Colleges with Interesting Histories

 The Humble Origins of the Harvard Yard

Flickr user Ian Lamont

When Harvard was first founded in the 1630s, the first piece of property purchased by the school was a house and an acre of land. This property was located on “Cow-yard Row”. The school distinguished its property from the surrounding name by calling their acre the “College Yard”. Thus began Harvard’s tradition of calling their open spaces “yard”. The original College Yard is located at the southern end of the Old Yard.

Lincoln University Is the First Historically Black College

Lincoln University of Pennsylvania was the United State’s first historically black college. It was founded in 1853 under the name Ashmun University, after Jehudi Ashmun. Ashmun is known for leading a settling expedition to Liberia and helping establish a constitution which enabled black people to hold positions of government.

The reason behind the founding of this university is that John Miller Dickey could not find a college willing to accept a freedman James Amos. Rather than continue his futile attempts to convince pre-existing colleges to accept Amos, Dickey proposed a new university “for the scientific, classical and theological education of colored youth of the male sex.” It was renamed Lincoln University in 1866 in honor of President Lincoln.

College of William and Mary Hold Origins for Greek Life

Flickr user benuski

While the founding history of William and Mary is intriguing—they are the second-oldest college in the United States (Harvard being the oldest) only because their original plans were stalled by an “Indian uprising”—they were first at something: Greek-letter society. Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 by John Heath. Heath had been denied access to Latin-Letter fraternities, so he organized a new society (way to be petty). As Heath was the best Greek scholar on campus, the society chose to represent themselves with Greek letters.

Wesleyan College Marked a First for Women

Flickr user Jennifer Pack

This college, located in Macon, GA, was the first in the world chartered for women’s education. While higher education was available in some instances before Wesleyan, none of those institutions granted Bachelors Degrees. The school was chartered in 1836, with its first classes starting in January of 1839. Eleven women graduated in July of 1840. This early graduation was due to the fact that these women had taken advantage of the higher education that was available to them until Wesleyan opened its doors.

Vassar College Exists Because of Vanity

Flickr user Prichman38

Matthew Vassar had made quite a name for himself as a self-made man. However, he had no children to spend his money on. He needed a way to immortalize his name, he realized after he visited a hospital founded by one of his ancestors. He was originally going to create a hospital as well, but was convinced to found a college for women instead, with the goal being to rival Harvard and Yale (all-male colleges at the time).

So how did Vassar make his money? He brewed beer! And apparently he was quite good at it, because he was able to give the Board of Trustees $408,000—only half his fortune.

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