This book tells the compelling saga of American higher education from the founding of Harvard College in 1636 to the outbreak of World War II. The most in-depth and authoritative history of the subject available, The History of American Higher Education traces how colleges and universities were shaped by the shifting influences of culture, the emergence of new career opportunities, and the unrelenting advancement of knowledge.
Roger Geiger, arguably today's leading historian of American higher education, vividly describes how colonial colleges developed a unified yet diverse educational tradition capable of weathering the social upheaval of the Revolution as well as the evangelical fervor of the Second Great Awakening. He shows how the character of college education in different regions diverged significantly in the years leading up to the Civil Warfor example, the state universities of the antebellum South were dominated by the sons of planters and their cultureand how higher education was later revolutionized by the land-grant movement, the growth of academic professionalism, and the transformation of campus life by students. By the beginning of the Second World War, the standard American university had taken shape, setting the stage for the postwar education boom.
Breathtaking in scope and rich in narrative detail, The History of American Higher Education is the most comprehensive single-volume history of the origins and development of of higher education in the United States.
About the Author
Roger L. Geiger is Distinguished Professor of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University.
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The History of American Higher Education
Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II
By Roger L. Geiger
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2015 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST CENTURY OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE, 1636–1740
Higher education in British North America was conceived on October 28, 1636, when the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay "agreed to give 400£ towards a schoale or colledge." Despite the ambiguity of this wording, there is no doubt that the Puritan leaders intended to provide education comparable to that of Oxford and Cambridge, with which they were familiar. Provision had already been made for a preparatory grammar or Latin school in Boston; the new founding was intended for "instructing youth of riper years and literature after they came from grammar schools." This relatively generous appropriation triggered a train of events that led to the erection of Harvard College and its first commencement 6 years later, in 1642. However, the path was far from easy.
Further steps were taken late in 1637 when the Court directed that the college be located at Newtown and added "that Newetowne shall henceforward be called Cambrige." It confided the responsibility for the college to a "committee" of six magistrates and six ministers—who soon became the Board of Overseers. Newtown had grown rapidly in the early 1630s and even functioned briefly as the capital. But its first settlers found the area too cramped and left in 1636 for Connecticut.
The college was intended to uphold orthodox Puritanism, as interpreted by the General Court, the governors of the colony, and this consideration seems to have played a role in placing it in Newtown. Religious controversy was present from the start. The Colony had been shaken that same year by what was deemed heretical teachings by Anne Hutchinson. In increasingly popular discussion groups she had advocated a more severe, antinomian version of Calvinism, which meant stricter criteria for determining who belonged to the elect and hence qualified for full church membership. This approach threatened the governance of both churches and the General Court. Reverend Thomas Shepard of Newtown played a prominent role in opposing Hutchinson's views when she was tried and ultimately banished. The fact that Shepard was named to the overseeing committee and that the college was placed next to his dwelling would seem to be linked with his role in this controversy. Producing ministers with the proper interpretation of Puritanism was understood to be the mission of the new college.
Finding qualified leaders for the college was a challenge throughout the seventeenth century. The ministers of existing congregations were committed by covenant to remain with their congregations, making newcomers the most likely candidates at first. In the summer of 1637 Nathaniel Eaton arrived with some attractive credentials. He was just 27 years old, and his older brother had helped to organize the Massachusetts Bay Company. Although he had dropped out of Trinity College, Cambridge, he subsequently studied at the Dutch University of Franeker with William Ames, the Puritan's most revered theologian. Considered a "rare scholar" for having written a tract on observation of the Sabbath, Eaton was named master and charged with launching the college. He seems to have begun instructing about ten first-year students in the summer of 1638. The little that is known of this initial effort is all bad. Eaton routinely whipped his charges, and his wife failed to provide them with adequate beef and beer. The overseers were apparently blind to these practices, but when he savagely beat an assistant, the whole fiasco came to light. Eaton was tried and dismissed but still managed to abscond with some college funds. The college closed after just 1 year of operation, and students returned to their homes.
