In Dundee in 1881, Miss Mary Ann Baxter and her cousin, John Boyd Baxter - two of the famous Baxter family, who made their money from the Jute mills of the city - donated £140,000 to the creation of a college in Dundee. This was the beginning of the University of Dundee.
From the start, it was an institution that stood out. Instead of professors with ivory tower backgrounds, it employed bright young people who realized that to compete in the modern world, Great Britain needed to improve its technological output. William Peterson, who was a Latinist and Scholar, became the inaugural Principal in 1882 at the tender age of 26. Patrick Geddes, who didn’t have a degree, was a professor of botany and one of the foremost thinkers in the world.
Central to the institution's founding deed was that it should be used for "promoting the education of persons of both sexes, and the study of science, literature, and the fine arts”.
The Baxters' plans were for University College Dundee to offer a full range of subjects (other than Divinity – no one was to be made to declare their religious convictions and no religious subject was to be taught).
The generous donations to the new University College saw the establishment of a Mechanics’ Institution, adjacent to the College, the construction of a Chemistry laboratory, and leading scholars appointed to the new Chairs. These included D’Arcy Thompson (Biology, later Natural History), James Alfred Ewing (Engineering), and Thomas Carnelley (Chemistry).
The new University was situated on the Nethergate, between Park Place and Small’s Wynd. To house the 373 students that signed up in the first year, four detached houses were bought by Mary Ann Baxter for £35,000 and a corridor was constructed at the rear to link the properties. Today those buildings house the Business School.
Initially, UCD and St Andrews worked alongside each other in relative harmony. Dundee students were able to graduate in Science from St Andrews, despite never having attended any classes in the smaller town.
Relations, however, soon became strained over the issue of the Medical School and whether chairs of Anatomy and Physiology should be established in Dundee, St Andrews, or both, setting the stage for the tensions that would bedevil the relationship between the two institutions for the next few decades.