Today in History

Today in History: December 13

Dartmouth College

a building on the Dartmouth College campus
Dartmouth College,
Ammi B. Young, artist,
Currier & Ives, [1834 or 1835].
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!

Letter, Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer regarding the Dartmouth College Case, July 21, 1816.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

With these words, Daniel Webster concluded his successful defense of the inviolability of the royal charter of Dartmouth College (external link), which was originally obtained on December 13, 1769.

Daniel Webster, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left
Daniel Webster,
Southworth & Hawes, photographer,
[between 1851 and 1860].
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

In his landmark Dartmouth College v. Woodward decision (1819), Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835) supported the inviolability of the charter as a contract and ruled that the college, under the charter, was a private and not a public entity. As such, the school was protected from the state's regulatory power through the contract clause of the United States Constitution.

Exterior view of Dartmouth and Wentworth Halls
Dartmouth and Wentworth Halls, Dartmouth College,
Hanover, New Hampshire,
circa 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

The ninth oldest college in the United States, Dartmouth was founded when Reverend Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregationalist minister seeking to expand his school into a college, relocated his educational establishment from Connecticut to Hanover, in the royal Province of New Hampshire. Wheelock’s earlier school, the Moor’s Charity School, was primarily for the education of Native Americans.  The Royal Governor John Wentworth provided the land upon Dartmouth was built and conveyed the charter from King George III to establish the college. Wheelock’s charter was to create a college for the "education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land…and also of English Youth and any others."

The college was named in honor of William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, a friend of Wentworth's and an important benefactor. Salmon P. Chase and Robert Frost are among Dartmouth’s famous graduates.

Dartmouth’s first classes, consisting of just four students, were held in a single log hut in Hanover in 1770.  As of 2007 there were approximately 4,100 undergraduates and 1,600 graduate students enrolled in the four-year, private, liberal arts college. The school has thirty-nine undergraduate academic departments and programs in the arts and sciences (as well as nineteen graduate programs). Dartmouth College is the home of the nation’s first professional school of engineering, the world’s first graduate school of management, and the nation’s fourth oldest medical school.