THE PROUDEST DAY of my great-grandfather’s life was the one marking his graduation from the University of Washington. 

Arthur Dailey had arrived in Seattle two months before the Great Fire of 1889 from Kalamazoo, Michigan, soon finding a teaching job. At the advanced age of 30, he hoped that a collegiate diploma would assure his future. 

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With the rest of his 18-member class of ’97, displaying the school colors of purple and gold, he enthusiastically chanted the school cheer based on Chinook jargon that conveyed bravery and strength: 

U. of W., Siah! Siah!
U. of W., Hiah! Hiah!
Skookum, Skookum, Washington! 

This first graduation on the new UW campus, held May 28, 1897, marked another milestone in its 36-year history. 

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The school was founded on 10 acres downtown in 1861 by Arthur Armstrong Denny (1822-99), leader of a 22-member party that had arrived on Alki only 10 years earlier. By 1891, the UW was bursting at its seams. Seattle’s population had exploded to more than 50,000, inhibiting further expansion. 

To redress the pinch, the state Legislature approved relocating the UW to the then-rural Brooklyn Addition on the shores of Union Bay. The elderly Denny, still a tireless higher-education supporter, donated most of the 350 acres for a campus with room to boom. 

Ground was broken for the university’s first north-end structure in 1894. A French Renaissance design by Charles W. Saunders (1858-1935) topped 24 other submitted sets of drawings. The resulting Administration Building, later renamed Denny Hall, came in well under its $150,000 budget, fed by low labor costs stemming from the economic depression of 1893. 

Its 20,000 square feet housed all six of the university’s colleges and included 10 classrooms, a 6,000-volume library, faculty and administration offices, and a 736-seat auditorium, all crowned by a belfry. 

In September 1895, the edifice, comprising four floors of light-colored Enumclaw sandstone and pressed brick, trimmed with terra cotta and outfitted with the latest heating and plumbing, welcomed more than 200 students. 

Our “Then” photo was snapped using Carrie Coe’s camera, likely in 1895, during a family outing to admire the newly completed building. Her husband, Dr. Frantz Coe, after whom Queen Anne Hill’s Coe School is named, was a future Seattle school board member and friend of the Dennys. The tangle of bushes and a fresh-cut stump provide evidence of still-undeveloped wilderness on every side. 

For his part, my great-grandpa Dailey made good use of the sheepskin, serving as principal to schools across the region. By 1899, he felt secure enough to marry his sweetheart, Ballard schoolteacher Agnes Johnson.