Section 1: History and Mission of the University

History of Florida State University

Florida State University, one of the largest and oldest of the 12 institutions of higher learning in the State University System of Florida, had its beginning as early as 1823 when the Territorial Legislature began to plan a higher education system. In 1825, the Federal Government reserved two townships for the purpose of maintaining institutions of higher education in the territory. On March 3, 1845, the U.S. Congress, in an act supplemental to the act admitting Florida as a state in the Union, added two more townships. These townships were granted to the State for the use of two seminaries of learning, one to be located east and the other west of the Suwannee River.

The Legislature of the State of Florida in a Legislative Act of January 24, 1851, provided for the establishment of the two institutions of learning, their first purpose to be “the instruction of persons, both male and female, in the art of teaching all the various branches that pertain to a good common school education; and next to give instruction in the mechanic arts, in husbandry, in agricultural chemistry, in the fundamental laws, and in what regards the rights and duties of citizens.”

By 1854, the City of Tallahassee had established a school for boys called the Florida Institute with the hope the State could be induced to take it over as one of the seminaries. In the 1854 session of the Legislature of Florida, the City of Tallahassee presented a memorial asking that the institution west of the Suwannee be located in that city.

That effort was not successful, but in 1856, the Intendant (Mayor) of Tallahassee again offered the Institute’s land and building to the Legislature. Francis Eppes, who spent his formative years on the estate of his grandfather President Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in Virginia and shared his views of the importance to a democracy of a liberally educated citizenry, was the Mayor of Tallahassee who made the offer. This time they chose to accept the offer and designated Tallahassee as the site of one of the state seminaries because of its railway connections, its “salubrious climate,” and its “intelligent, refined, and moral community.” The bill to locate the Seminary in Tallahassee passed both houses and was signed by the Governor on Jan. 1, 1857.

On February 7, 1857, the first meeting of the Board of Education of the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was held, and the institution began offering postsecondary instruction to male students. Francis Eppes served as President of the Seminary’s Board of Education for eight years and instilled in the institution the Jeffersonian ideals, which characterize it today. The school first became co-educational the following year (1858) when it absorbed the Tallahassee Female Academy, begun in 1843 as the Misses Bates School. Thus the West Florida Seminary, founded in 1851, began operating in 1857, only 12 years after Florida achieved statehood. It was located on the hill where the Westcott Building now stands, which has been the site of an institution of higher education longer than any other site in Florida.

Classes were held at the West Florida Seminary from 1857 until 1863, when the state Legislature changed the name to The Florida Military and Collegiate Institute to reflect the addition of a military section, which trained cadets. During the Civil War, cadets from the school, ranging in age from 12 to 18, fought in the Battle of Natural Bridge and helped make Tallahassee the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not captured during the war. As a result of the brave action of the West Florida cadets in this battle, the Florida State University Army ROTC cadet corps today is one of only three in the nation authorized to display a battle streamer with its flag, which bears the words NATURAL BRIDGE 1865. After the end of the war in 1865, however, Union troops under General McCook descended upon Tallahassee and occupied the city (including campus buildings), remaining for more than a month.

Following the war, the institution entered a period of growth and development. In 1884, the first diplomas, Licentiates of Instruction, were awarded, and by 1891 the Institute had begun to focus clearly on what we would today call post-secondary education; seven Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded that year.

By 1897, the institution had evolved into the first liberal arts college in the state, and in 1901, it became Florida State College, a four-year institution organized in four departments: the College, the School for Teachers, the School of Music, and the College Academy. Florida State College was empowered to award the degree of Master of Arts, and the first master’s degree was offered in 1902. That year, the student body numbered 252 men and women, and degrees were available in classical, literary and scientific studies. In 1903, the first university library was begun. The following quote from the 1903 Florida State College Catalogue adds an interesting footnote to this period:

In 1883, the institution, now long officially known as the West Florida Seminary, was organized by the Board of Education as The Literary College of the University of Florida. Owing to lack of means for the support of this more ambitious project, and owing to the fact that soon thereafter schools for technical training were established, this association soon dissolved. It remains to be remarked, however, that the legislative act passed in 1885, bestowing upon the institution the title of the University of Florida, has never been repealed. The more pretentious name is not assumed by the college owing to the fact that it does not wish to misrepresent its resources and purposes.

