DARTMOUTH COLLEGE had its origins in the Indian missionary movement and in the mid-eighteenth-century evangelical revival. In 1754 the Congregational clergyman Eleazar Wheelock, a graduate of Yale, founded Moor's Indian Charity School in Lebanon (now Columbia), Connecticut. Wheelock also hoped to train missionaries who would convert American Indians to the new evangelical faith. He found both governmental authorization and a location for his school in the province of New Hampshire. In 1769, Governor John Wentworth secured for Wheelock a sizable grant of land as well as a royal charter establishing the college, named for the earl of Dartmouth.
The charter of the new school reflected its origins in Indian education but also provided for the education of "English Youth and any others." Wheelock moved with his small band of students up the Connecticut Valley to Hanover, New Hampshire, and assembled the first class of Dartmouth College in 1770 in a log hut. This first class numbered only twenty students, but enrollments rose rapidly, in part because Dartmouth was one of the few colleges that kept its doors open during the American Revolution. Four students graduated in 1771, and by the end of the decade the college had graduated almost a hundred students.
Wheelock was succeeded as president in 1779 by his son John, who held the presidency until 1815. These were years of rapid growth, particularly notable for the founding in 1797 of the Dartmouth Medical School, the fourth in the nation. They were also years that produced a lengthening roster of distinguished alumni. At the same time, John Wheelock's presidency witnessed a bitter contest between the trustees and the State of New Hampshire for control of the college, a struggle finally resolved by Chief Justice John Marshall and the Supreme Court in 1819 with the Dartmouth College Case (Trustees of Dartmouth College v. William H. Woodward).
The struggle for control of the college had left it in a demoralized and impoverished state, and it fell to new president Nathan Lord in 1828 to restore its health and spirit. Building on the strong foundations and rich traditions laid down by the Wheelocks, Lord and his successors embarked on a broad program of expansion that, before the end of the century, gave Dartmouth a greatly increased endowment, additional buildings, an observatory, and a strong faculty. Lord resigned in 1863 because of his unpopular support of slavery.
The Thayer School of Engineering was established in 1871. In 1900, the college added a third professional school, the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, now the oldest school of its kind in the United States.
It was not until the twentieth century that Dartmouth experienced its greatest growth. Enrollments throughout the nineteenth century had remained small, averaging at the end of the century about three hundred men. After the 1890s, the number of students increased tenfold, stabilizing at about three thousand by the mid-1900s. Endowment, faculty, and the physical plant increased accordingly. A center for the arts, facilities for graduate work in a number of fields, and an extensive research library were added.
Dartmouth was among the earliest academic institutions to experiment with computing possibilities on campus, adding high-speed computer network links to all dormitory rooms, administrative offices, and academic buildings. Under President John G. Kemeny, who took office in 1969, the college expanded its medical school as part of the newly organized Mary Hitchcock Medical Center and adopted a plan to permit an increase in undergraduate enrollment to four thousand students. In 1972, Dartmouth formally began admitting women. The college achieved this by beginning year-round operations, expanding off-campus programs, and requiring a summer term, thus allowing women to enroll without increasing the college's physical facilities. Dartmouth's history of educating men and the deep tradition of fraternity culture made the transition to coeducation difficult. Enrollment of women, and full acceptance of women's participation in campus life, academics, and athletics occurred slowly but steadily. In 1999, Dartmouth admitted its first class of first-year students in which women outnumbered men. The college has also increased the number of women faculty. While men constituted 92 percent of the faculty in 1972, by 1997, 30 percent of the Arts and Sciences faculty was female.
In its increased effort to build a more diverse student body and academic program, the college sponsors and supports a wide range of student organizations and links to the community. One of the oldest student organizations is the Dartmouth Outing Club, which maintains New Hampshire's stretch of the Appalachian Trail and has pioneered camping, rock climbing, canoeing, and kayaking programs for incoming students.
In the 1980s and 1990s, persistent battles between new initiatives and conservative traditions made Dartmouth the subject of many difficult and publicized political battles. In 1999 the trustees of the college implemented the Student Life Initiative, a massive restructuring of Dart-mouth's social atmosphere that focused on improving options for students beyond the discrimination and elitism of the Greek system, improving student housing, and supporting campus activities.
Chase, Frederick. A History of Dartmouth College and the Town of Hanover, New Hampshire. Edited by John K. Lord. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: J. Wilson and Son, 1891–1913.
Hill, Ralph Nading. The College on the Hill: A Dartmouth Chronicle. Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth Publications, 1964.