Finding information about the University of Massachusetts Boston can be as complex and challenging as the structure and history of the university itself or as simple as checking UMass Boston Fast Facts or the History of UMass Boston. The object of this research guide is to bring together resources available in or through the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston, primarily the University Archives and Special Collections department, for researching questions about the history of UMass Boston.
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The city of Boston has long been known as a center for higher education with thirty-five colleges, universities, and community colleges currently located within the city limits. Until the middle of the twentieth century, these were private institutions that were inaccessible to many of Boston’s young men and women of a lower socioeconomic status. However, during the 1960s, an unprecedented growth in both enrollment and the diversity of students who were attending universities and colleges highlighted the need for a public university in Boston. Students were coming from more diverse backgrounds and pushed for a democratized higher education system. In 1963-1964, there were just over 170,000 students enrolled in Massachusetts colleges and universities. Of this number, 78.2% attended private institutions and 21.8% attended institutions in the public sector. This private/public ratio was dramatically different than that of the national trends, where enrollment in public higher education institutions at this time far outnumbered those attending private institutions.
The University of Massachusetts was the only public university in the state and it was located in Amherst -- nearly 100 miles away from the state capital and largest city. In 1964, UMass Amherst had rejected 1,400 applicants from Boston and thus sparked the campaign to fund an affordable, public university to provide higher education to a wide population of students who could not afford the hefty prices of the private colleges. On June 16, 1964, the Massachusetts State Legislature established a Boston campus for the overburdened University of Massachusetts in order to solve their enrollment issues and the absence of a public university within Boston, a city saturated with private colleges and universities. This newly minted school became the second university in what is now the UMass system with an appropriation of $200,000 from the state. Until this point, UMass Amherst had been the only public university in the state and it was nearly 100 miles away.
The University of Massachusetts Boston’s first home was the former Boston Gas Company building located at 100 Arlington Street in the Park Square section of downtown Boston. The first class of students fulfilled the mission to provide educational opportunities to students in Boston who otherwise, due to social or financial constraints, would be left out of higher education. Of the 1,240 students all but five were Massachusetts residents. The campus officially opened on September 9, 1965 and was located downtown for the next ten years.
Although the buildings were cramped and offered few amenities, application numbers continued to grow. The typical UMass Boston student was not the fresh from high school matriculant, but was older with an average age of twenty-three. Vietnam veterans and African American students were particularly drawn to UMass Boston more than any other university in the city and through the 1960s, their matriculation numbers continued to grow. Today, UMass Boston still remains one of the most racially and ethnically diverse universities in the United States and still attracts vast numbers of veterans.
The downtown campus was ideal as a location with the different subway lines and buses converging in the area, but the buildings were not ideal for building a university campus. The library was located down the street in a building that was originally an armory for the First Corps of Cadets, a Massachusetts military organization established in 1741, now known as “The Castle at Park Plaza.” Expansion of the downtown campus would only further scatter the student population. In 1968, it was announced that a new location was being sought to build a campus that would suit the needs of a growing university, and its faculty, administration, and students. Despite student and faculty protests to remain in the downtown location, Columbia Point was eventually chosen as the site on which to build a cohesive campus with all the amenities expected for a college campus, such as an athletic facility, a well-stocked library, student lounges, and cafeterias.
Resistance was not isolated to the students and faculty once the Columbia Point location was chosen. Residents there feared that the influx of students would drive their rents up and push them out of their neighborhood as had been seen in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood with Boston University’s campus expansions. With help from the Columbia Point Community Development Council and the Dorchester United Neighborhood Association, residents were eventually assuaged and building began. The new campus opened its doors in January 1974, and the university community settled into McCormack and Wheatley halls, the Science Center, the Healey Library, and the Quinn Administration Building.
In 1982, the Board of Regents of Higher Education announced a merger of Boston State College and UMass Boston. Economic pressures dictated budget cutbacks for the two schools and a merger would help solve financial constraints and expand the degree offerings of UMass Boston. Although the merger happened quickly, it was not a smooth transition as hoped. UMass Boston decided to eliminate duplicate programs and only brought on programs that did not have an equivalent at the Columbia Point campus, such as education, nursing and many graduate studies programs. In the end, this merger gave UMass Boston the push to expand its degree offerings and become a larger part of the community which resulted in a strengthening of public higher education in Massachusetts and boosted its enrollment.
Feldberg, M. (2015). UMass Boston at 50: A fiftieth-anniversary history of the University of Massachusetts Boston. LD3234.M27 F45 2015.
Search the UMBrella for books and other publications about UMass Boston. Search for terms like "UMass Boston" and "University of Massachusetts Boston." To generate a list of more specific search results, click "Edit Search" and then click the "Advanced" tab. Try filtering your search term by title or subject, and choosing different options under type or format.
Click the links below to view digitized copies of UMass Boston course catalogs and course schedules from 1965-2012, which are available through the Internet Archive.
Search and browse the UMass Boston Memories - Oral History Collections, which preserve recollections and oral history interviews contributed by members of the University of Massachusetts Boston community through formal and informal collection projects.
Research guide created by Corinne Zaczek Bermon, Archives Assistant, September 2016.