The University of Houston began as Houston Junior College. On March 7, 1927, trustees of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution that authorized the founding and operating of a junior college. The junior college was operated and controlled by HISD.
Originally HJC was located in San Jacinto High School and offered only night courses. Its first session began March 7, 1927 with an enrollment of 232 students and 12 faculty. This session was primarily held to educate the future teachers of the junior college, and no freshmen were allowed to enroll. A more accurate date for the official opening of HJC is September 19, 1927, when enrollment was opened to all persons having completed the necessary educational requirements. The first president of HJC was Edison Ellsworth Oberholtzer, who was a dominant force in establishing the junior college.
The junior college became eligible to become a university in October 1933 when Governor Miriam A. Ferguson signed House Bill 194 into law. On April 30, 1934, HISD’s Board of Education adopted a resolution to make the school a four-year institution, and Houston Junior College changed its name to the University of Houston.
The school’s first session as a four-year institution began June 4, 1934 while still located at San Jacinto High School. Enrollment at that time was 682. The next fall, the campus was moved to the South Main Baptist Church on Main Street between Richmond Avenue and Eagle Street, where it stayed for the next five years. In May of 1935, the institution as a university held its first commencement at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
In 1936, philanthropists Julius Settegast and Ben Taub donated 110 acres to the university for use as a permanent location. At this time, there was no road that led to the land tract, but in 1937, the city added Saint Bernard Street, which was later renamed to Cullen Boulevard. It would become a major thoroughfare of the campus. As a project of the National Youth Administration, workers were paid fifty cents an hour to clear the land. In 1938, Hugh Roy Cullen donated $335,000 for the first building to be built at the location. Thus, the Roy Gustav Cullen Memorial Building was dedicated on June 4, 1939, and classes began the next day. The first full semester of classes began officially on Wednesday, September 20, 1939.
The following year, the university had about 2,500 students. As World War II approached, enrollment decreased due to the draft and enlistments.
On March 12, 1945, Senate Bill 207 was signed into law, removing the control of the University of Houston from HISD and placing it into the hands of a board of regents. In 1945, the university, which had grown too large and complex for the Houston school board to administer, became a private university.
In March 1947, the regents authorized creation of a law school at the university. By 1951, UH had become the second-largest university in the State of Texas and was the fastest growing university in the United States. In 1953, however, the university as a private institution was facing financial troubles. Tuition failed to cover rising costs, and in turn, tuition increases caused a drop in enrollment.
After a lengthy battle between supporters of the University of Houston, led by school president A.D. Bruce, and forces from state universities geared to block the change, Senate Bill 2 was passed on May 23, 1961, enabling the university to enter the state system in 1963.