Classes began Sept. 16, 1890, with about 70 students over a hardware store on the Denton town square
Classes began Sept. 16, 1890, with about 70 students over a hardware store on the Denton town square (the building is pictured in the 1930s).

Thirteen decades ago on Sept. 16, 1890, Joshua C. Chilton established the Texas Normal College and Teacher Training Institute in a little prairie town known as Denton. The school's opening was modest -- 70 students attended classes in a rented space above a hardware store nestled among other small businesses on the downtown Square. "It will be our aim," Chilton said at the time, "to become leaders in the education of the young men and women of Texas, fitting them to creditably fill the most important positions in business and professional circles."

So that's where we started. But where are we now -- and where are we headed?

For UNT, "130" isn't a number -- it's a legacy. From those humble beginnings, we've expanded in both size and reputation, with our forward-looking approach to academics and innovation gaining us recognition at the state, national and global levels.

Growth in Enrollment and Opportunity
In 1956, UNT began integrating campus at the undergraduate level, including athletics programs.
In 1956, UNT began integrating campus at the undergraduate level, including athletics programs.

That dedication to innovation has only grown more crucial as the university community has ballooned over the years from 70 to more than 40,000 students who hail from 141 countries. Nearly 70 years after UNT enrolled its first African American students, the university continues to meet the criteria of being designated a Minority-Serving Institution, and this year, UNT was designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

On June 2, 1919, UNT conferred its first four-year bachelor's degrees to five graduates. This year, more than 10,000 students earned their degrees -- going on to become part of UNT's current network of 448,000 alumni -- and just as in 1919, many students found themselves concluding their college careers in the midst of a pandemic.

Degrees That Make a Difference

Though it started as a teacher's college, UNT began to establish its reputation in other areas as early as the 1920s, when the beloved 'Fessor Floyd Graham presented the first Saturday Night Stage Shows, a tradition that continued into the 1960s and helped spread the fame of the university's music program.

By 1935, the first graduate work was offered in the sciences, education, economics and liberal arts, and the first doctoral degree was awarded in 1953 to Harold Hitt, who earned a Doctor of Education in administrative leadership.

Now, UNT is a leader in 230 degree programs-- with 89 ranked among the nation's top 100 -- and offers classes on its Denton and Frisco campuses, as well as online.

Additionally, the university has partnered with top local companies -- including the Dallas Cowboys, Toyota and others -- to provide students with hands-on experiences in their desired fields.

Real-world Research

The first funded faculty research began in 1935 with the work of J.K.G. Silvey, who researched the microorganisms responsible for changes in the taste and odor of city water supplies. In the years since, UNT's commitment to interdisciplinary research endeavors has led to its status as a Tier One research university, making it one of only 131 universities to earn that elite designation. Last year, the Texas Legislature awarded UNT's Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing $10 million.

What's Ahead?

The university has doubled down on its continued commitment to the expansion of opportunities in such realms as academics, research, athletics and social engagement, which includes advancing diversity and inclusion on campus. To accomplish all of that means we have to do what we've always done -- and heed the words uttered by Chilton 130 years ago.

"Let's be extraordinary," UNT President Neal Smatresk says, "in rising together to help our students thrive."

Learn more about UNT's history and listen to episode 14 of UNT Pod that looks at the most unusual items in UNT's Special Collections.