1904 image of Dhaka College
, which was in existence from 1841 to 1921 before the founding of Dhaka University
Before Dhaka University was established, near its grounds were the former buildings of Dhaka College. In 1873 the college was relocated to Bahadur Shah Park. Later it shifted to Curzon Hall, which would become the first institute of the university.
The establishment of the university was a compensation of the annulment of the 1905 Partition of Bengal. The partition had established Eastern Bengal and Assam as a separate province, with Dhaka as its capital. However, the partition was abolished in 1911 due to severe opposition from Indian National Congress and Bengali Hindus. To appease the people of East Bengal, Lord Curzon declared that a university as a center of excellence would be established in Dacca. Khwaja Salimullah, the Nawab of Dhaka, also played a pioneering role in establishing a university in Dhaka.
In 1913, public opinion was invited before the university scheme was given its final shape. The secretary of state approved it in December 1913. The first vice-chancellor of the university, Dr. Philip Joseph Hartog, formerly academic registrar of the University of London for 17 years was appointed.
Established in 1921 under the Dacca University Act 1920 of the Indian Legislative Council, it is modelled after British universities. Lord Ronaldshay, Governor of Bengal between 1917 and 1922, was its first chancellor. He designated Nawaab Syed Shamsul Huda a life member of the university. On Huda's recommendation, Lord Ronaldshay appointed Ahmad Fazlur Rahman as a provost. Academic activities started on 1 July in 1921 with 847 students along with 3 faculties: Arts, Science and Law; 12 departments: Sanskrit and Bengali, English, Education, History, Arabic and Islamic Studies, Persian and Urdu, Philosophy, Economics and Politics, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Law; and 3 dormitories for students: Salimullah Muslim Hall, Dacca Hall and Jagannath Hall.
In 1936, the university awarded honorary doctorate degrees to Jagadish Chandra Bose, Jadunath Sarkar, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Allama Iqbal and Rabindranath Tagore.
The university played a significant role in the Bengali Language Movement, when Bengalis joined together to fight against Urdu being the official language in East Pakistan. Dhaka University was the main place where the movement started with the students joining together and protesting against the Pakistan government. Later countless students were massacred in where the Shaheed Minar stands today. After the incident, Bengali was restored as official language.
The Dhaka University Order, 1973
President's Order No. 11 of 1973 re-constitute and re-organize the University of Dhaka to improve the teaching and research provided thereby and the administration after 1971 Independence war. Throughout this order the word Dhaka was substituted for the word Dacca by section 2 of the University Laws (Amendment) Act, 1987 (Act No. XXXVI of 1987).