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Lookin’ Back: UA’s first ag ‘expert’ a novice

Selim M. Franklin pushed for school’s creation, joined it

Franklin House, 402 N. Main Ave., was built for lawyer Selim M. Franklin in 1898. It now is occupied by his grandson Chris Carroll and his wife, Susan.

Franklin House, 402 N. Main Ave., was built for lawyer Selim M. Franklin in 1898. It now is occupied by his grandson Chris Carroll and his wife, Susan.

Selim M. Franklin, a 25-year-old Tucson lawyer, made an impassioned speech in the closing days of the 13th Territorial Legislature in March 1885, convincing fellow members of the House of Representatives that they had a noble calling to establish a university in Tucson.

His silver-tongued oratory swayed fellow members, and they voted 18-5 in favor of the move. Meanwhile, another Old Pueblo resident, C.C. Stevens, had managed a narrow victory for the measure in the upper house, the Council, which approved iton a 7-5 vote, and the University of Arizona was a step closer to reality.

Gov. Frederick Tritle cinched the deal when he signed Act 99 into law on March 12.

Though Franklin, a native of California and nephew of two of Tucson’s prominent bankers, Lionel and Barron Jacobs, probably hadn’t planned an active role in the university, he was destined to become its first professor of agriculture – even though he knew virtually nothing about the subject.

Grandson Chris Carroll, retired UA distinguished professor of English literature who lives with his wife, Susan, in Franklin’s 1898-era house at 402 N. Main Ave., said, “I’m sure the closest he came to agriculture was reading Virgil’s ‘Georgics’ in Professor Josiah Royce’s class at University of California at Berkeley.”

The reason Franklin was named to the post – and the reason he accepted – was that the struggling new university needed funding, and that funding was found in the coffers of the federal government.

Federal laws, the Hatch Act and the Morril Act(s), assured thousands of dollars in grants to learning institutions that provided agricultural training and established agricultural experimental stations.

In 1889, a $10,000 grant was forthcoming, followed the next year by an additional $30,000. That funding allowed Franklin to relinquish his post to a “real” agriculture professor from Michigan.

Franklin was born Oct. 19, 1859, in San Bernardino, Calif. His family was descended from Menachem Mendel Franckel, the rabbi of Wroclaw (Breslau), Poland. Franckel’s son had moved to London in 1763, and the name was “anglicized” to Franklin.

Selim Franklin’s father, Maurice, and an uncle, Lewis, were drawn to California by the gold rush of 1849, and became prominent citizens of San Diego, where they established Franklin House, the city’s most important hotel and first three-story building.

After several months, however, the brothers had a parting of the ways and Maurice moved his family to San Bernardino, where he established a pharmacy. His wife, Victoria, died when Selim was 2, and Maurice died when his son was 15.

Raised by an aunt, young Franklin completed high school in San Francisco, then entered the University of California, Berkeley, earning a law degree in 1883. He practiced briefly in San Bernardino before coming to Tucson to join older brother Abraham.

Franklin was married to Henrietta Herring, daughter of prominent Tucson lawyer William Herring, on Dec. 10, 1898. They honeymooned in Los Angeles, and returned before Christmas to move into their newly completed home on North Main Avenue.

He opened a law office on Pennington Street and handled matters for the Jacobs brothers’ extensive interests and for other clients. Apparently his introduction to politics with the 13th Legislature served as an inoculation, and he studiously avoided further political involvement, according to his grandson.

Franklin died Nov. 22, 1927, of a heart attack or stroke while playing golf. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery.

Paul L. Allen may be reached at 573-4588 or pallen@tucsoncitizen.com. For more history coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.

Selim M. Franklin

Selim M. Franklin

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