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What Were They Teaching at Dartmouth in 1828?

Written By: Sam Blumenfeld  |  Posted: Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

            Recently, a friend of mine, an antiquarian book dealer, bought a box of early 19th century pamphlets at a book auction, among which was an 1828 catalogue of Dartmouth College. I had an opportunity to examine this fragile 24-page catalogue and was quite intrigued by the Course of Study students were required to take in those days. Dartmouth College, at Hanover, New Hampshire, as my readers may know, is one of America's prestigious Ivy League liberal arts universities. It was founded in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, a Puritan minister, with a charter signed in behalf of King George the Third of Great Britain. Indeed, it was the last colonial college to be chartered by the King of England. By the way, that ancient charter, encased in glass, is on display at the college library.

            In 1816, the State of New Hampshire tried to convert the college into a state university by amending its charter. The college objected, and it engaged Daniel Webster, an alumnus of the Class of 1802, to argue their case against the State of New Hampshire before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court decided that the state's amendment to Dartmouth's original charter was "an illegal impairment of a contract by the state" and thereby reversed New Hampshire's takeover, thus permitting Dartmouth to retain its independence as a private institution, which is why it is still called Dartmouth College instead of Dartmouth University, even though it confers all of the degrees of a university.

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