Before this tumult, John Harvard had taken an interest in the inchoate college. A graduate of Emmanuel College, Harvard probably crossed over on the same ship as Eaton and undoubtedly visited the new college. When he succumbed to consumption shortly after the college opened, he bequeathed it half of his estate and his entire library. Six months later, a grateful General Court ordered "that the colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge." But the college still awaited a teacher.
Its needs were met when Henry Dunster arrived in August 1640. A Bachelor and Master (1634) of Magdalene College, Cambridge, who had preached and taught in England, Dunster consented to become the first president of Harvard College just 3 weeks after disembarking—"a meer stranger in the Country," in his words. Reassembling the students almost immediately, he was responsible not only for shepherding them through to the commencement of 1642 but for organizing enduring forms of teaching, living, and governance.
Dunster originally established a 3-year course of study for the AB degree, loosely modeled on those of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The major components were philosophy (logic, ethics, and politics), the classical languages and literature, and other subjects suitable for a gentleman's education in the arts. Latin and Greek had quite different roles. Latin was the language of instruction and communication, so that students had to be able to read, write, and speak it as a condition for admission. Beginning students needed only a basic grounding in Greek grammar since this proficiency was developed in all 3 years. Students began by emphasizing logic in order to develop a facility for the disputations that were central to the arts course. Each class devoted one day per week to rhetoric, which prepared students for the flourishes of oratory known as declamations. Saturdays were devoted to divinity. The original Dunster course included Oriental languages (Hebrew and a smattering of Chaldean and Syriac), his specialty, as well as single terms that addressed history, botany, physics, astronomy, and geometry. After a decade, Dunster felt compelled to extend the course to 4 years, like the AB course in England. The fact that the additional year was appended to the beginning of the course and was used for honing skills in Latin and Greek, suggests weak student preparation.
Several aspects of the original Harvard course are notable. First, it was meant to convey a liberal education in the arts for the first degree. Despite the intense piety of the Puritans, the arts were considered essential to the culture of an educated gentleman. Future clergymen were expected to earn a second degree, the master of arts, by reading divinity for 3 years, whether in the college or elsewhere. But the paucity of resources in seventeenth-century Massachusetts made it difficult for most students to complete their education. Second, the course provided a largely literary education. Scientific subjects were only touched upon, in a manner that did not yet reflect the intellectual advances of the seventeenth century. Mathematics was confined to arithmetic and geometry in the last year. The corpus of knowledge transmitted at Harvard College was considered fixed, and inquiry after new knowledge was beyond imagining. Third, in spite of the static conception of knowledge, the pedagogy demanded what today would be called active learning. Students studied their texts, kept notebooks to organize this knowledge, and copied key concepts or phrases for future use in declamations or disputations. These latter two exercises occupied significant parts of the week for all classes, and performance in these exercises largely determined a student's standing. Finally, the graduation protocols provided both accountability and a capstone experience as the commencers publicly "demonstrated their proficiency in the tongues and the arts" with declamations and disputations that addressed previously publicized "theses and quaestiones."
Harvard's first commencement in 1642 consecrated the initial success of Dunster's efforts. In an impressive ceremony, the governor, magistrates, ministers and other educated citizens endured a full day of Greek and (mostly) Latin presentations. Nine students who had begun their studies under Nathaniel Eaton were awarded the first degree of bachelor of arts. It is often noted that the college had no authority to award degrees, since it lacked a royal charter. However, Harvard degrees had the backing of the colony, which created the college as one component of its self-sufficient existence. Given the universal nature of the arts course and President Dunster's qualifications as a master, Harvard degrees were soon recognized elsewhere as well.
