Amherst College is an independent liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. It is the third oldest college in Massachusetts. It has been coeducational since 1975.
Founded in 1821, Amherst was intended to be a successor to both Williams College, which was then struggling to remain open, and Amherst Academy, a secondary school which educated, among others, Emily Dickinson.
Origin of Name
Amherst Academy and Amherst College were both named for the town of Amherst, which in turn was named for Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commanding general of British forces in North America during the French and Indian War, and notorious for spreading smallpox-infected blankets among native Americans.
"Amherst Academy was the mother of Amherst College," according to William S. Tyler, who wrote two comprehensive histories of Amherst College. Funds were raised for the Academy in 1812, and the Academy went into operation in December 1814.
On November 18, 1817, a project was adopted at the Academy to raise funds for the free instruction of "indigent young men of promising talents and hopeful piety, who shall manifest a desire to obtain a liberal education with a sole view to the Christian ministry." This required a substantial investment from benefactors.
During the fundraising for the project, it became clear that without larger designs, it would be impossible to raise sufficient funds. This led the committee overseeing the project to conclude that a new institution should be created. On August 18, 1818, the Amherst Academy board of trustees accepted this conclusion and began building a new college.
According to Tyler:
As early as 1815, six years before the opening of Amherst College, the question of removing Williams College to some more central part of Massachusetts was agitated among its friends and in its board of trustees. At that time Williams College had two buildings and fifty-eight students, with two professors and two tutors. The library contained fourteen hundred volumes. The funds were reduced and the income fell short of the expenditures. Many of the friends and supporters of the college were fully persuaded that it could not be sustained in its present location. The chief ground of this persuasion was the extreme difficulty of access to it.
At the same meeting of the board of trustees at which Professor Moore was elected president of Williams College, May 2 1815, Dr. Packard of Shelburne introduced the following motion: "That a committee of six persons be appointed to take into consideration the removal of the college to some other part of the Commonwealth, to make all necessary inquiries which have a bearing on the subject, and report at the next meeting." The motion was adopted, and at the next meeting of the board in September, the committee reported that "a removal of Williams College from Williamstown is inexpedient at the present time, and under existing circumstances."
But the question of removal thus raised in the board of trustees and thus negatived only "at the present time and under existing circumstances," continued to be agitated. And at a meeting on the 10th of November, 1818, influenced more or less doubtless by the action of the Franklin County Association of Congregational Ministers, and the Convention of Congregational and Presbyterian Ministers in Amherst, the board of trustees resolved that it was expedient to remove the college on certain conditions. President Moore advocated the removal, and even expressed his purpose to resign the office of president unless it could be effected, inasmuch as when he accepted the presidency he had no idea that the college was to remain at Williamstown, but was authorized to expect that it would be removed to Hampshire County. Nine out of twelve of the trustees voted for the resolutions, which were as follows:
"Resolved, that it is expedient to remove Williams College to some more central part of the State whenever sufficient funds can be obtained to defray the necessary expenses incurred and the losses sustained by removal, and to secure the prosperity of the college, and when a fair prospect shall be presented of obtaining for the institution the united support and patronage of the friends of literature and religion in the western part of the Commonwealth, and when the General Court shall give their assent to the measure."
In November, 1819, the trustees of Williams College voted to petition the Legislature for permission to remove the college to Northampton [near to the town of Amherst]. To this application, Mr. Webster says, "the trustees of Amherst Academy made no opposition and took no measures to defeat it." In February, 1820, the petition was laid before the Legislature. The committee from both houses, to whom it was referred, after a careful examination of the whole subject, reported that it was neither lawful nor expedient to remove the college, and the Legislature, taking the same view, rejected the petition. ... Thus the long and exciting discussion touching the removal of Williams College and the location of a college in some more central town of old Hampshire County at length came to an end, and the contending parties now directed all their energies to building up the institutions of their choice. (William S. Tyler, A History of Amherst College (1895))
Moore, however, still believed that Williamstown was an unsuitable location for a college, and with the advent of Amherst College, was elected its first president on May 8, 1821.