In a 1905 reorganization of Florida’s educational system by the Legislature, six state institutions of higher learning were consolidated into two when the University of Florida in Gainesville was established and designated a men’s school and the Florida State College became a women’s school called the Florida Female College. The male student body moved from Tallahassee to Gainesville, taking with it the fraternity system and the college football team, which had been state champions in 1902, 1903 and 1905.

In 1909, the name of the college was changed to Florida State College for Women, an institution which grew to become the third largest women’s college in the nation during the 1930s. The College became fully accredited in 1915, and a chapter of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi was installed in 1924, the same year the College was placed on the list of standard colleges and universities approved by the Association of American Universities, and became a member of the Association of American Colleges. In 1935, the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in the state, Alpha Chapter of Florida, was installed at the College, a mark of its status as a true liberal arts college.

The year 1947 saw many changes. Demand by returning World War II veterans had brought men back to the campus in 1946 with the establishment of the Tallahassee Branch of the University of Florida, and on May 15, 1947, the Governor signed an act of the Legislature returning Florida State College for Women to coeducational status and naming it The Florida State University. A permanent president’s residence was acquired. The student body, numbering 4,056, chose a new alma mater and selected the Seminole as their mascot. The Flying High Circus was born, and football was started again when the first home game since 1905 was played in October. Three years later, Campbell Stadium was built. The first Student Union was established and housed in the “O Club” on West Campus, a former Army Air Base that housed mainly men students and provided some classroom space three miles west of the main campus.

The 1950s brought further development and expansion to the University. To the colleges and schools that had existed since the Florida State College days (Arts and Sciences, Education, Home Economics, and Music) were added: Library Science, Social Welfare (later split into Social Work and Criminology), Business, Journalism (discontinued in 1959), and Nursing.

A student in the Department of Chemistry was awarded the University’s first Ph.D. in 1952. A new building was completed for the Developmental Research School, which in 1905 had evolved from the High School and the College Academy of earlier days as the Observation and Practice School, created to provide on-site opportunities for experience and research to students in Education. Tully Gymnasium, Strozier Library and the Business Building were completed to enhance the education of the ever-increasing student population.

In the 1960s, the University acquired the Shaw Poetry Collection, established the institutes of Molecular Biophysics and Space Biosciences, and constructed nine new buildings, including the Oglesby Union and the Fine Arts Building. During this period, the Panama Canal Branch was opened, and the Program in Medical Sciences was established. The first black student enrolled in 1962, and the first black Ph.D. candidates graduated in 1970. Programs in African American Studies and Women’s Studies were established. Continuing the liberal arts tradition begun in the 1890s, the Liberal Studies Program required of all undergraduates was expanded and strengthened.

Before 1887, the institution’s chief executive officer had the title Principal, but this was changed to President with the appointment of George Edgar in 1887. He was followed by Alvin Lewis in 1892 and Dr. A. A. Murphree in 1897. Dr. Murphree, who came to the Seminary in 1896, became president of Florida Female College in 1905. When he left to become president of the University of Florida in 1909, Dr. Edward Conradi became president of Florida State College for Women. In 1941, Dr. Doak S. Campbell became president. When Dr. Campbell retired as president of The Florida State University on June 30, 1957, Dr. Albert B. Martin served as acting president until September 1, 1957, when Dr. Robert Strozier became president. At Dr. Strozier’s death in April of 1960, Dr. Milton W. Carothers became acting president to serve until Dr. Gordon Blackwell took over the duties of president on September 16, 1960.

On Feb. 1, 1965, Dr. John E. Champion became acting president replacing Dr. Blackwell, who resigned. Dr. Champion was named president on June 22, 1965; he resigned February 17, 1969, and Dr. J. Stanley Marshall was appointed acting president on the same date. On June 6, 1969, the Board of Regents named Dr. Marshall President; he resigned August 31, 1976. Dr. Bernard Francis Sliger became Interim President on Dr. Marshall’s resignation, and on Feb. 7, 1977, the Board of Regents named Dr. Sliger President. At the Fall Meeting of the General Faculty on September 18, 1990, the Dean of the Faculties read a statement on Dr. Sliger’s behalf announcing his resignation as president effective August 1, 1991. On March 11, 1991, Dr. Dale W. Lick was designated to succeed Dr. Sliger as president on August 1, 1991. After Dr. Lick’s resignation on Aug. 31, 1993, Dr. Sliger was again named Interim President. On Novrmber 29, 1993, H. Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte was designated president effective January 3, 1994. He was succeeded by President Thomas K. “T.K.” Wetherell on January 6, 2003. President Eric Barron took the position of 14th president on February 1, 2010 and left to become the President of Pennsylvania State University in 2014. President John Thrasher assumed the presidency in November of that year.

