Yale: A Short History

The Making of the University

"A seminary for the Education of the Youth in the Latin and Greek Tongues or Classics only, is but a Grammar School: when furnished with an ample Library and philosophical apparatus, together with Tuition in Logic, Geography, Philosophy, Astronomy, Ethics and the rest of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, it becomes a College: when in Addition to the Languages and liberal arts, provision is made for a Studium generale, and it exhibits Instruction in the highest literature, especially in the three learned Professions of Divinity, Law, and Physic, it rises into a University."
Ezra Stiles' Plan of a University, 1777

The making of the university
From the founding, Yale's sponsors envisioned an institution of the highest learning - yet the necessary scholars, schools and public support were slow in coming. Yale's colonist sons themselves went off to found Princeton and Dartmouth, and furnish the first president of King's College (Columbia); and after the Revolution it would be Williams, Middlebury, Hamilton, Kenyon, Western Reserve, Illinois College, Beloit, Wisconsin and California - as well as the Universities of Georgia, Mississippi, Tulane, Missouri, and Washington of St. Louis in the South - altogether nineteen by 1860 and ultimately more than forty institutions of higher learning either founded or first presided over by the graduates of Yale. So Yale College became the "Mother of Colleges" a good century before it could itself accumulate the substance of a university.
Yet as early as 1732 Bishop Berkeley had donated his farm in Rhode Island to encourage graduate study by providing support for a few "Scholars of the House" residing in the College between their first and second degrees. In I777, the Reverend Ezra Stiles, the first Yale graduate regularly elected President, had drawn up his hopeful "Plan of a University," proposing the addition of four professorships for the teaching of Law and Medicine, Belles Lettres, and Ecclesiastical History. And finally his successors, Dwight and Day, had put in motion the efforts which added to Yale College the three professional schools traditionally associated with the continental universities: The Medical Institution (1810-13), the Theological Department (1822), and the Law School (1824).

Professor William A. Norton teaching surveying to Scientific School students in front of Grove Street Cemetery  

So Yale moved out of the traditional Oxford-Cambridge model of a cluster of colleges toward a confederation of professional schools on a collegiate base: a great stride toward the liberal arts university that we know today. In 1832 was opened the Trumbull Art Gallery, the first art gallery connected with a college to be built in the United States. This was followed in 1865-69 by the School of Fine Arts (the first college-connected art school), and in 1866 by the Peabody gift for a Museum of Natural History. Meanwhile in 1846 John P. Norton and Benjamin Silliman, Jr., B.A. 1837, were appointed professors respectively of Agricultural and Applied Chemistry. In 1852 the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) was authorized and an Engineering School created. In 1854 these chemical and engineering elements were consolidated as the Yale Scientific School, with instruction in Metallurgy, Analytical Chemistry and Industrial Mechanics soon added.
Strengthened and equipped by the beneficent gifts of Joseph E. Sheffield, this rising undergraduate school was in 186I renamed the Sheffield Scientific School, which became Connecticut's Land Grant College, and in short order under Director George J. Brush, Ph.B. 1852, achieved recognition as the leading scientific and engineering school in the country (with its own Trustees, Faculty, laboratories, a three-year degree and its own secret societies). While colleges, professional schools, laboratories and museums, were filling out the formal structure of our new-world university, indispensable still would be the production of scholars and the highest scholarship. The colonies had boasted few men of advanced learning and virtually no professors or professional teacher-scholars. In the early 1800s Yale's brightest had to go abroad for a systematic training in the languages and sciences. Formal graduate instruction at home, however, began at least as early as 184I, when E. E. Salisbury was appointed Professor of Arabic and Sanskrit Language and Literature. In 1846-47 systematic advanced teaching in the sciences and in letters as well was envisioned by the creation of a new Department of Philosophy and Arts. For more than a decade the disinterest of the public in advanced learning, the demand instead for applied sciences at elementary levels, diverted energies into undergraduate engineering. Then in 1861, on the recommendation of the Scientific School Professors, Yale pioneered in graduate education by offering and awarding the first Ph.D.s in America. In 1863 this new degree was won by J[osiah] Willard Gibbs, B.A. 1858, in his day the most original and perhaps still the most distinguished scientific mind America has produced.
Until 1870 Yale carried forward this higher learning without university rivals. But then Noah Porter became President (1871-86) and with the backing of the older alumni reaffirmed the almost exclusive central importance of the College -which left the university movement to be carried forward elsewhere, as it happened quite often by Yale men.

