December 13, 1769
Eleazar Wheelock Started Dartmouth College
The "Big Green,"
Dartmouth College, is one of the most prestigious
universities in the U.S., but it started out in a log hut.
A minister, Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, founded this
college with a royal charter on December 13, 1769.
Since 1754, Wheelock had been trying to sustain a Charity
School for American Indians.
Moving to the
province of New Hampshire, he succeeded with the help of
Royal Governor Thomas Wentworth in obtaining the charter
for a college. It would provide "education and instruction
of Youth and of the Indian Tribes in this Land . . . and
also of English Youth and any others."
The college, the
ninth oldest in the United States, was situated on land
provided by Royal Governor Wentworth, and was named in
honor of William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, a friend of
Wentworth's and an important financial backer. Dartmouth's
first class met in a single log hut in Hanover, New
Hampshire, in 1770 with just four students attending. The
college grew and prospered.
In 1815, Dartmouth
became the stage for a constitutional drama that had
far-reaching effects. Claiming its 1769 charter
invalid, the New Hampshire legislature established a
separate governing body for the College and changed its
name to Dartmouth University. The trustees took the
case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lawyer and later
Secretary of State Daniel Webster (a Dartmouth graduate,
class of 1801) argued that the original charter was still
valid, and Dartmouth should be allowed to continue as a
private institution free of interference from the state.
Justice Marshall and the Supreme Court agreed. The
Dartmouth College case paved the way for other private
American institutions of higher learning.
Dartmouth today is
still a small private college, coed since 1972, with about
4,300 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students
representing every state and 40 nations. Theodor
"Dr. Seuss" Geisel (class of 1925) is among notable
Dartmouth graduates. The motto of "Big Green" is
vox clamantis in deserto, which means "a
voice crying in the wilderness"--an apt saying,
remembering its beginnings in a small log hut.