to whose memory it is dedicated.

On January 31, 1920, the Memorial Fountain in front of Old Main was dedicated amid a huge turnout of students, faculty, townspeople, and military who had come to honor the University's World War I dead and to greet the guest of honor, General John J. Pershing. General Pershing's speech was brief and impressive, following which the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon him by President von KleinSmid.

General John J. Pershing

UA Campus

Top: View of Old Main, 1909. Bottom: Steward Observatory, 1923.Top: View of Old Main, 1909.

Bottom: Steward Observatory, 1923.

Button Salmon

Button SalmonIn October 1926, "Button" Salmon, one of the most popular players on the football team and president of the Student Body, was critically injured in an automobile accident on the Phoenix highway. Shortly before his death on October 18, 1926, Athletic Director J. F. McKale visited him, and asked if he had any message for the team. Whether truth or legend, "Button" is reported to have said, "Tell them . . . tell them to bear down".

A year later, in December 1927, the men's junior honorary organization, Chain Gang, sponsored a fund-raising dance to paint "Bear Down" on the roof of the gymnasium. A professional sign painter was hired to outline the letters, and the Chain Gang members filled them in early in 1928.

Bear Down Gym

Polo Team

1924/25 Polo TeamDuring the 1920s and 30s the sport that first brought The University of Arizona national recognition was Polo. The sport was established in 1922 with horses and a coach provided by the military, and with athletes from the school's ROTC unit. The first teams were the target of snide remarks from football and basketball team members, but the detractors soon had to eat their words. The 1924 squad captured the Western Collegiate Championship and traveled to the east coast where it presented President Calvin Coolidge a cowboy hat. They met Princeton for the intercollegiate title, losing 6-2 and 8-0.

The coming of World War II and the conversion of cavalry from horses to mechanized equipment was to spell doom for the sport at the university. Without the financial and personnel support of the U.S. Army and the campus ROTC detachment, the University was unable to continue sponsoring a team.

Old Main Condemned

Old Main CondemnedSince 1938, when it was declared unsafe, Old Main had stood unused and locked up. One could only walk around the lower area under the verandas. There were various proposals and arguments for its demolition but Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, Billy Bray -- after making a survey -- said it would cost more to tear it down than to let it stand.

It was, in the end, the U.S. Navy which kept Old Main from sinking. In September 1942, the Navy awarded a contract for the repair and rehabilitation of the UA's most treasured building for use of the wartime Naval Indoctrination School. The entire structure was refurbished at a cost of $89,000.

Military on Campus

July 1943 Naval flight instructors in the CAA war training service leave their "barracks" in Yavapai HallDuring World War II more than 11,000 men trained at the University for services on land, at sea and in the air. The largest group (10,000) were those in the Naval Training School.

Five hundred bunk beds took over Bear Down gym. The basketball hardwood floor was covered with masonite. Note Navy flags hung from the rafters, and the indoctrinees' personal luggage stored on the balcony seats.

Five hundred bunk beds take over Bear Down gym.

Polo Village

Polo VillageThe ending of World War II and the availability of government financial aid to returning veterans resulted in a flood of young men and women to universities and colleges throughout the country. UA was no exception.

Thousands of servicemen had trained at nearby airfields and, remembering the sunlight and clear skies, came "home" to Tucson -- many accompanied by wives and small children. There was no time to construct additional dormitories to house the new arrivals but the 114 two-family "Quonset huts" and the 5 TDUs (four families each) offered by the Federal Public Housing Authority appeared to be a good "temporary" solution. They rose on the east and west sides of the Polo Field (now UMC).

No one ever imagined that some of these "temporary" dwellings would last for 38 years.

The 70s

May 7, 1970Students gather on the Mall to hear various speakers discuss the war in Southeast Asia, the killing of four students at Kent State University, and the UA student protest demonstrations of the preceding week, which included a brief "takeover" of Old Main and its R.O.T.C. offices.

Protest in Downtown Tucson

Rufus Arizona

1915. Original 'Rufus Arizona'The original wildcat mascot arrived on campus October 17, 1915, and was introduced to the student body the following day at assembly in Herring Hall. He was the gift of the freshman football team who had raised the funds ($9.91) to purchase him. He was officially named "Rufus Arizona", after UA President Rufus B. von KleinSmid.

On April 17, 1916 Rufus died. The Arizona Wildcat reported that: ...while endeavoring to perform gymnastic stunts in the limbs of a tree to which he was tied, Rufus Arizona... fell and was hung."

