Students, residents discuss Dartmouth's relationship to Hanover

by Berit Svenson | 8/30/19 3:30am

Dartmouth has long been known for its small-town charm and picturesque New England campus. As the smallest university in the Ivy League, the College appeals to students who appreciate its quaint setting coupled with the academic rigor common among its peer institutions. But of all the charming towns scattered in the Northeast, why was Dartmouth founded in Hanover, and how does the College’s relationship with the town stand today?

Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister, educator and founder of Dartmouth College, began his quest to “properly educate” Native Americans in Lebanon, CT. While the “improvement and conversion of the Indian tribes” was not an original idea, Wheelock believed he could more effectively educate them by “removing the children for a term of years entirely from their native influences, and bringing them in contact with English youth in a mixed school,” according to the book “A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire.”

As a result, Wheelock founded Moor’s Indian Charity School in Lebanon in 1755. While the school did draw students and was successful in its stated purpose, additional funding became necessary to maintain its function. A trust, led by William Legge, the second Earl of Dartmouth, to aid Wheelock’s effort was subsequently established; however, the school continued to struggle due to the difficulty of bringing Native Americans to Lebanon.

To overcome this challenge, Wheelock endeavored to relocate the institution to a town in closer proximity to tribal territories. He searched for available land throughout New England, hoping to secure a charter near some body of water.

“We must in a little time determine where to fix it, in order to build conveniently for it,” Wheelock wrote to Sir William Johnson in January 1763. “Governor [Sir John] Wentworth has offered a tract of land in the western part of the Province of New Hampshire, which he is now settling, for the use of it if we will settle it there … ”

After several years struggling to procure land for his school, Wheelock ultimately found success in Hanover. On Dec. 13, 1769, Wentworth issued a royal charter in the name of King George III and provided a location for Wheelock’s institution.

The charter asserted that the school was created “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing & all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing & christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences and also of English Youth and any others.” 

This mission has since been criticized by those who say it is discriminatory. In his book “The Indian History of an American Institution: Native Americans and Dartmouth,” Dartmouth history and native american studies professor Colin Colin Calloway explains that the College was initially “an institution at the forefront of the English assault on Native American cultures.” He writes that when the College was founded, Dartmouth was convinced Natives could only survive if they were anglicized and so the College attempted to change them. 

The ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, the school was named Dartmouth College, after Legge, who was an instrumental in Wheelock’s earlier efforts to establish the school.

Since its founding 250 years ago, Dartmouth and the town of Hanover have remained inextricably linked. According to town manager Julia Griffin, there are currently around 11,250 residents in Hanover, including Dartmouth students. Of the roughly 6,000 non-students, Griffin estimated that about half are affiliated with the College and another 20 percent are employed by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“It’s less likely to find a resident in Hanover who isn’t working for the College or DHMC,” Griffin said. “There’s also a lot of alumni that choose to come back later in life and raise kids here.”


“I think people living in the surrounding area have a pretty outdated impression of Dartmouth that is based on ‘Animal House’ and Ivy League student stereotypes. There are also harmful stereotypes from students about the local community and greater New Hampshire area.”


Lillian Daley, a Hanover resident who has lived in the town for most of her life, echoed this sentiment. She said that the majority of Hanover residents have some ties to the College, creating an inclusive community. She said that people consider themselves a part of both the Dartmouth community and the Hanover community, which “makes community relations much easier.”

Despite the generally positive town-gown relationship, misguided perceptions of both the town and the College persist, according to Jessica Rosien ’21, who grew up in the neighboring town of Etna, NH.

“I think people living in the surrounding area have a pretty outdated impression of Dartmouth that is based on ‘Animal House’ [the 1978 film based in part on a Dartmouth fraternity] and Ivy League student stereotypes,” she said. “There are also harmful stereotypes from students about the local community and greater New Hampshire area.”

She added that these beliefs seem to be dissipating, but a greater understanding of each perspective would facilitate a better relationship between Dartmouth and the town. She said she was “really shocked” once she became a student at the College and learned that Dartmouth is “nothing like” what she and her Hanover friends had perceived it to be.

Griffin said that the relationship between the College and the town has always been a positive one; however, in her 23 years as town manager, she noted that there has been change.

She said that when she first arrived in 1996, the town didn’t have a planning or a zoning board, so the College was able to pursue its own goals in terms of growth. Griffin called the town a “company town,” headed by an older generation of College administrators who had spent their entire working lives at the College.

While this characterization proved consistent throughout the 1990s, the population’s makeup has shifted in more recent years, according to Griffin.

“In the last generation, people spent their whole careers at a place — that’s definitely not the case anymore,” she said. “There’s so much turnover at the College, particularly at the administrative level.”

Consequently, Griffin added that the town and College no longer have deep connections between their respective leaderships as they once did. This shift parallels the recent desire of Dartmouth’s administration to expand and update the College, a change that has aroused backlash among town residents.

According to Jill Butler, who owns the J List, a clothing and gifts store located on Main Street, another frustration faced is the lack of support for local businesses. Although Dartmouth community members consistently frequent stores in Hanover, the school has not reached out to local store owners to offer help despite signs of struggle, a frustration for some Hanover residents and storefront owners.

“It would be great if a dean from the College came and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to support you guys? Because there’s a number of empty storefronts, and that’s really not good for a small Ivy League town,” Butler said, suggesting that prospective students, faculty and others may see the College differently due to the state of Hanover’s Main Street. 

Butler decided to move The J List from its location in Norwich, VT to Hanover about four years ago. She said that when she first moved to Hanover, Dartmouth students didn’t seem to know about the store, but that now the store both employs and sells to many Dartmouth students.

Despite the challenges, Butler said that having a store in a college town like Hanover, is “one of the best gigs you can have,” noting that the customers were friendly and that she enjoys the Hanover environment.

Daley said that the biggest frustration for many local residents is the tension between Dartmouth’s desire to keep growing and the College’s characteristic small size and said that she hopes the College will refrain from developing its green spaces, such as Pine Park which is located off Rope Ferry and Occom Ridge roads just north of Dartmouth’s campus. Daley added that Hanover’s small-town nature and historic character are important to the unique identity of both the town and the College.

Regardless of why Wheelock may have chosen Hanover as Dartmouth’s location, the town has become emblematic of the Dartmouth brand.

“I love living in [Hanover] … most adults who live here have seen a lot of different places around the country and world and could live elsewhere,” Daley said. “But we choose to live here.” 

This article is a part of the 2019 Freshman Issue.