At its opening, Amherst had forty-seven students. Fifteen of these had followed Moore from Williams College. Those fifteen represented about one-third of the whole number at Amherst, and about one-fifth of the whole number in the three classes to which they belonged in Williams College. President Moore died on June 29, 1823, and was replaced with a Williams College trustee, Heman Humphrey.
For two years in the mid-1830's, Amherst was the second largest college in the United States, second only to Yale. In 1835, Amherst attempted to create a course of study parallel to the classical liberal arts education. This parallel course focused less on Greek and Latin, instead focusing on English, French, Spanish, chemistry, economics, etc. The parallel course did not take hold, however, until the next century.
Williams alumni are fond of an apocryphal story ascribing the removal of books from the Williams College library to Amherst College, but there is no contemporaneous evidence to verify the story. In 1995, Williams president Henry Payne declared the story false, but it continues to propagate.
Academic hoods in the United States are traditionally lined with the official colors of the school, in theory so watchers can tell where the hood wearer earned his or her degree. Williams' official color is purple (its teams are called "The Purple Cows"), where Amherst's are purple with a white stripe or chevron, it is said to signify that Amherst was in some way born of Williams.
Presidents of the College
- Zephaniah Swift Moore, 1821-1823
- Heman Humphrey, 1823-1845
- Edward Hitchcock, 1845-1854
- William Augustus Stearns, 1854-1876
- Julius Hawley Seelye, 1876-1890
- Merrill Edwards Gates, 1890-1899
- George Harris, 1899-1912
- Alexander Meiklejohn, 1912-1924
- George Daniel Olds, 1924-1927
- Arthur Stanley Pease, 1927-1932
- Stanley King, 1932-1946
- Charles W. Cole, 1946-1960
- Calvin Plimpton, 1960-1971
- John William Ward, 1971-1979
- Julian Gibbs, 1979-1983
- Peter R. Pouncey, 1984-1994
- Tom Gerety, 1994-2003
- Anthony W. Marx, 2003-
Amherst is a member of the Five Colleges consortium, which allows its students to attend classes at four other Pioneer Valley institutions.
The school's sports teams are known as the Lord Jeffs; women's teams are sometimes referred to as "Lady Jeffs", though the official title covers all teams. (The women's volleyball team calls itself the "Firedogs" while the men's ultimate frisbee team calls themselves Army of Darkness.) The school participates in the NCAA's Division III, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
Amherst is also one of the "Little Three", along with Williams and Wesleyan.
In the Amherst-Williams rivalry, Amherst has recently been dominated by Williams College, which dominates Division III athletics in general (winning the Division III NACDA Director's Cup nine of the last ten years). Amherst does, however, have one of the best Division III athletic programs in the country, placing in the top ten of the NACDA Dirctor's Cup five of the last ten years.
- The first intercollegiate baseball game was played between Williams and Amherst on July 1, 1859. Amherst won, 66-32.
- The first Harvard College loss on Soldiers Field was in 1903. They lost 6-0 to Amherst.
- The last tie in an NCAA football game was on November 11, 1995, when Amherst and Williams tied 0-0 on Weston Field in Williamstown.
- The first black student to attend Amherst College, Edward Jones, was in the class of 1826. He was later a missionary to Sierra Leone.
- The Amherst Alumni Society was founded in July 1842.
- Amherst records one of the first uses of Latin honors of any American college, dating back to 1881. Contemporaneous writings stated that the system was new.
- An asteroid, 516 Amherstia, is named after Amherst College. The name was given by its discoverer, Raymond Smith Dugan in honor of his alma mater.
Notable alumni of Amherst College include:
College Founders and Presidents
Men of the Cloth
Lawyers and Judges
Businessmen and Businesswomen
Authors and Artists
Some better-known professors who taught at Amherst are Robert Frost, Archibald MacLeish, Henry Steele Commager, Anthony Lake, and Stark Young.
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