In each succeeding decade, Florida State University has added to its academic organization and presently is comprised of eighteen independent colleges and two independent schools. It has expanded from the original few acres and buildings to over 536 buildings on 1,587 acres, including the downtown Tallahassee main campus of 474 acres, a farm which for many decades supplied the Florida State College for Women with food, the Seminole Reservation--a recreational facility, the Coastal and Marine Laboratory on the Gulf Coast, the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering facility, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and Division of Research at Innovation Park, and the branch campuses in Panama City, Florida and FSU-Panama in Panama City, Panama. Florida State University started the 2017-2018 academic year with a student population of 41,900 and recognition as a major graduate research institution with an established international reputation.

Steve Edwards, Dean of the Faculties Emeritus, Sep. 2, 2003 [last paragraph updated September 2018]

Source of updated information: Florida State University Office of Institutional Research

The Tallahassee Community

Brief History

The Apalachee Indians lived in north Florida from 500 through the 1600s. In 1539, Hernando de Soto spent the first Christmas in the New World in the woods near where the present state capital is located. As more Spanish colonists entered the region, disease and fighting reduced their population and the Apalachee Indians left; thus, the name “Tallahassee” was given to the area, which is an Apalachee Indian word meaning “abandoned fields” or “old town.”

When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822, both St. Augustine and Pensacola, the major cities in Florida at the time, competed to be the capital of the state. Unable to come to an agreement, it was decided to locate the capital at a point between the two cities.

The Florida Legislature Office of Estimating and Demographic Research estimated the population of Leon County to be 286,272 in 2015 (last official estimate). The median age was 29.6, making it the second youngest county in Florida. Leon County’s educational level is the highest in the state. Median family income in Leon County according to the 2000 Census ranks it seventh highest among Florida’s 67 counties. Leon County is a racially diverse county with minorities accounting for one-third of the population.

Sources: Tallahassee, Favored Land by Mary Louise Ellis and William Warren Rogers United States Census Bureau

Community Facilities

For more information on Leon County and the surrounding communities, please contact the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

University Mission Statement

The current mission statement was released as part of Florida State University’s Strategic Plan for 2017- 2022. 


Florida State University preserves, expands, and disseminates knowledge in the sciences, technology, arts, humanities, and professions, while embracing a philosophy of learning strongly rooted in the traditions of the liberal arts. The university is dedicated to excellence in teaching, research, creative endeavors, and service. The university strives to instill the strength, skill, and character essential for lifelong learning, personal responsibility, and sustained achievement within a community that fosters free inquiry and embraces diversity.

Core Values

Transformative Daring: We support thoughtful risk-taking that leads to successes that improve our world dramatically. And when we face challenges, we confront them with resilience, curiosity, and renewed desire to overcome hurdles to our goals.

Inspired Excellence: We achieve the highest levels of success by drawing strength and understanding from the talents of those around us and from our interactions with them.

Dynamic Inclusiveness: We believe the benefits of a richly varied community arise not only from the diversity of people it includes, but more importantly from intentional efforts to create a strong sense of belonging that encourages deep and high-quality connections.

Responsible Stewardship: We transform the resources we are given and the public’s trust in us into powerful impact that betters the lives of those around us, near and far.

Engaged Community: We uphold the traditions and history that create a small-college culture within a large university. This makes FSU a welcoming place where people discover others like themselves—while also connecting to and learning from classmates and colleagues of vastly different backgrounds and experiences.


Florida State University will be among the nation’s most entrepreneurial and innovative universities, transforming the lives of our students and shaping the future of our state and society through exceptional teaching, research, creative activity, and service. We will amplify these efforts through our distinctive climate—one that places a premium on interdisciplinary inquiry and draws from the rich intellectual and personal diversity of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. These three forces—entrepreneurship, interdisciplinarity, and diversity—deepen FSU’s impact and result in a powerful return to our students and the people of Florida for their continued support and trust.

Legacy Sort
Legacy Priority
title-inside title-centered