WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — In the midst of an all-consuming Civil War 150 years ago, Congress was able to pass legislation that would transform higher education.

This week in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law that would establish a network of land-grant universities. The mission was to expand access to college education so working-class people could have practical studies in agriculture, military tactics, mechanics and classical studies.

The law gave each state federal land to sell to fund the creation of colleges. They include Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, Ames College (now Iowa State University) and others.

Now the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is marking the 150th anniversary of this pivotal law with classes on the National Mall, 4-H family activities and programs featuring the schools’ current research.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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