Note: never tie a feline to a tree. Rufus was memorialized in verse and a Wildcat editorial, which noted that his "growls urged our team to victory" and spoke of his "strength, alertness, tenacity -- the true Arizona spirit." Rufus had several successors in later years.

Old Main

Old Main c. 1890-1899On Oct. 1, 1891, The University of Arizona opened its doors. When the school bell rang that first day of class, Tucson celebrated.

Thirty-two students enrolled for the first semester but only six were admitted to the freshman class. The rest went to a specially established prep school. The problem was there were no high schools in the territory. It took seventeen years for university students to outnumber those in the prep classes. The University maintained the preparatory classes for twenty-three years.

Old Main 1899





How about student life during those years? The students rode their cow ponies to school and tied them to hitching posts near Old Main. Discipline was strict. Running on the balcony of Old Main cost the offending student 10 demerits. In 1892, the dean of students asked the Board of Regents to prohibit the use of firearms on campus. And if a student's class work wasn't going well the problem was immediately taken up by the entire faculty and his parents were called in for a conference.

Old Main 1890

The McKale Era- Building an Athletic Tradition

McKaleMcKale came to Tucson in 1911 to accept a job at Tucson High School. His state championship baseball teams were known for their victories embarrassing the college teams at the UA and Tempe Normal. A student petition was presented to University President A. H. Wilde, asking him to hire McKale as athletic director and coach of all UA sports. Although he was opposed to the hiring, Wilde announced McKale's appointment on June 2, 1914, at a salary of $1,700 per year.

Wilde's successor, Rufus B. von KleinSmid was not much more enthused with the benefits of collegiate athletics, and records for 1915 show that McKale's total appropriation to run his program amounted to $835!

Despite meager resources and an inexperienced group of players, McKale's first football team made history. On Nov. 7, 1914, the team traveled to the west coast to play Occidental, then one of the reigning gridiron powers in California. Occidental won 14-0, but the loss was responsible for a great University athletic tradition -- the "Wildcats". 

"They Fought Like Wildcats" 

Covering the game for the Los Angeles Times was young correspondent Bill Henry. Henry, in his story wrote: "The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats and displayed before the public gaze a couple of little shrimps who defied all attempts of the Tigers to stop them" 

When the news reached the campus the phrase "the fight of wildcats" was repeated over and over. The name stuck. The McKale legend was born.

The Original "Wildcats" -- the 1914 football team.

The First Football Team, 1899

UA Football Team, 1900On Thanksgiving Day, 1899, UA played its first intercollegiate game with the Tempe Normal School (later to become ASU), which had a more seasoned team since it had made an earlier start in football. Tempe won, 11-2, but the loyal local paper thought the University "showed more skill and science . . . . lacked the physical strength . . . the Tempe team outweighed the Tucson team by about one-third."

In time the players got "uniforms": padded canvas pants, old shoes to which a local shoemaker attached cleats, shoulder pads made of old shirts and stuffed into their playing shirts. No head-gear at all. "Training" consisted of getting up early and running four or five miles -- perhaps as far as Fort Lowell and back -- before showering and going to class.

Sage Green and Silver were the colors of The University of Arizona's first football team.

The First Graduating Class, 1895

Mercedes Anna ShibellMercedes Anna Shibell

Mercedes Shibell entered the University as a freshman (matriculation no. 5) in 1891 at the age of 15. Married and widowed twice, she became an early career woman. She studied domestic science in San Francisco and worked for the Y.W.C.A. in food management for a period of 35 years. Her work took her to France for two years during World War I, and later to South America. In 1960 she was honored at the University's 75th Anniversity. She died in Tucson, September 14, 1965 at the age of 90.

Charles Oma Rouse



Charles Oma Rouse
Born in Missouri, arriving in Arizona in 1885, son of an Associate Justice of the U.S. District Court in Florence, Rouse entered the University as a freshman (matriculation no. 4) in 1891 at the age of 14 1/2. After graduation he served as president of the Alumni Association from 1900-1905, and was Pima Country School Superintendent at the time of his death, August 30, 1906.

Mary Flint Walker



Mary Flint Walker
Mary Walker was born in Glasgow, Scotland, from which her family emigrated. Her family came to Arizona when her father, Mark Walker, took the position of foreman and Assistant Horticulturalist at the University in 1891. Mary entered the freshman class (matriculation no. 6) and as our first foreign student in 1891 at the age of 17. After graduation she taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Benson, Arizona. She died on February 3rd, 1968 at the age of 93.

