In 1825, a visitor standing here would have seen a crowd of boys clad in soldiers uniforms, practicing military drills, or racing to their classes. The cadets, as they were called, were students at the new American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy, which drew hundreds of boys from around the country. But the school's success was short-lived; in 1829 the academy closed, leaving two empty brownstone buildings.
Middletown leaders previously had tried to encourage a college to settle in the city. Local officials began talks with leaders of the Methodist church, promising city support - including the academy buildings - for the establishment of a Methodist college. Wesleyan University opened here in 1831.
From its beginnings, the school focused on a liberal arts curriculum and was among the first to teach advanced course work in modern languages, and to devote a building solely to science instruction. By 1872, students could choose electives and pursue a degree in one of three courses of study: Classical, Latin Scientific, or Scientific. Several early faculty members held Ph.D.'s at a time when few American college instructors held advanced degrees.
Although in the early years most students were Methodists, Wesleyan admitted students of other denominations. The first African-American student
enrolled briefly in 1832; the first black student graduated in 1860. Women were enrolled between 1872 and 1912, and in 1968 Wesleyan reopened its doors to female students. Wesleyan also attracted many from Middletown's striving immigrant population who were eager to obtain a college education close to home. The school officially separated from the Methodist Church in 1937.
The distinctive brownstone buildings of "College Row," which you see before you, comprised the college's 19th campus: from left, Judd Hall (1871), the '92 Theatre - formerly Rich Hall - (1868) Memorial Chapel (1871), South College (1824-1825) and North College (originally built in 1824-1825: rebuilt after a 1906 fire). After 1900, Wesleyan's campus expanded significantly, stretching to Church Street in the south, and Foss Hill to the west, based on a plan developed by Henry Bacon, the designer of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Women At Wesleyan
In 1872, four independent young women entered Wesleyan. At this time, despite a strong women's rights movement, there were very few opportunities for American women to attend college. Several New England colleges considered admitting women in the early 1870s; only Wesleyan persevered, educating more than 200 women over the course of 40 years.
Wesleyan's first period of coeducation was very much in keeping with Methodist interest in higher education for women, and it had the strong support of many of the University's prominent trustees, administrators, and faculty. Many male Wesleyan students, and later alumni, were considerably less enthusiastic about coeducation. Wesleyan's women students endured much taunting and social ostracism from their male counterparts. Nevertheless, most of the women persisted, and they excelled academically. All four of the first female students became Phi Beta Kappa scholars.
In an era when marriage almost always precluded a woman's career, over half of the female graduates between 1876 and 1892 chose to remain single and pursue occupations. While most became teachers or school principals, later graduates included social workers, scientists, a draftsman, even a "citrus fruit rancher."
In 1892, when the female population increased to about twenty percent, male undergraduates and alumni stepped up their opposition to coeducation. Their successful campaign influenced Wesleyan's trustees to admit no more women after the fall of 1909. Wesleyan remained all-male until 1968, when women were admitted as transfer students. Women enrolled as first-year students beginning in the Fall of 1970. This time, Wesleyan was in the forefront of a wave of coeducation that swept many top-ranked schools, particularly in the East. With the admission of women, Wesleyan also greatly expanded the size of the student body, and since that time has maintained an approximately equal enrollment of men and women in each class.
Boys as young as ten years old wore tall leather helmets as part of their cadet uniforms at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy between 1825 and 1829. The academy educated "young gentlemen" from throughout the United States, offering a diverse curriculum that included civil engineering, dancing, Latin and Greek, logic, agriculture, fencing, and astronomy.
The school operated under the supervision of the flamboyant Captain Alden Partridge, a former West Point superintendent who had been court-martialled for insubordination. At his Middletown academy, Partridge instituted a complete course of military tactics, including dally drills, artillery duty and marches to destinations as far away as Washington, D.C.
But before long, the school's rigorous discipline began to deteriorate. In 1827, a travel writer named Anne Royall described the boys as "ruffians" in a school "knee-deep in dirt." Soon money problems surfaced: the academy's trustees could not raise the funds for a library or scientifc equipment. The school closed in 1829. Of the academy buildings, only South College (second from right in College Row) remains today.
Helmet worn by Elihu William Nathan Starr as a cadet at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in 1827.
Courtesy of the Middlesex County Historical Society
In 1870, nearly four decades after Wesleyan's founding, cow pastures and the school barn dominated the field behind College Row. It wasn't until 1898 that the university created Andrus Field as a site for athletics.
Wesleyan's women students in 1881-1882 included a future physician, nurse, missionary, and many teachers. One woman taught in China and in schools for African-American children in the South; another authored a science textbook.
Courtesy of Wesleyan University Library Special Collections & Archives