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University History

HoboDay 1957

Coughlin Campanile, Jack the Jackrabbit, Hobo Day and the Yellow and Blue—all traditions that make SDSU what it is today weren’t on anybody’s minds when the school was founded before South Dakota’s statehood in 1889.

South Dakota State can date its history to 1881, when a board of trustees was constituted on April 4. But the process for establishing what is now the state’s largest university in Brookings was by no means a simple matter. In 1881, the Dakota Territory delegates made a successful trip to Washington, D.C., seeking 72 sections of land set aside in each United States territory to support the universities.

The mission was successful and territorial legislator J.O. Scobey, a Brookings lawyer, went to the legislative session in Yankton with the intention of bringing an economic plum back to his new home. He had his eye on the state penitentiary. However, Sioux Falls claimed that job creator and Scobey brought back second prize—a college.

The legislation approved the creation of a land-grant college in Brookings but provided no funding and required the community to provide 80 acres.

Citizens responded, purchasing a tract northeast of town for $600. In February 1883, Scobey successfully sponsored a bill providing $25,000 in bonds to pay for a campus building. By June 1884, the Board of Regents had been established and George Lilley was offered a contract as the first college president.

historic Jackrabbit mascots

But there was no college yet. The building wasn’t completed until October 1884, with the first classes coming in the preparatory department, which was designed for students no less than 12 years of age who were able to “intelligently render specimens of the grade of Swinton’s Fifth Reader.”

The price was right. Free for all students in the Dakota Territory and $8 a year (in advance) for others.

By fall term 1885, classes began at The Agricultural College of the Dakota Territory with 62 students. With statehood in 1889, the Brookings school officially became a land-grant college. Its name was changed to Dakota Agricultural College and it had 252 students.

On July 1, the name was officially changed to South Dakota State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts. Its common name was State College.

By 1964 the growing school had grown to a university with six academic divisions. State College officially became South Dakota State University July 1, 1964.

Today, SDSU confers degrees from seven colleges representing more than 200 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 37 master’s degree programs, 15 Ph.D. and two professional programs.

In addition to the Brookings campus, the work of the university is carried out at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City and through Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.

historic building on campus