In The Making of Florida's Universities: Public Higher Education at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (UP of Florida, 2023), Carl Van Ness describes the remarkable formative years of higher education in Florida, comparing the trajectory to that of other states and putting it in context within the broader history and culture of the South. Central to this story is the Buckman Act of 1905, a state law that consolidated government support to three institutions and prompted decades of conflicts over where Florida’s public colleges and universities would be located, who would head them, and who would manage their affairs.
Van Ness traces the development of the schools that later became the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Florida A&M University. He describes little-known events such as the decision to move the University of Florida from its original location in Lake City, as well as a dramatic student rebellion at Florida A&M University in response to attempts to restrict Black students to vocational education and the subsequent firing of the president in 1923. The book also reflects on the debates regarding Florida’s normal schools, which provided coursework and practical training to teachers, a majority of whom were women. Utilizing rare historical records, Van Ness brings to light events in Florida’s history that have not been examined and that continue to affect higher education in the state today.
Carl Van Ness is university librarian emeritus at the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
Katie Coldiron is based at Florida International University. She is Outreach Program Manager for the Digital Library of the Caribbean at FIU Libraries and doctoral student in the FIU Department of History.