UCLA Spotlight


Edward Dickson, UCLA Founder

  • By Dave Greenwald
  • Published Oct 1, 2001 8:00 AM

On a Fall day in 1917, while World War I was in full swing, an editor and an educator met at Los Angeles' Jonathan Club for a luncheon of historical significance. Over cups of coffee, they welded together two dynamic forces that led to the establishment of the Southern Branch of the University of California — now known as UCLA.

Edward Augustus Dickson was the 38-year-old political editor of the Los Angeles Express, a stocky, square-jawed, determined man. Dickson was the only member of the University of California Board of Regents living south of the Tehachapi Mountains that bisect California.

The other participant in that luncheon was Ernest Carroll Moore, the newly appointed president of the Los Angeles State Normal School. He was to become the first chief executive of UCLA.

Their joint dream encountered opposition that was powerful, stubborn and entrenched in the status quo. But by dint of logic, persuasion and "a little old-fashioned horse trading," they convinced the Regents, committees of the state Legislature and Gov. William D. Stephens that there was an urgent need for a University of California campus in Los Angeles.

The first step was to convert the Normal School's campus on Vermont Avenue into the Southern Branch. But Dickson and Moore never viewed that location as more than temporary. Their search for a permanent site led them to Westwood. Dickson then spearheaded the successful drive for bond issues to purchase the Westwood property and to erect the original buildings. We know these buildings as Royce Hall, Powell Library, Kinsey Hall and Haines Hall, the historic heart of the UCLA campus.

Edward Augustus Dickson was a true visionary. In his slim memoir, "The University of California at Los Angeles," he wrote: "When I first received my appointment [as a Regent], there was no visible evidence of the University of California in this area. There did exist, however, a growing demand for higher educational facilities and I early came to the conclusion that this need must be met sooner or later."

Born in Sheboygan, Wis., in August 1879, Dickson graduated from UC Berkeley in 1901. After a year spent teaching in Japan, he returned to the U.S. and launched his journalism career as a reporter with the Sacramento Record-Union, the San Francisco Chronicle and finally the Los Angeles Express. He was 33 when he was appointed to the Board of Regents, a body on which he served for 43 years — the longest tenure in UC history — until 1956, the year of his death at age 76.

Said Chancellor Albert Carnesale of the man whose vision gave birth to UCLA: "Of all the pioneers who made their mark on this university, none was more influential than Edward Augustus Dickson. ... We can speculate as to whether today's UCLA is the institution that Dickson envisioned ... certainly he would be proud of what UCLA has become, and excited by the extraordinary prospects for its future."

In honor of Dickson and his vision of a partnership between the university and Los Angeles, UCLA will dedicate Dickson Court in his honor on October 25, 2001 — "UCLA in LA Day," as officially proclaimed by City of Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn.