They Created the University of Lithuania

They Created the University of Lithuania

16 February is the Day of the Restoration of the State of Lithuania as well as the day of the establishment of the national higher education. After the announcement of the Act of Independence on 16 February 1918, Lithuania did not have a single higher education institution. Vilnius University was closed in 1832, after the uprising of 1831. On 15 December 1918,  the Council of Lithuania approved the Statute and was preparing to open Vilnius University but it was prevented by the beginning of the invasion of the Army of the Soviet Russia in Lithuania. The Council and Government of Lithuania had to evacuate to Kaunas which became a temporary capital. On 16 February 1922, on the basis of the Higher Courses, the National University of Lithuania was established in Kaunas. Most of the lecturers of the University had no defended dissertations; however, they were the pioneers in many science fields in Lithuania that was finally free from a long-time occupation. They created the Lithuanian terminology for various science fields, prepared dictionaries and textbooks, developed study programmes for higher and secondary education. Thanks to them, the Lithuanian language became the language of science.

This year marks the anniversaries of the creators of the University of Lithuania, professors and rectors Pranas Jodelė, Antanas Purėnas and Vincas Čepinskis; therefore, on the Day of Independence of Lithuania, KTU Museum invites to remember people whose lives were dedicated to higher education in Lithuania. The virtual exhibition “They Created the University of Lithuania” uses the documents from KTU Archive and Museum, photographs from KTU Museum, Library and personal archives.

Prof. Pranas Jodelė

13 February marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the engineering technologist, Rector of the University of Lithuania, the first Dean of the Technical Faculty prof. Pranas Jodelė. He graduated from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in 1904 and received the diploma of engineering technologist. In 1908, he completed traineeships in Germany and Switzerland and in 1909, he was elected as an associate professor of  Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. P. Jodelė was teaching technology of building materials. In 1912, he was elected as an extraordinary professor, began but did not finish writing his dissertation because he terminated his work as a professor and returned to Lithuania where he designed and supervised the construction of the first cement factory in Lithuania in Valkininkai (destroyed during the World War I).

In 1921–1922, he was the lecturer of the Higher Courses, in 1922–1927 – the first dean of the Technical Faculty; he founded and managed the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Materials. Prof. Pranas Jodelė was repeatedly trying to prove to the Seimas and Government that the Technical Faculty was necessary and fighting for the faculty not to be closed. In his interview to “Lietuvos Aidas” (“Echo of Lithuania”) in 1938, he said: “I argued that such an attitude to the faculties of applied sciences was only present in the Middle Ages when the students of the universities were only studying philosophy and theology and now, the universities of many countries also include the studies of technologies.” In 1927, prof. P. Jodelė announced the theory of the hardening of cement. In 1927–1928 and 1932–1940, he was the vice-rector and in 1928–1929 – the rector of the University of Lithuania (currently – Vytautas Magnus University). P. Jodelė organised the research of the Lithuanian mineral raw materials, he was the chairman of the Energy Committee for Research of Natural Assets and the chairman of the Technical Society, since 1924, the head of the Lithuanian Union of Engineers and Architects. In 1936, he was appointed as the chairman of the Natural Assets Research Commission. Through his efforts, the construction of the cement factory began in Skirsnemunė in 1938 (destroyed during the World War II), he was the supervisor of the research at Karpėnai limestone deposits that were used for the construction of the cement factory in Akmenė after the World War II.

He retired in 1940 but soon, he was requested back to work and appointed as the head of the Laboratory for Building Materials Industry Trust until 1941. In 1944, at the age of 73, prof. P. Jodelė resumed his research and pedagogical work. In 1945, he was awarded the title of the honoured scientist of the Lithuanian SSR. In 1947–1949, he was the head of the Inorganic Technology Department at Kaunas National Vytautas Magnus University. The professor died on 8 December 1955; he is buried at Petrašiūnai Cemetery.

Prof. Antanas Purėnas

16 February marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of the pioneer of organic chemistry in Lithuania, the cultural, public and political figure, Professor and Vice-Rector, Rector of the University of Lithuania (currently – Vytautas Magnus University) in 1940-1941 and 1944–1947, Antanas Purėnas.

