April 30, 2015 | By: Whitney Hale
Lexington, Ky.

In what some might call a serendipitous turn, the University of Kentucky welcomed to its freshman class last fall the great great great great granddaughter of UK founder John Bryan Bowman in its sesquicentennial year.

Bowman is credited as a visionary whose determination and perseverance assured the creation and future of UK. In February 1865, just before the end of the Civil War, the Mercer County farmer and lawyer challenged the Kentucky state legislature to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 and build a public university in Lexington.

"John Bowman was one of the great visionaries of Kentucky in the 19th century. He was a person who had big ideas, great ambitions, not for himself but for the state," Dean of UK Libraries Terry Birdwhistell said. "One of the things that he was really concerned about was that education prior to the Civil War in Kentucky was mainly for elites, and they would send their children either off to school or to academies here in Kentucky. He wanted to make sure that Kentucky took the right steps to educate its people."

Unfortunately, Bowman's ideas fell on deaf ears with the powers that be. Frankfort’s coffers were bare. Kentucky's legislature and governor opposed Bowman, and the public couldn’t get behind the idea of public, nonsectarian higher education. However, he would persevere against the odds and raise the money necessary to create the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky at Kentucky University. Today, after several name changes and a storied history, more than 30,000 students and a myriad faculty, staff and alumni enjoy all the Commonwealth's land-grant flagship university brings to our lives.

UK merchandising, apparel and textiles freshman Charlotte Bowman Mayer, of Winchester, first remembers learning of her famous ancestor John Bryan Bowman in fourth grade. "I realized I was related to him in a fourth grade project. So I got more information about my family and learned all of these different connections of what my family did in Kentucky history. So it was just kind of cool to learn all about that. You know in fourth grade, you don't really realize the importance of that. You don't really realize the kind of value it has, but then when you're older you definitely realize what that means to you and your family so it's a very special feeling."

In fact, had Mayer been born a boy, she might have had an even bigger connection. "My name was supposed to be John Bowman Mayer if I was a boy, so that's been a long running joke in my family forever."  

Though she knows only some details about Bowman, she thinks UK has probably grown even beyond his aspirations for the school. "He had this grand vision of what we have now and he wanted big libraries, big classroom buildings, and all the stuff we have."

Mayer, who attended boarding school before coming to UK, considered several small liberal arts schools in North and South Carolina, as well as large institutions like the University of Alabama, but UK was always in the back of her mind. "I just started thinking about it. UK is where I want to be, I want to be back in Lexington. This is the greatest place. I wanted big school spirit. I didn't have that at a really small school where I went, so this is definitely what I needed."

Though she enjoys being able to easily head home for a meal during the week, Mayer, a resident of Champions Court, has been getting more and more involved as her time at UK progresses.

"It's been the best. My first semester I wanted to get myself situated, so I was really focused on trying to get my best foot through the door. But now in my second semester, I'm getting more involved. I joined a sorority and so that's just the best feeling. Contributing to our philanthropy gets me so excited."

Mayer isn't the first of her family to attend UK, several cousins and her father graduated from the university in recent years. Her brother also has a tie to Bowman, as a student at Transylvania University, another institution that was part of Kentucky University before it split.

Instilled with the same belief in the importance of education, Mayer believes her great great great great grandfather would be thrilled to see UK today and hopes he will be pleased with progress at the university in the years to come.

"I hope I would make him proud."

This video feature is part of a special series produced by UKNow focusing on families who help make up the University of Kentucky community.  There are many couples, brothers and sisters, mothers and sons and fathers and daughters who serve at UK in various fields.   The idea is to show how UK is part of so many families’ lives and how so many families are focused on helping the university succeed each and everyday. 

Since the "Big Blue Family" series is a monthly feature on UKNow, we invite you to submit future ideas.  If you know of a family who you think should be featured, please email us.  Who knows?  We might just choose your suggestion for our next feature!

Contact: 

VIDEO:  Amy Jones-Timoney, 859-257-2940 or Kody Kiser, 859-257-5282 MEDIA: Whitney Hale, 859-257-8716; whitney.hale@uky.edu

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