UTHealth launches 'Bout Time Blog

November 11, 2013


On November 7, UTHealth unveiled a new blog, titled "'Bout Time," authored by McGovern Center faculy member Dr. Bryant Boutwell. Dr. Boutwell is the John P. McGovern Professor of Oslerian Medicine and a Distinguished Teaching Professor. He has authored books on the history of Houston and the Texas Medical Center, and will share his depth of knowledge with the UTHealth community through his blog.

Blog post originally posted on 'Bout Time.

"Ashbel Smith, MD, and The University of Texas System"

In the shadow of the Texas Medical Center just south of Rice Stadium on Greenbriar is an outstanding HISD elementary school named Roberts Elementary. Over the years many UTHealth faculty and staff (including this writer) have sent their children to Roberts but few probably recognize the connection the school's namesake has to our UT heritage.

Oran Milo Roberts (1815-1898) was a two-term governor of Texas first elected in 1878. Among his last official tasks as governor was to sign into being "The University of Texas." He was acting on the state's new 1876 constitution adopted with Article VII that provided, "The Legislature shall as soon as practicable, establish, organize, and provide for the maintenance, support, and direction of a university of the first class, to be located by a vote of the people of this State, and styled "The University of Texas." Legislature also vested the UT Board of Regents with full authority for the governance and oversight of the new university.

The year was 1883 and only two years earlier, in 1881, a statewide election was held on Sept. 6 to determine what city the new state university would be placed and where the university's new medical department would call home. Roberts coordinated the vote count and as we know today Austin and Galveston got the respective nods.

Over the years, that small UT campus in Austin that opened its doors Sept. 15, 1883 with 221 students (48 were women) and eight male faculty, has made great strides. The University of Texas System with nine academic campuses and six health components has evolved into a state and national treasure. Oran Roberts not only signed the enabling legislation to create The University of Texas, he appointed one unique and talented man as the first president (later changed to chairman) of the UT Board of Regents. His name was Ashbel Smith, M.D.

As we pause to recognize the many contributions of our UT System on Nov. 8, it is important to take a moment and remember this versatile man who came to Texas in the early days of the Republic and made invaluable contributions as a physician, educator, diplomat, surgeon general of the Army of the Republic of Texas, Civil War veteran of Shiloh, and conservationist elected first president of the Texas State Agricultural Society.

Names like Houston, Bowie, Travis, Milam, and Lamar got the headlines of the day but it was a Yale-trained physician named Smith who turned their heads and got their ear. It would be Smith, not Roberts, who would command the respectful title of "father of The University of Texas."

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