Our History

The story of the University of Missouri-Kansas City is one of obstacles becoming opportunities. It’s a tale of triumph over turmoil. It’s a testament to the power of partnerships – where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The small group of 260 students who began classes at then University of Kansas City (UKC) on Oct. 1, 1933 paved the way for the more than 126,000 graduates who have joined our alumni ranks. And on that opening day, more than 2,000 community members celebrated our campus' beginning in what would become a hallmark of this university's story: civic engagement.

Our university's history is far more than the mile markers of buildings and programs. It's about those who founded it. Those who built it brick by brick. Those who have stood by it. Those who have made a difference within its walls. And those who have left its grounds to make their mark on the world.

A Bold Beginning

To tell the story of UMKC, let's start in the late 1920s, when the country and economy were reeling from the Wall Street crash. Despite that, Kansas City's leaders were determined to move forward and cement the region's future with several bold moves — thus establishing a never-ending mission to provide education in order to supply the city with working professionals who would give back to the community.

One of the first bold moves was local businessman and philanthropist William Volker's 40-acre purchase in 1930 that would become the UKC campus. In just a few short years, UKC established its first library, classrooms, cafeteria and administrative offices — all housed in the Dickey mansion — known today as Scofield Hall.

Continued Growth

While the 1930s were defined by the Great Depression, Volker and Kansas City leaders continued to celebrate huge milestones and growth for its newly established university. Major highlights include:

  • 1933: UKC is officially dedicated on October 1 with 260 students and 18 faculty
  • 1934: Blue and gold are established as the official school colors
  • 1936: 80 students become the first graduating class of UKC and the Alumni Association is established
  • 1937: The Kangaroo, drawn by Walt Disney, becomes the official mascot of UKC

1938 Walt Disney drawing of Kasey Roo

No Signs of Slowing Down

Over the next two decades, UKC made headlines by welcoming the School of Law, which had its beginning in 1895, and establishing the UKC School of Dentistry and the School of Pharmacy. Enrollment also surged as World War II came to an end.

1940s

  • 1941: Swinney gymnasium opens on campus
  • 1945: President Harry Truman receives UKC's first honorary degree on the Quad
  • 1946: Post-war enrollment surges 60 percent in one year
  • 1947: UKC opens admissions to students of all races

1950s

  • 1953: The School of Business Administration is established and KCUR begins broadcasting
  • 1954: The School of Education is founded and intercollegiate athletics kick off with the Kangaroos basketball opener against Rockhurst College
  • 1955: Ground is broken for a new, four-story brick dormitory and Greek life is established on campus
  • 1955: Eleanor Roosevelt speaks at the University Playhouse
  • 1959: The Kansas City Conservatory of Music, established in 1906, joins UKC

A New Era, a New Name

The next two decades were a time of growing political awareness, student and feminist movements, cultural trends and environmentalism. In 1963, after three decades as a private institution, the financial instability of UKC led it to become a part of the University of Missouri System, which today includes:

  • University of Missouri-Columbia (MU)
  • University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL)
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T)
  • University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC)

After the university's historic change, progress continued to follow, with the construction of several halls and the Miller Nichols Library. Other major strides for UMKC included:

1960s-'70s

  • 1964: The Missouri Repertory Theatre is started and is the home of the UMKC professional theater in residence
  • 1967: The Family Center, later renamed the Women's Council, is founded by Martha Jane Starr, and enrollment increases to nearly 8,500 students
  • 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Symposium is established; the principal speaker is Muhammed Ali
  • 1969: The African American Student Union, TAASU, is founded
  • 1970: The School of Medicine opens with 40 students
  • 1978: More than 600 African-American students are enrolled at UMKC
  • 1979: The School of Nursing is established, and the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center is dedicated

UMKC cheerleaders in black and white picture stand in a pyramid

International and Technological Growth

UMKC saw steady growth in several areas throughout the 1980s-'90s. From growing relations with Asian countries to the rapidly changing technology, the university celebrated a lot of exciting accomplishments.

1980s-'90s

  • 1985: Construction on a multi-purpose facility is started at Swinney Recreation Center, and the School of Basic Life Sciences, later renamed the School of Biological Sciences, is established
  • 1986: The UM Board of Curators approves UMKC moving to the NCAA, and Henry W. Bloch provides an endowment to support and name the business school
  • 1987: Men's and women's basketball teams play in NCAA Division I for the first time
  • 1988: The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs Opens
  • 1991: UMKC becomes one of the first recycling sites in Kansas City
  • 1993: First Lady Hillary Clinton visits Hospital Hill
  • 1999: UMKC achieves Carnegie-level Research II status

The Turn of the Century

Although the markets and economy tumbled, this decade marked significant growth for UMKC. Through public and private partnerships, the university opened several new residence halls to accommodate the growing undergraduate student body and the desire for an on-campus college experience.

2000s

  • 2001: The School of Computing and Engineering is created
  • 2003: The LGBT Office is established to serve gay, lesbian and transgender students
  • 2004: Oak Hall opens on the Volker campus as a new suite-style residence hall
  • 2007: The Health Sciences Building opens on Hospital Hill
  • 2009: The Herman and Dorothy Johnson Residence Hall opens, the UMKC Foundation is established and the Durwood Soccer Stadium and Recreational Field opens

2010s

  • 2010: UMKC experiences a dramatic increase in enrollment — rising to 13,500 students — and the new 10,000 square-foot Student Union opens
  • 2013: UMKC is ranked a Best Value College for the second consecutive year by the Princeton Review, and two new buildings open on campus: The Miller Nichols Learning Center and the Henry Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • 2015: The Honors Program becomes the Honors College
  • 2018: A new retail and apartment structure opens at 51st and Oak Street, and crews break ground on a new research center for the School of Computing and Engineering

 Outside of Brookside 51 and UMKC Student Services building

Who We Are Today

UMKC has come a long way since 1929, and we have no plans of slowing down any time soon. Today, UMKC is a unique, thriving university spread across two campuses — and a place that thousands of students from all 50 states and more than 85 countries call their home away from home.

Come visit campus and see for yourself all that makes UMKC what it is today.

Want to know more?

Check out more of these at-a-glance guides to UMKC.

Students in graduation caps and gowns stand with hands over hearts

About UMKC

You've learned how we became the university we are today. Now, discover all the reasons why so many choose us as their home away from home.

Three students presenting as women of color stand together smiling at phone with Kansas City skyline in background

Student Life

Our diverse student population is a huge part of what makes UMKC so great. Get a glimpse into the life of our students and check out all the ways you can get involved.

Student presenting as white male in lab coat and safety glasses holds up and looks at round vial with blue liquid in a lab

UMKC Strategic Plan

Want to know what's in store UMKC's future? Explore our UMKC Strategic Plan - also known as our road map to success — and our vision for the next several years.

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