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Wesleyan University, 1831-1910

Wesleyan University, 1831-1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England

David B. Potts
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Wesleyan University, 1831-1910
    Book Description:

    This lively narrative connects Wesleyan University to economic, religious, urban, and educational developments in nineteenth-century America. David B. Potts places Wesleyan's history in contexts that illuminate the dynamics of institutional change and contribute new perspectives on the nation's colleges, culture, and society.

    Potts explores Wesleyan's origins as a local enterprise in which citizens of Middletown, Connecticut, supplied land, buildings, and endowment pledges for a college that they organized in concert with Methodist clergy in New York and New England. He traces the dissolution of this alliance and the emergence of a thoroughly denominational institution that initiated coeducation in 1872. A second shift in identity, achieved by 1910, led Wesleyan to discard Methodist control and the education of women in return for status as a New England liberal arts college.

    Drawing on a wide range of manuscript collections, newspapers, and other sources, Potts describes faculty professionalization, trustee philanthropy, student discrimination against blacks and women, early rumblings of religious fundamentalism, and efforts of prestige-conscious alumni who pulled the country college into a financial and cultural orbit around New York City. Throughout he compares Wesleyan's history to developments at other New England colleges and universities.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16207-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    This book is written primarily as a contribution to scholarship on the history of American higher education. Wesleyan is viewed as one of the several hundred liberal arts enterprises woven into the cultural and economic fabric of a young nation. The potential for analysis in a regional context is explored most fully, drawing upon historical studies of nearby institutions to illuminate events at Wesleyan and to augment understanding of how liberal arts colleges developed in nineteenth-century New England. Many opportunities are pursued to extend boundaries of contextual analysis far beyond those usually drawn by institutional histories.

    This book is also...

  6. 1 An Enterprising Spirit: Middletown and Methodists
    (pp. 1-21)

    Middletown in the 1820s was attempting to recover from several decades of economic and social reversals. During the eighteenth century, the town developed from a stable farming community into a bustling river port of artisans and merchants engaged in extensive international trade. In 1784 Middletown, along with Hartford, New Haven, New London, and Norwich, attained incorporation as a city. By 1790 Middletown was nearing the zenith of its trade with the West Indies and was Connecticut’s largest city. But Jefferson’s embargo from 1807 to 1809, the three years of British blockade during the War of 1812, intense political and religious...

  7. 2 An Earnest Education
    (pp. 22-50)

    Willbur Fisk defined Wesleyan’s educational enterprise within the context of evangelical Protestantism. He saw the greatly expanded religious enterprises of the Christian church as a “striking feature . . . of the present age.” Using worldwide opportunities provided by connecting links of commerce, travel, friendship, and literature, the kingdom of Christ was “gaining strength, and enlarging its operations.” Education was “second only to Christianity itself in carrying on this work.” Drawing “youths of the greatest promise for extensive usefulness . . . from a Protestant community,” Wesleyan had a role to play in the Christianizing of America and the world.¹...

  8. 3 Entrepreneurial Strategy: From Town to Denomination
    (pp. 51-82)

    Local adversities led to declining financial support from Middletown. The generous local funding for establishing the college could not be sustained in a community struggling to make the transition from a mercantile to an industrial era. That shift yielded only modest gains in Middletown’s population growth and prosperity by 1870, particularly when compared with other cities in Connecticut. Reflecting a lack of development in large-scale industry, Middletown’s population ranking among Connecticut cities dropped from third in 1830 to sixth in 1870.¹

    Hopes for a brighter future had been closely tied to ill-fated efforts to bring a major rail line through...

  9. 4 Denominational Support and Influence
    (pp. 83-117)

    Isaac Rich’s death in Boston on 13 January 1872 marked a turning point in Wesleyan’s relations with Boston Methodists. Less than four years earlier the partnership of Boston and New York in support of Wesleyan found dramatic expression at the dedication of Rich Hall. After funding construction of this library building and donating a portrait of New York’s Daniel Drew to grace the interior, Rich persuaded Drew that they should each give notes for $100,000 toward Wesleyan’s endowment. Announcement of these gifts to the audience gathered at the new building prompted applause, cheers, stamping of feet, waving of handkerchiefs, tears...

  10. 5 Methodist Professors Becoming Academic Professionals
    (pp. 118-160)

    Leadership in the development of a clear sense of professional identity and mission came from four faculty members whose careers spanned all but a few of the years between 1870 and 1910. John Monroe Van Vleck ’50, mentor for the other three, began teaching mathematics and astronomy at Wesleyan in 1853. Experience gained during two years as an assistant in the Nautical Almanac Office, Cambridge, Massachusetts, gave him a keen sense of professional scholarship. Although his own research contributions were limited to preparation of annual astronomical tables, he supplied the guiding spirit in building a curriculum and faculty committed to...

  11. 6 The Metropolitan Milieu
    (pp. 161-232)

    “The last four years . . . have gone heavily against us,” Bradford Raymond reported in 1903. Expenses had exceeded revenues in each of those years by more than 10 percent. Annual deficits could no longer be covered by passing the hat and singing the doxology at trustee meetings. The wealthiest trustee, John Andrus, was no longer willing to supplement insufficient revenues with personal interest-free loans and with leadership in the annual trustee subscriptions to balance the budget. He resigned as treasurer of the board in 1902. Contributions from Methodists barely met the need for two new buildings. Raymond sought...

  12. Appendix 1. Charter of 1831
    (pp. 233-236)
    John S. Peters
  13. Appendix 2. Presidencies
    (pp. 237-237)
  14. Appendix 3. Enrollments at Wesleyan, Amherst, and Williams, 1831–1990
    (pp. 238-242)
  15. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 243-246)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 247-360)
  17. Index of First Citations in Notes
    (pp. 361-362)
  18. Index
    (pp. 363-383)