Old Main Interior

Biology classroom, second floor, west side of Old Main. Various teaching tools and equipment were stored in these cabinetsUnfortunately, no interior photographs of Old Main were probably taken when school began in 1891. It is known that besides classrooms, laboratories, and offices, there were some temporary sleeping quarters for faculty and male students, a kitchen and mess hall, space for a territorial weather bureau, and a photographic darkroom. The University was proud of its equipment, both for teaching and research, and took pains to buy from the best suppliers.

c. 1902. Chemistry and Mineralogy Laboratory, first floor, north-east corner of Old Main

The Cactus Garden

Cactus GardenThe University's original cactus garden (located in front of Old Main from 1896 to 1929) was begun by Professor James W. Toumey, the Botanist for the Agricultural Experiment Station, in the fall of 1891. The garden was moved in 1896 to the area shown here. A heart-shaped plot of ground, with a transported soil cover of about twelve inches over a base of solid caliche, it soon developed into a garden of over 600 species, an interesting contrast to the surrounding lawns, shrubs, and trees.

UA Students of the Past

1898. Two students from Preparatory class pose on the porch of East Cottage in what Charles P. Richmond termed "bicycle costumes".

1898. Two students from Preparatory class pose on the porch of East Cottage in what Charles P. Richmond termed "bicycle costumes".  


1900. Usual and accepted transportation for a student picnic in Sabino Canyon in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

c. 1898. Unidentified conversationalists on the steps of East Cottage

St. Patrick's Day "Strike" of 1904

St. Patrick's Day Strike, 1904One of the most photographed and remembered events of the President Babcock's tenure was the famous St. Patrick's Day Strike. A petition addressed to him requesting a full holiday was turned down by the President, who wrote across it in green ink:

I may be 'green' but not so 'green' as this.

In impulsive defiance the male students, most of

them wearing their cadet uniforms, marched downtown and simply took the holiday that had been denied. The story was carried in the newspapers throughout the Territory, enraging many, including Governor Brodie. The ring-leaders were promptly disciplined with extra drills, and some even put to work laying bricks.

Humble Beginnings

1905. The cooking class at work.In late August 1899 the former Horticulturalist's Cottage was remodeled and refurnished for classes in domestic science, and from then until 1908 it was known as the Domestic Science Cottage -- a humble beginning for a later-day School of Home Economics.

1905. Domestic Science Cottage

Dorm Rooms

1903. The first "bunk beds" at UA.The first "bunk beds" at UA. Bottom cot turned upside-down, top cot placed on bottom cot's legs. Probably in South Hall.

Two students sharing a dormitory room in South Hall.

1904. Two students sharing a dormitory room in South Hall.

A Proud Beginning

Jacob S. Mansfield (bottom) & C.C. Stevens (top)The year was 1885 and the mood was mean. The cities and counties needed money and the territorial legislature controlled the purse strings. To make matters worse the members of the 13th Territorial Legislature were known to make decisions, often, for less than ethical reasons. They had earned the nickname, "The Thieving Thirteenth".

There were two major prizes to be won from the legislature that year. Phoenix and Prescott came out on top. Phoenix was given the asylum for the insane and Prescott kept the state capital. Tucson received an unwelcome consolation prize of The University of Arizona, and with it, a measly $25,000 appropriation, just one quarter of the amount Phoenix received to build the insane asylum.

C.C. Stevens was the man sent to Prescott to win the state capital for Tucson. He came home with what he hoped would be welcomed as good news about the University. Instead of celebrating, Tucson responded angrily. Some reports say the people of Tucson greeted him with a shower of ripe eggs, rotten vegetables, and a dead cat. Thus, the very beginning for The University of Arizona wasn't all that proud.

One condition the legislature slapped on Tucson was that the people of Pima County had to donate 40 acres to the University. The response was less than overwhelming. No one offered an inch.

One man decided the time had come to take matters into his own hands. Jacob S. Mansfeld was a member of the new Board of Regents. He took a walk into the desert about a mile east of town and picked out a site for the new university. The land was owned by two professional gamblers, E.B. Gifford and Ben C. Parker, and saloon keeper W.S. "Billy" Read. They weren't all that sure their land was the perfect spot for the new University of Arizona.

Finally, on Nov. 27, 1886, the owners agreed and the deed was filed. A year later, on Oct. 27, 1887, ground was broken for the building that was to be known as Old Main.