Monday, January 9, 2017

Early history of Yale College[edit]

Official seal used by the College and the University
Yale traces its beginnings to "An Act for Liberty to Erect a Collegiate School," passed by the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut on October 9, 1701, while meeting in New Haven. The Act was an effort to create an institution to train ministers and lay leadership for Connecticut. Soon thereafter, a group of ten Congregationalist ministers: Samuel Andrew, Thomas Buckingham, Israel Chauncy, Samuel Mather, Rev. James Noyes II (son of James Noyes), James Pierpont, Abraham Pierson, Noadiah Russell, Joseph Webb and Timothy Woodbridge, all alumni of Harvard, met in the study of Reverend Samuel Russell in Branford, Connecticut, to pool their books to form the school's library.[14] The group, led by James Pierpont, is now known as "The Founders".[15]

Originally known as the "Collegiate School," the institution opened in the home of its first rector, Abraham Pierson,[16] in Killingworth (now Clinton). The school moved to Saybrook, and then Wethersfield. In 1716 the college moved to New Haven, Connecticut.

Meanwhile, there was a rift forming at Harvard between its sixth president Increase Mather and the rest of the Harvard clergy, whom Mather viewed as increasingly liberal, ecclesiastically lax, and overly broad in Church polity. The feud caused the Mathers to champion the success of the Collegiate School in the hope that it would maintain the Puritan religious orthodoxy in a way that Harvard had not.[17]

Naming and development[edit]

In 1718, at the behest of either Rector Samuel Andrew or the colony's Governor Gurdon Saltonstall, Cotton Mather contacted the successful Boston born businessman Elihu Yale to ask him for financial help in constructing a new building for the college. Through the persuasion of Jeremiah Dummer, Yale, who had made a fortune through trade while living in Madras as a representative of the East India Company, donated nine bales of goods, which were sold for more than £560, a substantial sum at the time. Cotton Mather suggested that the school change its name to "Yale College". (The name Yale is the Anglicised spelling of the Welsh toponym, Iâl. from the family estate at Plas yn Iâl near the village of Llandegla, Denbighshire, Wales).[18]

Meanwhile, a Harvard graduate working in England convinced some 180 prominent intellectuals that they should donate books to Yale. The 1714 shipment of 500 books represented the best of modern English literature, science, philosophy and theology.[19] It had a profound effect on intellectuals at Yale. Undergraduate Jonathan Edwards discovered John Locke's works and developed his original theology known as the "new divinity." In 1722 the Rector and six of his friends, who had a study group to discuss the new ideas, announced that they had given up Calvinism, become Arminians, and joined the Church of England. They were ordained in England and returned to the colonies as missionaries for the Anglican faith. Thomas Clapp became president in 1745, and struggled to return the college to Calvinist orthodoxy; but he did not close the library. Other students found Deist books in the library.[20]

Yale was swept up by the great intellectual movements of the period—the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment—due to the religious and scientific interests of presidents Thomas Clap and Ezra Stiles. They were both instrumental in developing the scientific curriculum at Yale, while dealing with wars, student tumults, graffiti, "irrelevance" of curricula, desperate need for endowment, and fights with the Connecticut legislature.[21]

Serious American students of theology and divinity, particularly in New England, regarded Hebrew as a classical language, along with Greek and Latin, and essential for study of the Old Testament in the original words. The Reverend Ezra Stiles, president of the College from 1778 to 1795, brought with him his interest in the Hebrew language as a vehicle for studying ancient Biblical texts in their original language (as was common in other schools), requiring all freshmen to study Hebrew (in contrast to Harvard, where only upperclassmen were required to study the language) and is responsible for the Hebrew phrase אורים ותמים (Urim and Thummim) on the Yale seal. A 1746 graduate of Yale, Stiles came to the college with experience in education, having played an integral role in the founding of Brown University in addition to having been a minister.[22] Stiles' greatest challenge occurred in July 1779 when hostile British forces occupied New Haven and threatened to raze the College. However, Yale graduate Edmund Fanning, Secretary to the British General in command of the occupation, interceded and the College was saved. Fanning later was granted an honorary degree LL.D., at 1803,[23] for his efforts.

First diploma awarded by Yale College, granted to Nathaniel Chauncey, 1702.
As the only college in Connecticut, Yale educated the sons of the elite.[24] Offenses for which students were punished included cardplaying, tavern-going, destruction of college property, and acts of disobedience to college authorities. During the period, Harvard was distinctive for the stability and maturity of its tutor corps, while Yale had youth and zeal on its side.[25]

The emphasis on classics gave rise to a number of private student societies, open only by invitation, which arose primarily as forums for discussions of modern scholarship, literature and politics. The first such organizations were debating societies: Crotonia in 1738, Linonia in 1753, and Brothers in Unity in 1768.[26]

19th century[edit]

Woolsey Hall in c. 1905
The Yale Report of 1828 was a dogmatic defense of the Latin and Greek curriculum against critics who wanted more courses in modern languages, mathematics, and science. Unlike higher education in Europe, there was no national curriculum for colleges and universities in the United States. In the competition for students and financial support, college leaders strove to keep current with demands for innovation. At the same time, they realized that a significant portion of their students and prospective students demanded a classical background. The Yale report meant the classics would not be abandoned. All institutions experimented with changes in the curriculum, often resulting in a dual track. In the decentralized environment of higher education in the United States, balancing change with tradition was a common challenge because no one could afford to be completely modern or completely classical.[27] A group of professors at Yale and New Haven Congregationalist ministers articulated a conservative response to the changes brought about by the Victorian culture. They concentrated on developing a whole man possessed of religious values sufficiently strong to resist temptations from within, yet flexible enough to adjust to the 'isms' (professionalism, materialism, individualism, and consumerism) tempting him from without.[28] William Graham Sumner, professor from 1872 to 1909, taught in the emerging disciplines of economics and sociology to overflowing classrooms. He bested President Noah Porter, who disliked social science and wanted Yale to lock into its traditions of classical education. Porter objected to Sumner's use of a textbook by Herbert Spencer that espoused agnostic materialism because it might harm students.[29]

Until 1887, the legal name of the university was "The President and Fellows of Yale College, in New Haven." In 1887, under an act passed by the Connecticut General Assembly, Yale gained its current, and shorter, name of "Yale University."[30]