Timeline of Utrecht University
Although the Dies Natalis of Utrecht University is 26 March 1636, the city of Utrecht already suggested the founding of a university in 1470. The timeline takes you on a tour to the developments the university encountered on its journey.
1470 - 1636: foundation
In 1470, the city of Utrecht proposes to found a university in Utrecht.
In 1580, the city of Utrecht converts to Protestantism, and the libraries of Catholic monasteries and convents are confiscated. A city library is founded.
In 1634, Humanism and the Protestant Reformation form the Utrecht foundation - paid for by the city - for the founding of an Illustrious School.
The Illustrious School uses the 'Groot Kapittelhuis', the Auditorium of the current Utrecht University Hall for its classes.
26 maart 1636: Dies Natalis
In 1636, the provincial government converts the Illustrious School into a university that is authorised to issue academic degrees.
There are seven protestant, mostly foreign professors and a few dozen students, including students from Germany, England and Scotland.
The official language of the classes is Latin.
The university is funded by the city of Utrecht, resulting in a strong connection between the city and the university.
1636 - 1642: first expansions
Classes take place in the 'Kapittelhuis' and - even well into the 19th century - at professors' homes.
In 1636, the 'Catharijnegasthuis' receives the title of academic hospital.
Due to competition from other universities, the university expands in 1639 with a hortus medicus - a medical herb garden on bolwerk Sonnenborgh - and in 1642, an observatory is established in the Smee Tower, which will later also be used for meteorologist observations.
From behind a curtain, Anna Maria van Schurman is the first woman in the Netherlands allowed to attend classes.
In order to entertain the students, a 'maliebaan' is built and a fencing school is founded.
1639 - 1645: intellectual and theological struggle
The revolutionary philosophy by Descartes, among other things about the possibilities of academic knowledge, receives more and more attention, and is introduced at the university in 1639.
On the advice of the strict Christian reformed professor Gisbertus Voetius (Gijsbert Voet, first professor of the university), who rejects this from a moral standpoint, these teachings are quickly banned by the city council.
A few years later, a Cartesian professor is appointed after all.
1723 - 1740: empirical sciences
After Newton, Petrus (Peter) van Musschenbroeck (physician, mathematician, physicist, meteorologist, astronomer) is one of the first to introduce the empirical natural sciences in the Netherlands.
The university expands to approximately 400 students in the eighteenth century.
Science based on certainty receives more and more attention. Besides learning, factually researching/experimenting becomes more and more significant.
The systematics of plants are introduced.
Hortus medicus becomes hortus botanicus and is relocated to a bigger field between the Lange Nieuwstraat and the Nieuwegracht in 1723.
The theatrum academicum is assigned a new location at the Lange Nieuwstraat for the anatomical cutting practicums.
1793 - 1816: students unite
In 1793, the forerunner of the Utrechts Studenten Corps is founded, which also makes the tradition of hazing as a rite of passage a custom.
In 1813, students sign up for the battle against Napoleon and fight for the national interest against the Belgian Insurrection. They are accommodated in separate squads that form the foundation of the Studentenweerbaarheid, from which in 1816 the Utrechts Studenten Corps comes about.
The USC organises lustrum festivities, masquerades and historical processions until the early 20th century, which civilians from the city were also involved in.
In the late 19th century, new incoming students arrive and with them also student societies from different focuses: women, Christian faith, less elitist students.
Today, there are also student societies based on matters like travelling, art and culture, sports or LGBT.
1795 - 1815: from city university to national university
In 1795, the Old Republic of the Netherlands ceases to exist. Tumultuous years follow.
In the French period (1806 - 1813), the university is even briefly demoted to ‘ecole secondaire’ (secondary school).
In 1813, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is declared.
In 1815, three universities receive the title of national university (‘university of applied sciences’): Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht.
Although the general basic year has been abolished by then, students remain required to have broader orientations via the other faculties than just on their chosen degree programmes.
There are now five faculties: Theology, Law, Medicine, Mathematics and Physics, and Reflective Philosophy and Letters.
1850 - 1872: flourishing of natural sciences
A group of professors (Harting, Mulder, Donders, Buys Ballot and Opzoomer) plays a role in the flourishing of the natural sciences and lays the foundation of what is now called the Utrechtse School.
Many various laboratories open as practice rooms for students.
1872 - 1886: impending closing of universities
The Dutch government is short on money and indicates up to three times the desire to reduce the number of universities.
