Yale: A Short History

Yale's Graduates and the Nation


The rare book stack in Beinecke Library



President Hadley used to refer to the alumni as "the Greater Yale." For more than a century they had been staffing its Faculty, sending on their sons, encouraging the College societies and athletics, supporting Yale with gifts, and sharing increasingly in the conduct of its affairs. Under President Seymour this partnership was further enlarged and strengthened, so that the alumni not only governed Yale formally through its Corporation but helped it on important issues through an active Alumni Board, reinforced it throughout its structure by Councils associated with the several Schools or disciplines, and forwarded its growth through the Office of University Development - not to mention enthusiastic participation in such friendly conspiracies as the Yale Library Associates, the Associates in Fine Arts, or the Friends of Music at Yale. By the 1960s, every winter more than sixteen hundred Alumni representatives, organized in perhaps two hundred and fifty committees from the almost innumerable Yale Clubs across the land, helped find, interview, and select the thousand-odd young Freshmen who were to be the new men - and women - of Yale. And annually the Yale Alumni Fund raised more money than it or any other yearly college drive had ever raised before: in 1967 over four million dollars, by 1972 over six million, for Yale's current needs. It could be claimed that no more loyal and effective society of alumni had ever been connected with a university - and the developments under President Brewster would show that they still deeply cared. That caring has been indispensable - yet even with a successful $370 million drive may not tomorrow prove quite adequate. For where once Yale's Sixtieth Reunion of the Class of 1914 financial survival had depended on the support of The Connecticut Colony, Congregational Ministers and benevolent strangers - and where the past century saw the University's growth made possible by the affection and generosity of its own sons - in the past twenty-five years the rapid rise of costs has led to a sometimes uneasy dependence also on Federal funds. So whether the University's officers and faculty and graduates can develop additional support - in business, from the foundations, or in the general public - may prove to be a crucial question in the years ahead, and not only for Yale but for the whole country.
A major and continuing asset is the University's national tradition. Yale was founded to train youth for service in church and state and has taken pride in giving leaders to the nation. Second (at times only) to Harvard, it has seen more of its graduates earn public responsibility than any other college or university, produced more men of character and achievement, qualified more alumni for inclusion in The Dictionary of American Biography and Who's Who in America, and contributed more largely to the leadership of the Protestant churches and the direction of today's major philanthropic foundations. Seven per cent of all the major diplomatic officers of the United States since 1789 have been educated in New Haven; and each year since our national beginnings four senators (on the average) and eleven representatives in Congress have been sons of Yale. Recently those figures have even been going up. Meanwhile Yale College has been preeminent in producing future lawyers and big business leaders. Nor has any college in the country matched its production of future justices for the United States Supreme Court.
For almost two centuries one other trait was remarkable and strong. From the early Revolutionary days when General Washington reviewed the student military company - or when young Nathan Hale, B.A. 1773, was hanged by the British as a spy - Yale was fervently patriotic and national. In their country's wars the sons of Eli could be counted on to serve with outstanding energy and devotion. And in times of peace Yale took pride in its national character and constituency.
From the very first the little College drew students from outside Connecticut and New England. As the nation expanded, and the western territories turned into States, young men started coming from the South, the Great Lakes, the Plains and the Pacific Coast, so that throughout the nineteenth century the student body was the most widely representative, and the most enthusiastically American of any collegiate society in the Republic. Only Princeton could rival it. Today Harvard, Columbia, and a number of the great state universities have caught up, statistically. Yet still throughout this country and abroad, and more earnestly year by year, the believers in Yale are working to make it possible for determined young men or women, from however remote a birthplace or underprivileged a back ground or restricted the parental means, to explore their talents and strengthen their social commitment by coming to college in New Haven.
Since World War II, such developments as the dropping of the bomb at Hiroshima, the cold war and McCarthy persecutions, the realization of racial discrimination, and above all Vietnam, followed by the Nixon presidency and the Watergate scandals, at first gradually, then markedly, alienated the younger generation and qualified the loyalty of Yale students to our national leadership. Responsive to the generational ethos, however, and perhaps also out of heightened intellectual ambitions, Yale's undergraduate and graduate students have been intermingling as never before, and expressing their idealism with a vigor and freedom, a breadth and depth of social concern, unheard of even in the effervescent 1920s. Unmistakably Yale is now far more socially involved, and quite as vigorously international in its moral and intellectual concerns, as it has ever been national in its student constituency or patriotic devotion.
In the past 75 years, in part as a result of two world wars, in part because of necessary growth, Yale's structure has become more complex, its opportunities more diversified, its government more centralized. Now there are close to 10,000 young men and women, from 70 countries, studying for 27 different degrees, in programs that may require from one to seven years. At least a dozen Deans and Directors watch over their progress, where once there were none. A Provost now handles a large budgetary organization and many educational problems for the President; while directors of the Humanities, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences and Social Sciences work uninterruptedly to strengthen the disciplines.
Yet Yale retains a singular unity and social intimacy. It believes strongly in both its college and its university missions. Its schools nourish each other; and its faculties are still governed by traditions of personal responsibility. For its students, Yale insists on quality, limited numbers, a sense of social concern and a dedication to liberal learning. As Freshmen, the men and women of Yale can still learn to measure themselves and to know their fellows. In the residential colleges undergraduates gain social and intellectual experience in dining hall, dormitory entry, seminar, stage or playing field, under the supervision of modern Rectors called Masters, and in association with Faculty Fellows far more learned and inspiring than the old-watchdog Tutors - while as graduate or professional students they can journey on to the outer edges of knowledge.
The horizons have rolled back. But Yale still believes in character and fair play, in the learning and teaching of truth. It remains, as it has always been, a nursery of scholars and a gateway to that life whose test is achievement and public service.


Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data