A University in the Wilderness: Building a Community and Culture at the New University of California by Karen Merritt


When the University of California moved to a permanent campus site in Berkeley, many described what they found there as a wilderness.  Early faculty and students proceeded to build a campus and community, creating clubs, musical groups, fraternities, and athletics.  This experience is brought to life in this essay through contemporary memoirs and campus publications, notably, the papers of a leading university family, Joseph Le Conte with his son, J.N. Le Conte, and youngest daughter, Carrie Le Conte.  Through these sources, we can glimpse student life between 1880, when Carrie matriculated, and 1891, when J.N. graduated.  The burgeoning campus culture embraced a distant wilderness too.  The Le Conte family joined other university folks in spending summers camping in Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.  Many UC scientists, like the Le Contes, blended recreation with field research and education in the mountains.  When John Muir went looking for advocates to form a “Yosemite defense association” to protect the newly created national park, he found ready organizers and supporters from the university built in the wilderness to help him form the Sierra Club.

Publication date: 
August 6, 2017
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
A UNIVERSITY IN THE WILDERNESS: Building a Community and Culture at the New University of California by Karen Meritt, UC Berkeley, CSHE 9.17 (July 2017)