As Howard recognized, if the University was to maintain its place among leading American institutions of learning, it had to accept that graduate training was one of the most important functions of higher education. A number of faculty members were ready and able to direct graduate education, in the forefront amonge them Professors Howard and Caldwell. Since his return from Johns Hopkins University, where he head received his advanced training through seminar method, Caldwell had been eager to introduce this new system of graduate study at Nebraska. European-trained professors had similar aspirations, and with Manatt's support and encouragement the plans for the new program went forward.
Graduate work in the University had begun almost unnoticed in 1882 when Professor Howard's wife and another young woman as for and received advanced courses in history. The next year the history department asked permission to offer a master's degree. In June, 1883, the regents authorized the department to develop courses leading to an M.A., but since the teaching force was limited, nothing was done. Chancellor Manatt urged interesting faculty and students to form "associations" in which advanced work might be done on what amounted to an extracirricular basis. He hoped that this expedient would serve as a temporary substitute for graduate courses and would prepare the ground for them. Associations were formed in history and political science, philology, science, and mathematics; and Howard was able to report in December, 1884, that the methods of the history and political science assocation were being applied with good effect to regular history courses and that students were doing far more independent research and study than previously. In that same year a bulletin from Johns Hopkins credited Howard's and Caldwell's history courses with being "among the most complete and the most modern in spirit given in this country."
The less stringent financial conditions were reflect in the 1885-1886 Catalogue, which announced formal graduate study programs in Latin, Sanskirt, mathematics and civil engineering, history, chemistry, and natural sciences; and in his 1886 report Manatt expressed the hope that the limited graduate program offered after 1885 would "promote a new beginning of real University work here" and that promising young men would remain at Nebraska rather than going east to begin their graduate studies. In 1886 the University's first master's degree was conferred on C. G. McMillan, who had majored in geology and entomology1. In 1887 there were eleven students enrolled in what the Catalogue referred to as "an inchoate school of graduate instruction," and by 1890 the number had grown to twenty-eight. In 1886, Dr. Bessey formed the famous Botanical Seminar, familiarly known as "Sem. Bot.," which was to produce some of the nation's leading botanists. In 1889, Professors Howard and Caldwell, assited by Amos G. Warner, taught a seminar in history and economics, the first graduate seminar offered within the University's curricula; and in 1890, Professor Edgren's seminar in comparitive philology attracted a dozen students who were studying for master's degrees. In that year, too, the regents authorized the faculty to offer work leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. For the first time being, however, there were no funds to implement the program.
1. This was the first "real" master's degree-- the first earned by pursuing a systematic course of graduate study. The University's first graduates, J. Stuart Dales and William H. Snell, had been given M. Ph. degrees. The Catalogue for 1871-1872 and those following state that Master of Arts or Master of Science degrees are conferred on B.A.'s and B.Sc.'s "who shall pursue a post-graduate course of study for one year under the direction of the Faculty, or upon graduates of three years' standing who shall have been engaged during that time in literary, scientific, or professional studies."
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