Dartmouth celebrates over 200 years of rich history

by Rachel Osterman | 8/1/01 5:00am

Dartmouth College began as little more than a clearing in the dense pine forests of New Hampshire. Underfunded and embattled in the early years, the College continually struggled for survival.

But after 232 years, the "rough and ready" shapers of the College have created one of the most respected educational institutions in the world.

The early years

Predating the formation of the United States itself, Dartmouth, the ninth-oldest college in the country, started out as a single log cabin.

Dartmouth was the dream of a Congregationalist minister named Eleazar Wheelock who wanted to educate and Christianize young Native Americans.

He began in 1754 by founding Moor's Indian Charity School in Lebanon, Conn., named after its benefactor Joshua Moor.

Unable to obtain a charter for his school in Connecticut and concerned about its declining enrollment, Wheelock scouted around for a new location. Governor John Wentworth of New Hampshire offered Wheelock a generous plot of land, and Wheelock found the perfect site for his school on the banks of the Connecticut River.

With the help of Wentworth, King George III of England signed a royal charter for the College on December 13, 1769.

Thus Dartmouth was established as a college "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing, and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and Christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal arts and sciences and also of English Youth and any others."

Wheelock considered naming the College after Wentworth, but Wentworth requested that it be named for his friend William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, who was a generous benefactor.

Moor's Indian Charity School continued to exist alongside Dartmouth, but the boundaries between the two became more and more distinct. The College's focus shifted away from Native Americans towards the education of white missionaries.

The first class, consisting of only four students, graduated from Dartmouth in 1771. The Commencement ceremony was riotous, with rum for all and a roasted ox. The cooks got too drunk to be able to feed everyone, prompting many complaints.

A fairly serious threat to Dartmouth's existence came in the early 19th century. John Wheelock, Eleazar's son, became Dartmouth's second president. The younger Wheelock continually quarreled with the trustees, and in 1815, they ousted him from office.

Wheelock appealed to the governor and state legislature of New Hampshire to take control of the College away from the Board of Trustees and to rename the institution Dartmouth University.

However, students and faculty rallied around Dartmouth College. The quarrel eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, was one of the lawyers arguing on behalf of Dartmouth College.

Webster summed up the case with the celebrated words, "Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak; it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights on the literary horizon of this country. You may put it out. But if you do so, you must carry through with your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over the land. It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it."

Webster's eloquence brought down the house and on Feb. 2, 1819, by the ruling of Woodward v. Dartmouth College, the College won the right to exist without governmental interference. The case set a very important precedent; henceforth private institutions and contracts were inviolable by the government.

Slowly but surely, the College grew. Though its focus has always been on undergraduate education, Dartmouth does have graduate schools.

The oldest is the Dartmouth Medical School, founded in 1797 by Dr. Nathan Smith. In 1871, the Thayer School of Engineering was founded thanks to the generosity of benefactor Sylvanus Thayer, Class of 1807.

The Chandler School of Science which was later integrated into the College was established in 1851, and an agricultural school, which no longer exists, got its start in 1868.

Voces clamantium

Hanover's location in the wilderness molded the character of Dartmouth and its students. As late as 1830, there were still pine tree stumps on the Green, and up until 1820, each class had the responsibility of uprooting one stump.

John Ledyard, who only stayed at Dartmouth from 1772 to 1773, is the prototype of the outdoorsy, adventurous Dartmouth student. After only four months at Dartmouth, he set out for a 14-week trip among the Iroquois. Ledyard was also known for camping in the winter -- he buried himself in the snow for warmth.

Ledyard left for good in 1773 when he set sail on the Connecticut River. Today, the boat house in Hanover and the bridge connecting Vermont and New Hampshire are named after him.

Many determined students made their way through the wild in order to attain a Dartmouth education.

Samuel Hidden, Class of 1791, is famous for journeying to Hanover with a cow, which he milked for sustenance. At Dartmouth, Hidden worked out of his room as a shoemaker.

He was ashamed of this occupation and tried to keep it a secret until one day the College president dropped off his own shoes for Hidden to repair.

Nathan Lord, appointed in 1828, was one of Dartmouth's most controversial presidents. Lord believed the Bible supported slavery and would not budge from his position. When he blocked U.S. President Abraham Lincoln from getting an honorary degree, the Dartmouth community was extremely embarrassed. Lord resigned under pressure in 1863.

Dartmouth students were notorious pranksters. Students resented the townspeople's cows pasturing on the Green. Once, they kidnapped the cows and drove them across the River. Another time, a band of students hid the cows in the basement of Dartmouth Hall.

To avoid further fraying of town-student relations, a fence was erected around the Green to keep the cows out. This fence became known as the Senior Fence because only seniors could sit on it. Freshmen who did so were beaten.

In 1893, most of the fence was torn down, but a portion remains in front of the Collis Center.

