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Graduate work is not merely courses and laboratories; rather that it is always a new form of human relation with knowledge. -Dean Clarence S. Yoakum, first Dean of Rackham Graduate School

The University of Michigan was among the first research universities in the United States. Graduate study was central to the University’s commitment to advance knowledge through the production of original research and the training of students for independent and original scholarship and investigation. Michigan’s first Master of Arts degree was conferred in 1849 and the first Ph.D.s were conferred in 1876-the first doctorates awarded by a public university in the United States. As more students elected to pursue advanced degrees, the need was recognized to administer graduate work in a systematic way. In 1912 a separate Graduate Department was created that was independent of the University’s individual academic units.

The next transformation of graduate education at U-M came a few years later with the generosity of Horace and Mary Rackham. Horace H. Rackham was an attorney who drew up the papers of incorporation for the Ford Motor Company. He became one of the original twelve shareholders of Ford and a member of the Board of Directors. Upon his retirement, Horace and Mary Rackham made philanthropy their chief interest. His will set aside a portion of their wealth to establish the Horace and Mary Rackham Fund to “carry out and administer the benevolent, charitable, educational, and scientific trust created by Horace H. Rackham to promote the health, welfare, happiness, education, training, and development of men, women and children… regardless of race, in the world….”

In 1935, Mary Rackham worked with President Alexander Ruthven to endow the Graduate School to support fellowship and research support, as well as funds for a building that would bring faculty and graduate students together for intellectual exchange across disciplinary boundaries. The Rackham Fund’s trustees also allocated a $4 million endowment to fund faculty research and fellowship support in the Graduate School. At the time, the Endowment was the largest gift ever in support of graduate education in the United States.

Since the mid 19th century, the University of Michigan has championed graduate education as essential to meeting society’s needs. Written for the centennial of the Graduate School in 2012, the Timeline of Graduate Education provides a decade-by-decade narrative summary from the 1840s. A much shorter presentation of our rich history is covered in A Chronicle of Graduate Education 1845 to 1982.