Wesleyan History 101: 1831-2009
$36.00 for a Wesleyan Education
August 1831 – Methodist leaders and Middletown citizens found Wesleyan University, naming it after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Tuition is $36 per year and the University is composed of the president, three professors, one tutor, and 48 students. In 1937 the University becomes independent of the Methodist church; however, in 2000 the University is designated a Methodist historic site.
A Camel in Middletown?
1871 – 1957 – The top two floors of Judd Hall house the University’s natural history museum, one of the first museums in the United States specifically for undergraduate science study. The museum collection has a camel, walrus, buffalo, and a mummy. The museum grows to over 100,000 artifacts. The museum closes in 1957 and some artifacts are sold while others remain in storage—today the archaeology department administers some as well.
The First Women of Wesleyan
1872 – 1912 –Coeducation debuts at the University. The 1873 “Olla Podrida” (the Wesleyan yearbook) describes the female students as “earnest, faithful, and womanly.” In 1876 all four women graduating in the first coeducational class are elected to Phi Beta Kappa. At the beginning of the 20th century, male students and alumni become more vocal against coeducation and begin ostracizing female students. Women are not allowed to enter as freshmen again until 1970.
Wes Professor, Then President of U.S.
September 1888—Young, good-looking professor Woodrow Wilson arrives at Wesleyan, leaving his position at Bryn Mawr College due to his less-than-enthusiastic ideas about the higher education of women, not to mention the competitive salary and six weeks annual vacation that Wesleyan offers.
From the Classroom to the Trenches
Fall 1917—Enrollment decreases from 504 to 402 due to World War I conditions. Faculty votes to give a full semester’s credit to any students leaving after the first half of the year to enter the Army or Navy. In order to save coal, morning chapel services temporarily stop and the new dormitory closes.
All the church and all the people, but where’s the steeple?
Sept. 21, 1937—A hurricane knocks off the steeple of Memorial Chapel and destroys nearly 80 percent of the trees on campus.
Party on Foss, bring your mythical attire
1943 –A house sits atop Vernon Hill (a.k.a. Foss Hill) for professors. The first documented party on Foss takes place in 1943 when faculty residents of Foss House organize an elaborate pageant with a mythical theme of Foss history dating to the Neanderthal period. On May 3, 1970 the Grateful Dead play a free concert on Foss forever cementing the Hill’s reputation.
Before the “Watergates” Opened
1956—Vice President Richard Nixon visits campus to campaign for Dwight Eisenhower. Four years later, Nixon loses the presidential election to John F. Kennedy. The majority of Wesleyan students support Nixon, but the Argus endorses Kennedy and University faculty support Kennedy by a ratio of more than two to one.
MLK Frequents Wesleyan
May 1964 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at commencement where he also receives an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. King told students that, “We must move out the mountain of physical violence and corroding hatred to the higher and noble mountain of non-violence and creative, powerful love. This is the challenge standing before our nation, standing before our world.” King speaks at the University four times at church services, campus rallies, and colloquia.
Students Take Over Fisk Hall
Feb. 21, 1969—Black students protesting the faculty’s refusal to suspend classes for a day in honor of the murder of Malcolm X take over Fisk Hall. In a statement to the administration, the students write, “In occupying Fisk Hall we seek to dramatically expose the university’s infidelity to its professed goals and to question the sincerity of its commitment to meaningful change.” In response, President Etherington cancels classes for the remainder of the day.
No More Money to Support Apartheid
April 15, 1980—The Board of Trustees votes unanimously to divest entirely from the Standard Oil Company of California, beginning a tradition of ethical investing at the University. A two-year investigation by the Social Implications Subcommittee concludes that the Standard Oil Company was involved in apartheid in South Africa and that selling all stock in the company was an appropriate action.
Molotov Cocktails for President Chace
April 7, 1990 – A University student firebombs President William Chace’s office using three Molotov cocktails. For seven weeks during the spring tension and turmoil plague the campus in the form of fire bombings and graffiti concerning the issues of race, sex and education. The protests are sparked when several black faculty leave the University and many students see this as proof of institutional racism. The Malcolm X House is vandalized. “There is no excuse for violence on this or any campus,” Chace said.
Obama, Obama, Obama
May 2008 – Presidential candidate and now current President Barack Obama speaks at commencement after Senator Edward Kennedy is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Obama encourages public service and reminds students that, “I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of service—one blow against injustice.”
Sept. 1 2009 – President Michael Roth addresses students and parents of the class of 2013. The University received over 10,000 applications – the most ever.