J[osiah] Willard Gibbs, B.A. 1858, Ph.D. 1863; tutor in Latin, 1863-65, and in Natural Philosophy 1865-66; Professor of Mathematical Physics, 1871-1903. His "On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances" (1876,1878) provided the basic theory for a new branch of science, physical chemistry. In the 1880s he did original work in vector analysis for mathematical physics; and in 1902 he published his last great contribution: Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics  

One of Yale's nuclear particle accelerators, the Emperor Tandem Van de Graaff  

Among the outstanding university builders - in addition the Harvard's Eliot and Stanford's Jordan - one thinks of Cornell (1865) and its first president, Andrew D. White (Yale '53), of Johns Hopkins (I876) and President Daniel Coit Gilman (Yale '5 2), and of the University of Chicago (I891) established by William Rainey Harper (Yale Ph.D. '74). Finally, in 1892, Yale's own courses of graduate instruction were reorganized and given their first dean. In 1920 the Graduate School achieved its own governing board, and under Wilbur Lucius Cross (Dean, 1916-30) proceeded to attract the scholarly faculty and develop the policy of selective admissions, small group teaching, and personal supervision which have distinguished its work in the arts and sciences. Meanwhile the broadening of academic horizons and the application of scholarship to other professional or specialized interests led to the establishment of the Yale Music School (1894), the Forestry School (1901), the Nursing School (1923), the Institute of Psychology (1924), and the Institute of Human Relations (1929). In 1955 the Drama Department, which had been set up in 1922 and endowed with its own Theatre, was given its independence as a self-governing School. The profession of Architecture, which had grown to importance in the Art School in the 1920s, achieved its own Dean and School in 1972. Forestry became Forestry and Environmental Studies in the same year. And in 1974 a School of Organization and Management was developed out of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (originally Social Sciences Institute, 1969 - )
Presidentially, after Stiles and Dwight, it was Theodore Dwight Woolsey (1846-71) and James Rowland Angel1 (I92I-37) who insisted most effectively on its University mission.

Theodore Dwight Woolsey   James Rowland Angell

In scholar Woolsey's quarter-century Yale saw not only the creation of its Scientific and Art Schools, the revival of its Divinity School, the inauguration of formal graduate instruction and the appointment of J[osiah] Willard Gibbs in mathematical physics, but also the establishment of great lines of inquiry into the unknown past. Thus, with the endowment of the Peabody Museum of Natural History came the appointment of Othniel C. Marsh B.A. 1860 to a chair in paleontology (the second such chair in the world); and soon this great bone-digger, with the energy and enterprise of a robber baron, was unearthing the dinosaurs and primitive horses of the American West to provide a spectacular proof of the new doctrine of evolution. Another advanced line of research into the roots of all Indo-European Languages had been started by E. E. Salisbury in the administration but was in 1854 anchored at Yale by the creation of the Salisbury chair of Sanskrit and the appointment of William Dwight Whitney, soon recognized as America's greatest and lexicographer.
Under Noah Porter (I871-86) a variety of talented scholars, ranging from the gentle humanist of letters Henry A. Beers, B.A. 1869, to the dour social realist William Graham Sumner, B.A. 1863, became Permanent Officers of the College; while the Scientific School added Russell H. Chittenden, Ph.B. 1875, in physiological chemistry, Francis A. Walker (future builder of M.I.T) in political economy, and Yale's first full professor of English, the Chaucerian scholar Thomas A. Lounsbury, B.A. I859, to a scientific faculty already distinguished for such figures as Addison E. Verrill, the marine biologist, and Samuel William Johnson, father of the agricultural experiment station.
Timothy Dwight (1886-99) promoted all of the professional schools, and sought early and late to gain recognition for Yale as a University: he put the word University into Yale's title. He also brought in such scholars as the German trained linguist and theorist of poetry, Albert Stanburrough Cook, and the Leipzig Ph.D. George Burton Adams, B.D. 1878, for European and English constitutional history; and he brought back Yale's own pioneer of historical criticism, Edward Gaylord Bourne, B.A. I883, PhD. 1892. So in these fields, too, Yale began to add to the world's knowledge.