The commencement also marked the public debut of the college building. This structure allowed the students, who had been "dispersed in the town and miserably distracted," to be united in the "collegiate way of living." The graduates of Cambridge and Oxford who organized the college viewed this arrangement as essential for a college of arts: teachers and scholars living together under a common discipline and sharing in meals, chambers, prayers, and recreation—a kind of total immersion in a setting devoted to learning. The building itself soon came to be known as the Old College. A four-story wooden open quadrangle, shaped like an E, it was so poorly designed and constructed that it required constant repairs and lasted fewer than 40 years. The first floor contained a large hall where the entire college assembled for prayers, meals, and college exercises, as well as rooms for storing, preparing, and serving food. The library was on the second floor. Student chambers were scattered throughout, mostly on the upper stories. Students lived three or four to a chamber, which also contained individual cubicles as studies.
In 1650 Dunster was able to solidify the governance of the college by obtaining a charter of incorporation from the General Court. The eminent Overseers could seldom be gathered for college business, so the Charter of 1650 established a corporation, consisting of the president, treasurer, and five fellows, to be responsible for the affairs of the college and particularly its finances. The Overseers remained as a second, dominant external board, with responsibility to approve the actions of the Corporation. Dunster no doubt envisioned active teaching fellows filling out the Corporation. However, because the college could support only two such positions in the seventeenth century, outside ministers were enlisted. Whether the fellows should be instructors or external representatives would be a future bone of contention. The Charter of 1650 has endured as the basis for governing Harvard, the oldest continuous corporation in the Western Hemisphere.
Dunster resigned the presidency in 1654 under circumstances that exposed the realities of college governance perhaps better than the charter. He was first disturbed by the General Court's assertion of authority over the college. When Dunster had complained of insufficient funds, the court ordered a review of all income and expenditures. The resulting report found no wrongdoing on Dunster's part, but the court nevertheless affirmed the Overseers' authority over the corporation in financial matters. Dunster doubtless had assumed that his charter accorded greater powers to the president and corporation, and he complained of this slight in his letter of resignation. However, it was a theological matter that made his position untenable. Dunster had become convinced that there was no scriptural justification for infant baptism. The notion that baptism should signify adult religious commitment was a heresy associated with Anabaptists, who were outlawed in the Colony and banished to Rhode Island. Dunster could have retained the presidency had he kept his beliefs to himself, but he would not suppress what he held (with Biblical justification) to be truth. The court finally reacted by announcing that no one should teach in school or college who "manifested themselves unsound in the faith." Given the Reformation melding of state, church, and college, Dunster had to go. But the problem of the state determining what was sound or unsound in the faith was not so easily dismissed—as subsequent developments would show.
When Dunster withdrew in 1654 he left a flourishing, if impecunious, college of about fifty students. Harvard degrees were recognized in England, and its students hailed from New England and beyond. In just 15 years Dunster had created the fully functioning arts college that the Puritan founders had envisioned. Yet it had already assumed distinctive American features. The collegiate way of living was sparer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but in some ways more intense. Students thrown together with their classmates for 4 years developed lasting bonds, so that the class became a stronger source of identity in America than in England. Tutors turned over rapidly given their meager stipends, so that the president dominated teaching in the American college. And, while Oxbridge colleges enjoyed endowments and a significant degree of autonomy, Harvard emanated from a self-defined community that expected to both support and control the institution.
Dunster was replaced by the learned but elderly Charles Chauncy (1654–1672), who provided solid if uninspired leadership until his death at age 80. The difficulties facing Chauncy and Harvard were not of his making. The outbreak of the English Civil War in 1640 had brought the dissenters to power. With an end to persecution, Puritans were no longer driven to emigrate to the Bay Colony. The absence of newcomers and new money brought the economy near to collapse. The dearth of new settlements also shrunk the need for new ministers. Instead, Puritan rule in England during the 1650s under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell generated a huge demand for Puritan ministers there. A reverse migration took place that chiefly attracted the young and the educated. Reverend Richard Mather of Dorchester, for example, saw three of his four Harvard-educated sons take parishes in England and only the youngest, Increase, return to Massachusetts after the Restoration. As the constituency of Harvard evolved from first-generation immigrants to indigenous families, educational aspirations waned. College enrollments fell by half during Chauncy's tenure; graduates fell to five or six per year (and none in 1672), and fewer bachelors completed the master's degree. These relative doldrums persisted until the 1680s. By then a pattern for seventeenth-century Harvard was set.