In another prank, students brought a donkey up onto the recitation platform before a lesson. The notoriously irascible College President Samuel Colcord Bartlett, in office from 1877 to 1892, did not bat an eyelash when he arrived in the classroom. Instead, he invited the students to come up and do their recitations beside their "brother," the donkey.

Long road traveled

Bartlett was a foe of two Dartmouth-associated schools, the Agricultural School and the Chandler Scientific School, because he believed in the traditional, classics and Bible-oriented course of study.

Bartlett tried to shut down the two schools, which provoked a great controversy that almost got him fired. The Agricultural School later moved to Durham, New Hampshire, and was the start of the University of New Hampshire.

The first fraternities appeared in the early 1840s. These organizations more closely resembled secret societies than modern fraternities. Weekly meetings consisted of debates and speeches on history and literature.

In 1849, the Trustees voted to abolish fraternities, but the ban was ignored and fraternities grew in number.

In 1893 William Jewett Tucker became Dartmouth's ninth president. Tucker is credited with bringing a new sense of purpose to the College. Tucker, formerly a preacher, infused Dartmouth with a spiritual momentum through his inspiring speeches to undergraduates.

Yet during his presidency, Tucker ended the College's practice of mandatory chapel attendance, arguing that it was not the College's duty to spiritually convert students.

Bigger and stronger

Dartmouth underwent a great physical expansion during Tucker's tenure. Thirteen dormitories were either remodeled or newly built during this time, as were several science buildings and Webster Hall. A heating plant was built around this time, freeing students from tending to their wood stoves. And for the first time, running water was available.

In 1899, Dartmouth's third graduate school, the prestigious Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, was founded with the help of alumnus Edward Tuck, Class of 1862.

Also in Tucker's time, the curriculum expanded beyond just the classics, and students were allowed more freedom in course selection. Previously all students took the same courses in the same sequence.

Ernest Martin Hopkins, Class of 1901, became Dartmouth's 11th president. He was as popular as Tucker and Dartmouth gained Baker Library during his reign. Visible from the Green and outside of town, Baker is the College's most prominent building.

In 1945 John Sloan Dickey '29 became president. He established the Great Issues Course -- an interdisciplinary three-term course for seniors which brought renowned speakers to Hanover.

Past controversies,

future progress

Trouble came during the Vietnam War in 1969 when Parkhurst Hall, the administrative building, was seized by students protesting the existence of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Dartmouth and the Vietnam War. The next day, the students surrendered the building.

John Kemeny succeeded Dickey as president in 1970. A brilliant mathematician, Kemeny strengthened the mathematics department and also helped create the BASIC programming language.

In 1972, coeducation was finally instituted at Dartmouth after lengthy and heated debates.

Dartmouth was the last Ivy League school to admit women.

In order to prevent a reduction in the number of men to make way for women, the Dartmouth Plan was instituted. This plan entailed operating Dartmouth year-round on the quarter system, which allowed for a larger enrollment.

The Class of 1999 became the first class to enroll more women than men, with 50.2 percent women and 49.8 percent men.

Also in 1972, Dartmouth abandoned its Indian athletic mascot in favor of the Big Green.

Currently, students and alumni are searching for a replacement for the rather abstract Big Green, with the Dartmouth Moose as the forerunner.

The 1980s saw the advent of The Dartmouth Review, an off-campus conservative newspaper, which often clashed with the administration.

In 1986, in one of the publication's more famed moves, some Review members destroyed shanties built on the Green to protest the College's investment in South Africa, causing an uproar on campus.

Also leaving a lasting impression on the College was former College President James Freedman, who stepped down two years ago.

During his 11 years at the College, Freedman strove to increase intellectualism on campus. His inaugural speech, in which he called for more "creative loners," is famous in the Dartmouth community.

The curriculum was recently revamped, and a new, more structured distributive system was instituted beginning with the Class of 1998.

In the past few decades Dartmouth has taken a place at the forefront of academic computing.

Now all students are required to purchase personal computers.

In terms of campus area the campus is expanding northward, with the Moore psychology building and the Berry Library having recently been completed.

The past two years have been marked by the controversy that surrounded the Student Life Initiative (SLI). Introduced by the Board of Trustees in 1999 during Wright's first term as College President, the SLI promised to make the Dartmouth experience "substantially more coeducational" -- a pledge that some thought would signal the end to the College's single-sex fraternity and sorority system.

The Trustee's announcement shook the campus into an uproar. Upset students staged a protest on a fraternity lawn that attracted attention from the national media.

Since the implementation phase of the SLI began last winter, College committees have been formed to address a broad range of student and residential life issues, from diversity to Greek affairs to judicial proceedings. Many of the recent Greek changes, including a stringent party policy, have attracted the most criticism.

Last month, Wright agreed to a broad set of changes recommended by a committee charged with addressing diversity and inclusivity. As a result, a number of diversity-specific jobs will be created at the College.