Benjamin Silliman
Promoter of the sciences for the new nation, 1802-1853
  William Dwight Whitney
Linguist and lexicographer Professor of Sanskrit 1854-94
Othniel Charles Marsh
America's first professor of paleontology, 1866-99
  Ross Granville Harrison
Pioneer of tissue culture Professor 1907-38
Chauncey Brewster Tinker,
"Yale's Doctor Johnson" 1899-1945
  Michael Ivanovich Rostovtzeff
Professor of Ancient History & Classical Archeology, 1925-39

Under Hadley (1899-1921) scholars of the distinction of Ross Granville Harrison in comparative anatomy, Alexander Petrunkevitch in Zoology, George Lincoln Hendrickson in Latin and Greek, and Charles M. Andrews in American Colonial history were drawn in from the outside; while Wilbur Lucius Cross, B.A. 1885, Ph.D. 1889, and Chauncey Brewster Tinker, 1899, Ph.D. 1902, joined Lounsbury, Beers, Cook, Phelps, and Charlton M. Lewis, B.A. 1886, Ph.D. 1898, to form perhaps the greatest cluster of English scholars in the country.
Under Hadley and Secretary Anson Phelps Stokes, B.A. 1896, began also a considerable re-structuring. In the great Reorganization of 1918-I9 the growing rivalry between "Ac" and "Sheff" (the four-year College and three-year Scientific School) was cauterized by the creation of a Common Freshman Year for all students, the consolidation of duplicate departments in the Faculty, and the creation of a new educational officer, the Provost. In 1932 the engineering departments were to be separated from the Sheffield Scientific School to form the Engineering School. So briefly there were three undergraduate degree-granting institutions - yet neither could compete with great success against the liberal arts. So in 1945 the Scientific School and in 1962 the Engineering School returned to their original but shadowy graduate status, thus giving Yale College once again entire undergraduate responsibility for the arts and sciences, and the Yale Graduate School effective control thereafter.

Charles Seymour and James Rowland Angell on Alumni Day 1938  

"The university is essentially a living thing. Like other
organisms, it must grow by casting off that which is no
longer of value and by taking on that which is . . . .
Meantime, it will always be true that where the greatest
investigators and scholars are gathered, thither will
come the intellectual elite from all the world."

President James Rowland Angell, inaugural Address, 1921

Under Hadley, not only had the Forestry School been founded through the initiative of Gifford Pinchot, B.A. 1889, but revivals had been started in Yale's rather provincial little schools of Medicine and Law. However, it was James Rowland Angell's keen interest, with the driving leadership of Milton C. Winternitz (Dean, 1920-35) and the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, that in the 1920s built the modern Medical School. And in Law it was Deans Thomas W. Swan, B.A. 1900, Robert M. Hutchins, B.A. 1921, LL.B. 1925, and Charles E. Clark, B.A. 1911, LL-B. 1913, who created the socially conscious and outstanding Law School of the 1920s and 1930s.
Again with Angell's backing it was Wilbur Lucius Cross and Edgar S. Furniss, Ph.D. 1918, as Deans of the Graduate School, who helped make possible the introduction and further work of such outstanding scholars of language as E. H. Sturtevant, Franklin Edgerton, Edward Sapir and Albrecht E. R. Goetze - and of such preeminent professors of English as Karl Young and Frederick A. Pottle, Ph.D. 1925. Also of James Harvey ("Gold Standard") Rogers, B.A. 1909, Ph.D. 1916, in Economics and of Marcel Aubert and Henri Focillon in the History of Art - of Lars Onsager, Ph.D. 1935, who would win a Nobel Prize and fittingly serve as J. Willard Gibbs Professor of Chemistry - finally of such international historians as M. I. Rostovtzeff and George Vernadsky, Wallace Notestein, Ph.D. 1908, Erwin A. Good-enough, Hajo Holborn and Samuel Flagg Bemis.
Such constellations were a signal. The higher road of learning had hardly been easy. In fact the creation and equipment of a major independent university - with scholars of international distinction in the arts and sciences, and professional schools of the first order above and around the strong college - had required vision, long generations of effort, and the winning of some modicum of public acceptance. By 1937, unmistakably, all these had been achieved.

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