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Charles Bessey

Dean, Industrial College; Dean of Deans; Professor of Botany

Related Buildings

Nebraska Hall (Old)

Bessey Hall

Without question, the most important and influential faculty member to serve the University in 19th century was Charles Edwin Bessey. Bessey left Iowa State and joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska in 1884 as Dean of the Industrial College and Professor of Botany. In the course of his long career at Nebraska, he was instrumental in shaping the University as a whole, both physically and academically. At least partially due to Bessey's national reputation, the Univesity was admitted into the prestigious American Association of Universities. The years that Bessey spent on the faculty were years of great prestige for the University of Nebraska.

Bessey was, at heart, a teacher and a scholar. Popular with students and other faculty alike, he championed a modern University, one in which students could pursue course work of their choosing. He was called three times to serve as Interim Chancellor, a position to which he clearly did not aspire. While his preference was to conduct his research and shape the minds of students, he wielded political influence within and outside of the University. The Hatch Act, which established the federal system of Agricultural Experiment Stations, was written in part by Bessey. When the University outgrew its original boundaries, it was Bessey who suggested that the campus be removed to the farm location. Although this notion was ultimately defeated by voters in 1915, only Bessey had the foresight and influence to suggest something so radical.

Bessey spent over 30 years at the University of Nebraska. He served as a mentor to many students who would go on to enjoy brilliant careers, including Roscoe Pound. Even before his death, University administrators hoped to name a new science building in his honor. Construction on Bessey Hall began in 1915, just months after Bessey's death, as the home to Botany and Zoology.

Source Information:
Prairie University, by Robt. Knoll. U of NE Press, 1995.
NE Dept of Education Notable Nebraskans website.