The new building of the Academic Hospital (1871) on the Catharijnesingel boosts the image of the university.
1886: 250 years of Utrecht University
The spaces the university uses are spread across the inner city, which does not provide a clear image to the outside.
The Municipality of Utrecht makes a generous donation for the realisation of a central university building around the Kapittelhuis, the current Utrecht University Hall (Dutch name: Academiegebouw), in which each faculty has one room.
With this donation, the municipality of Utrecht emphasises the interest of the university and enhances its position besides the universities of Leiden and Groningen against impending closure.
The university now counts approximately 800 students.
By now, the classes no longer have to be taught in Latin.
1887 and 1917: female alumni represented
Catharine van Tussenbroek started her degree programme in 1880 and was the first woman to obtain her degree at Utrecht University. She specialised in medicine and obstetrics.
Johanna Westerdijk is the first female professor and first female Professor by Special Appointment of the Netherlands. She was a Professor of Phytopathology (study of plant diseases).
1900 - 1939: democratisation of education
The democratisation of education continues. Education is becoming accessible to more and more people.
1925: veterinary medicine degree
The 'Veeartsenijkundige Hogeschool' merges with the university, resulting in the so far only Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the Netherlands.
1929: first Nobel Prize
The first Nobel Prize for a professor of Utrecht University: Professor Christiaan Eykman (Physiology/Medicine/Vitamin B).
1940 - 1945: resistance versus keeping the university open
Students and one professor rebel in November 1940, when Jewish professors are banned. Professor Victor J. Koningsberger is the first professor in the Netherlands to protest against the blacklisting of Jewish colleagues.
After the blacklisting, Jewish students are also banned from the university.
Multiple students are involved in resistance activities, including Wim Eggink, Frits Iordens and Anne Maclaine Pont.
Rector Magnificus Professor Hugo R. Kruyt and by far most professors choose to keep the university open. Protests are stopped in their tracks. Students feel abandoned by their lecturers, especially after it becomes mandatory for students to sign a so-called declaration of loyalty in 1943.
Less than thirteen percent of the students does not sign and has to go into hiding to avoid being put to work in Germany.
The university can only continue at a slow pace.
1945 - 1969: increases in students and programmes
Population growth and more interest from the middle class result in the number of students before World War II expanding to over 3,000 students.
After 1945, there is a catching up of students who could not continue or enrol in their degree programmes during the war, and the continuing democratisation also results in the further increase of first-generation students.
Changed societal needs result in, among other things, expansion of the possibilities for social studies.
The fields of geography, biology and chemistry have become independent, and the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences is founded.
In 1969, lack of space in the inner city results in the relocation of a number of degree programmes to an area outside the city: De Uithof (1967 - 1988).
1969 - 1970: student protest and representation
After the student protests in 1969, the students gain more representation in 1970 with the Wet Universitaire Bestuursvorming coming into effect. The University Council is founded and the College van Curatoren is replaced by the Executive Board.
As part of the privatisation, the name Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht (RUU) is replaced with Universiteit Utrecht (UU).
From that point onwards, the university also becomes owner of all the buildings.
In terms of students, professors and contacts, the university has always looked beyond the border and for its international image, the name change lines up better with the image the university wants to show: an independent, individual university.
1990 - : interdisciplinary research & education
Thanks to researchers, the university strives more and more for interdisciplinary collaboration.
In 1998, the founding of the University College Utrecht is the first of its kind to link up with these developments.
In 2004, University College Roosevelt follows in Middelburg.
1999: second Nobel Prize
In 1999, Professor Gerard ’t Hooft (Physics/the weak force) and Martinus Veltman receive the Nobel Prize.
2000 - 2025: collaboration towards a sustainable society
Collaborations outside the university expand further and further in the fields of research and education, both locally and internationally.
The number of faculties and subfaculties has been reduced to seven clear columns: Veterinary Medicine, Medicine, Science, Geosciences, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Humanities, and Law, Economics and Governance.
In 2023, Utrecht University counts more than 35,000 students and 8,700 employees, 700 of whom are professors.
Besides the University and the University Medical Center, more and more degree programmes and research institutes are established in the location of De Uithof. The location De Uithof is renamed Utrecht Science Park in 2011.
Equality, diversity and inclusion are held in high regard at Utrecht University. Utrecht University does not differentiate in matters of gender, cultural background and people with or without disabilities.