Roughly 300 students attended Harvard under Dunster and Chauncy (1640–1672), and almost 200 of them graduated. In the next 35 years the college enrolled about 360 students, most of them after 1690, when class size grew to around 15.11 Dunster's students were distinctive in being the sons of English exiles, if not exiles themselves. Sons of ministers or magistrates were a majority, and the rest came from gentry families. These classes contained a number of older students, as well as students from England and other colonies. Under Chauncy, however, Harvard quickly became a New England institution. The ministerial connection, unsurprisingly, was central to both recruitment and careers. Almost one-quarter of Harvard students were sons of Harvard-trained ministers. But, overall only about two-thirds of students came from gentry or college-educated fathers. Included in this group were a few fellow-commoners, as at Oxbridge, who paid double tuition and dined with the fellows and resident bachelors, a practice that continued into the early eighteenth century. Still, it seems remarkable that one-third of students came from the common people of New England. One reason for this may have been the availability of schooling. Samuel Eliot Morison found the largest numbers of students hailing from, respectively, Boston, Cambridge, Ipswich, and Roxbury—towns that maintained grammar schools in the same order of size. Other students would typically have been prepared individually by local ministers and even then would face the costs of tuition and living expenses at Harvard. Total costs for 4 years at Harvard in the seventeenth century approximated 2 years' income for a common laborer—not too different from the price of a residential public university education in 2010.
Excerpted from The History of American Higher Education by Roger L. Geiger. Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
PREFACE ixPROLOGUE: UNIVERSITIES, CULTURE, CAREERS, AND KNOWLEDGE xiii1THE FIRST CENTURY OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE, 1636 -1740Harvard College 1Yale College 8The College of William & Mary 11Conflict and New Learning in the Early Colleges 15The Embryonic American College 252COLONIAL COLLEGES, 1740 -1780New Colleges for the Middle Colonies 33Enlightened Colleges 48College Enthusiasm, 1760-1775 57Colonial College Students 763REPUBLICAN UNIVERSITIESMaking Colleges Republican 92Educational Aspirations in the Early Republic 102New Colleges in the New Republic 1094THE LOW STATE OF THE COLLEGES, 1800 -1820The Problem with Students 125The Second Great Awakening and the Colleges 132The Rise of Professional Schools 143Who Owns Colleges? 1605RENAISSANCE OF THE COLLEGES, 1820 -1840New Models for Colleges 175The Yale Reports of 1828 187Denominational Colleges I 193Higher Education for Women 2066REGIONAL DIVERGENCE AND SCIENTIFIC ADVANCEMENT, 1840 -1860The Early Collegiate Era in the Northeast 215Sectionalism and Higher Education in the South 229Denominational Colleges II: Proliferation in the Upper Midwest 243Science and the Antebellum College 2567LAND GRANT COLLEGES AND THE PRACTICAL ARTSPremodern Institutions 270The Colleges and the Civil War 277The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 281Land Grant Universities 287Agricultural Colleges and A&Ms 298Engineering and the Land Grant Colleges 3068THE CREATION OF AMERICAN UNIVERSITIESThe First Phase 316The Academic Revolution 326Research, Graduate Education, and the New Universities 338The Great American Universities 348Columbia College and the University of Pennsylvania 350State Universities 3549THE COLLEGIATE REVOLUTIONThe High Collegiate Era 365High Schools, Colleges, and Professional Schools 380Higher Education for Women, 1880-1915 394Liberal Culture 40810MASS HIGHER EDUCATION, 1915 -1940World War I 423Mass Higher Education 428Shaping Elite Higher Education 446Liberal Culture and the Curriculum 455Advanced Education of African Americans 46711THE STANDARD AMERICAN UNIVERSITYPhilanthropic Foundations and the Standardization of Higher Education 479Research Universities in the Golden Age and Beyond 491Students and the Great Depression 507American Higher Education in 1940 514The American System of Higher Education 53212CULTURE, CAREERS, AND KNOWLEDGE 539INDEX 553