In 1902, A. Purėnas was admitted to the Chemistry Division of the Mathematics-Nature Faculty at the University of Jurjev (currently – the University of Tartu) and in the autumn of 1904, he transferred to the Chemistry Division of the Mathematics-Nature Faculty at St Petersburg University. After graduation from the university, A. Purėnas was teaching at the Neva Society Commercial School in 1910–1918. Simultaneously, he was organising and supervised the general education courses for the Lithuanian war refugees in 1915–1917. In 1917, these courses were reorganised into the Lithuanian Gymnasium and A. Purėnas was its director until 1918. In 1916–1918, he was a member of the committee for support of the war victims at the Lithuanian Society. He returned to Lithuania in 1918 with his wife Liuda Vienožinskaitė Purėnienė.

In 1919–1921, A. Purėnas was the Director of Rokiškis Gymnasium. In 1920, he was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly, he was a member of the Social Democratic Fraction; however, he renounced his mandate on 13 October 1920 even though he remained a member of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party until 1936. In 1921–1922, he was teaching organic chemistry at the Higher Courses, in 1922–1940, he was a professor and vice-rector of the University of Lithuania (currently – Vytautas Magnus University). A. Purėnas was editing the research works of the Mathematics-Nature Faculty of Vytautas Magnus University, “VDU žinias” (“VDU News”), journals “Mintis” (“Idea”) and “Kultūra” (“Culture”), publishing journal “Mokykla ir visuomenė” (“School and Society”) with colleagues, cooperated in “Naujoji gadynė” (“New Times”), “Vilniaus žinios” (“Vilnius News”), “Kosmosas” (“Space”), “Lietuviška enciklopedija” (“Lithuanian Encyclopaedia”), the press of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party.

In 1940, he was appointed as the Rector of Kaunas University by the occupational Soviet authorities. In the summer of 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo but freed thanks to his wife and Stasys Raštikis. In 1944–1947, he was appointed as the Rector of Kaunas National Vytautas Magnus University by the Soviet authorities; however, NKVD considered him unreliable because he was supporting the returning exiles. From 1951, when the university was reorganised into Kaunas Polytechnic Institute, until 1 September 1962, he was the head and later, until his death, a professor of the Organic Chemistry Department, member of the Academy of Sciences of the Lithuanian SSR.

Vincas Čepinskis (1871–1940)

3 May marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the pioneer of physics and physical chemistry in Lithuania, Professor, Rector of the University of Lithuania (currently – Vytautas Magnus University), member of the Constituent Assembly and the First Seimas, Minister of Education Vincas Čepinskis. He graduated from the Mathematics-Nature Faculty at St Petersburg University in 1894 and acquired the speciality of a physicist-chemist. He worked as a laboratory assistant of D. Mendeleev at the Russian Bureau of Weights and Measures for a year and a half. In 1897–1900, he deepened his studies and conducted research work at Zurich Polytechnic Institute. Since 1902, V. Čepinskis was teaching at Liepaja Commercial School and in 1904–1915, he was the director of this school. At the beginning of the World War I, he evacuated to Russia with the school. In 1915–1916, he worked at the laboratory of Moscow Transport Institute. In 1916–1918, he was giving lectures at Lutugin Folk High School in St Petersburg, teaching at Uglich School and Women Gymnasium. Upon the return to Lithuania in 1918, he was appointed as the head of the Division of Higher Education Institutions at the Ministry of Education. In 1919, V. Čepinskis was the representative of the Government of Lithuania in London. In 1920–1922, he taught physics at the Higher Courses in Kaunas. 1920–1923, he was a member of the Constituent Assembly and the First Seimas, the Social Democratic Fraction. In 1922–1936, he was a professor of the University of Lithuania (currently – Vytautas Magnus University), the head of the Department of Physics, later – Physical Chemistry Department, vice-rector, rector and (1923–1924 and 1929–1933), honorary professor (1937). In 1926, V. Čepinskis was the Minister of Education in the Government of Mykolas Sleževičius. He established and developed the Departments of Experimental Physics and Physical Chemistry at the University, wrote the first Lithuanian textbooks “Fizikos paskaitos” (“Lectures of Physics”), “Fizinė chemija” (“Physical Chemistry”), monographs “Elektroninė valentingumo teorija” (“Electronic Theory of Valence”) and “Branduolio chemija” (“Nuclear Chemistry”). During the matriculation act in 1931, prof. V. Čepinskis said: “The most important task of a human is not to pursue personal goals, but try to understand the things of eternity, understand your position and significance in the world…”.