Florida State University: The History and Impact

Westcott Building – named for university benefactor and Florida Supreme Court Justice James D. Westcott III Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17477447


Since its beginning, Florida State University (FSU) has been a staple of Tallahassee living. FSU’s growth from a small seminary to a preeminent research university—which boasts an 83% graduation rate, 96 majors and programs, and a Division I football team that has the devotion of most of the city’s residents—is a testimony to its importance to the development of Tallahassee. FSU has fostered a culture that is distinct to the city and has helped to shape Tallahassee into what it is today. Though many locals are familiar with FSU’s status and accomplishments, keep reading to discover facts about the school and its impact on Tallahassee you may not have learned.


History of Florida State University

West Florida Seminary main building, c. 1880. Built in 1854 as the Florida Institute. This building was replaced with College Hall in 1891. The Westcott Building now stands on this site – the oldest site of higher education in Florida PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11581702

Florida State has its origins in two different institutions. In 1845, shortly after Florida had been granted statehood, the U.S. Congress granted the state two townships to be used for seminaries of higher learning, one of which would be east of the Suwannee River while the other would be west. In part because of its railway connections, Tallahassee was chosen as the site for the West Florida Seminary. Though it was founded in 1851, the school did not begin operating until 1857 and absorbed the Tallahassee Female Academy to make one coeducational institute in 1858. The West Florida Seminary held classes up until 1863 when the name was changed to The Florida Military and Collegiate Institute after an additional section was added to the school to train military cadets. Following the end of the Civil War, classes resumed, and by 1891 seven Bachelors of Arts degrees were awarded. By 1901, The Florida Military and Collegiate Institute became Florida State College.


The founding of the University of Florida, designated a men’s college, would make Florida State College into an all-women’s college, and the name changed to the Florida Female College in 1905. The institute’s name was changed once again in 1909 to the Florida State College for Women, which gained full accreditation in 1915. After World War II, many returning veterans wanted to pursue an education through the GI bill. An influx of applications to the University of Florida prompted the state to find other accommodations for the applicants. In 1946, the state legislature authorized the formation of the Tallahassee branch of the University of Florida on what was once Dale Mabry field. On May 15, 1947, the integration of the Tallahassee branch with the Florida State College for Women created Florida State University, which made the college co-ed once again. That same year, the Seminole tribe of Florida granted permission for the university to adopt its moniker.


The years between 1947 and 1970 saw major growth and changes throughout the university. The Flying High Circus was established as well as the Florida State University football team. The very first student union was built, the Molecular Biophysics Institute and Space Biosciences Institute were established, and many more majors and colleges were added to the school. In recent years, Florida State University has continued its upwards trajectory and continues to expand its contributions to the city.


Traditions at Florida State University

Florida State College for Women, c. 1930
Boston Public Library – Florida State College for Women from the air, Tallahassee, Fla., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27086113

Many aspects of FSU have become a part of Tallahassee but none more than FSU football and its game day traditions. A tradition that probably springs to mind is Osceola and Renegade opening every home game. In 1978, FSU alumnus Bill Durham, with the permission of the Seminole tribe, began the tradition of Osceola and Renegade galloping down the field before Osceola throws his flaming spear into the ground. Another you may think of is the Florida State war chant. Thought to have been a continuation of a popular Marching Chief’s cheer at a game against Auburn in 1984, fans threw in the infamous chopping hand motion, and the tradition of the FSU war chant began. Of course, the Friday night before game day brings the Downtown Get Down on Adams St. and the Friday Night Block Party in College Town. No game day is the same without them, and they have been adopted as big traditions to join in on the festivities before our home team takes to the field the next day.


Economic Impact

Possibly one of the biggest impacts FSU has made is on the city’s economy. FSU, being one of the top schools in the state, brings in students from all fifty states. The school serves over 40,000 undergraduate students, approximately 80% of which are from the state of Florida. Florida State students spend a significant amount of money on living expenses, tuition, books, and entertainment. In fiscal year 2019, students spent approximately $891 million on campus and the surrounding area. Out of this, it is estimated that FSU students contributed $36.9 million in sales tax, which is about 14.6% of Leon County’s sales tax revenue.


FSU is also a big employer of many Tallahassee residents, and these employees play a large role in the county’s revenue. In 2020, the number of people employed by FSU was 13,570 with 6,585 of these employees working full time. Much of the faculty also contributes to the local market through personal spending and taxes paid. FSU full-time faculty and staff contributed an estimated $81,576,672 to the county in 2020.


FSU admissions and sports are a big part of Tallahassee’s tourism. In 2019, visitor spending contributed $766,180,400 to the local economy. Between visiting teams and fans, varsity sports bring in millions of dollars in lodging. Altogether, football games alone typically contribute $102.1 million to the Leon County economy during a season.


Community Outreach

FSU’s Community Outreach Program, along with its other community service programs, allows for students to get involved with community service and engagement. These services allow for students to use the knowledge and skills they have gained from their time at FSU to help the local community in diverse and meaningful ways. FSU also offers an assortment of camps for Tallahassee residents and the surrounding areas. These camps offer fun and comprehensive experiences as well as educational enrichment and development.


Whether you have lived in Tallahassee your whole life or only a few months, you know the enthusiasm most Tallahassee natives have for FSU. Since its beginnings, FSU has built a society of people who have helped to structure and create a community through its rich culture, economic contributions, and community service. Much of Tallahassee has been shaped and impacted by Florida State University and its dedication to giving back to the city that gave it its start. Go ’Noles!


Aliyah Robinson
Home & Yard Magazine


History information was found at www.fsu.edu/about/history.html.
Data was found at economic-impact.fsu.edu.