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By Gillian Reinhard ’20
Contributor; History Major
Today, May 16, Trinity College celebrates the 197th anniversary of Charter Day. This occasion marks the date that the Connecticut General Assembly approved Trinity’s charter, giving the school (then called Washington College) the ability to exist as an institution. Professor of History Glenn Weaver, in his 1967 account The History of Trinity College credits Episcopal Bishop Thomas Church Brownell (now proudly watching over Trinity via a statue on the quad) with bringing the first Episcopalian college to Connecticut.
The call for Washington College arose as Connecticut’s old Standing Orders were discarded in 1818 in favor of a new Constitution, which ended the de facto “establishment” of the Congregational Church in the state. According to Weaver, the founding of Connecticut’s Episcopal institution closely mirrored the creation of Geneva College (now Hobart College of Hobart and William Smith Colleges) in 1822.
Episcopalian founders argued before the Connecticut General Assembly that the creation of a second college in Connecticut would greatly benefit the state and its people, not compete with the venerable Yale, Connecticut’s school affiliated with Congregationalism.
As the petition for a second college in Connecticut and the first Episcopal college in Connecticut was circulated around the state, the idea of Washington College was met with some backlash. The day the state legislature entertained the petition, as Weaver recounts in his history, Yale—likely in a move to erode support for Washington College—severed some ties with the Congregational Church, proclaiming that officers of the college were no longer required to subscribe to Congregational orthodoxy. Eventually, the pressure of another college in Connecticut resulted in the necessary admittance of non-Congregationalist students to Yale by the mid-nineteenth century.
Additionally, the community residing in what is today Cheshire, Connecticut, refused to take out endowments from the Episcopal Church’s first educational institution in the state, the Episcopal Academy of Connecticut (founded by Samuel Seabury and now the boarding school Cheshire Academy), to support Washington College. Earlier attempts to transform the Episcopal Academy of Connecticut to the Episcopal College of Connecticut were unsuccessful.
Brownell, who was the Third Diocesan Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut from 1819-1865, later served as the 7th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1852-1865 and as President of Washington College from its founding until his resignation in 1831. Brownell worked alongside prominent Connecticut men including Hartford merchant and diplomat Charles Sigourney, businessman and philanthropist David Watkinson, U.S. Representative and Connecticut State Senator Ebenezer Young, and Episcopal ministers Richard Adams, Thomas Macdonough, and Nathan Smith to establish the college.
The Hartford Courant (originally the Connecticut Courant) reported on the bill to establish a new college in the state as it was presented to the Legislature. Though the report included the “advantages of the establishment of another literary institution, founded on just and liberal principles,” the Courant reported some hesitance to grant the charter. Some members of the Legislature objected, as it may have an “unfavorable and unfriendly influence” on Yale. Despite this, the Courant announced that the Charter was accepted and approved by a “handsome majority.”
The Charter for Washington College was granted by the Connecticut Legislature on May 16, 1823. This makes Trinity’s founding date, 1823, however, the college did not graduate students until 1825, with the first class consisting of one senior, one sophomore, and six freshmen who began in September 1824.
In fact, it was not until March of 1824 that the College’s Trustees voted on a location for the institution, Hartford, which won over Middletown and New Haven. Hartford citizens would later contribute $22,515 in support of the College’s construction on property now adjacent to Bushnell Park.
A key aspect of the College’s charter championed by Brownell was the refusal to force incoming students (or members of the Board of Trustees) to undergo religious examination. At the time, this distinguished Trinity from peer schools that took a less progressive stance on religious tolerance, as pointed out by the late College Archivist Peter Knapp in his text Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. The Charter of Washington College, which espouses the “great advantages accrue[d] to the State, as well as to the general interests of literature and science,” can be read in full via the College’s digital repository here.
In a Tripod commemorative from 1905, then Editor-in-Chief Malcolm Collins Farrow ’05 reflected on the significance of the Charter’s 82nd anniversary at the time of the inauguration of Flavel Sweeten Luther as College President. Specifically, the writer ruminated on the declining role of the Episcopal Church at Trinity and the widespread religious tolerance promoted by the College. A Tripod article from May 1923 reports on a celebratory service in the Trinity Chapel to mark the centennial of the Charter’s approval. Thirty years later, in 1953, President Albert C. Jacobs was officially recognized as College President in a formal ceremony recognizing the 130th anniversary of the Charter.
Since then, there does not seem to be a consistent celebration in recognition of Charter Day on May 16. In the 1990s, then President Dobelle brought first-years to the Old State House in downtown Hartford to sign the matriculation book, as opposed to the Chapel. The Tripod noted some disagreement with this practice, as a writer for a 1996 issue of the paper argued that celebrating matriculation at the Old State House could be seen as “unwelcoming” to a student body increasingly not from Connecticut or New England.
It seems that a return to festive celebrations of this momentous occasion is perhaps long overdue. Especially as we are all separated by the coronavirus and unable to be at our beloved alma matter, an old tradition should be revived when we are together next May: the celebration of Charter Day by the faculty, alumni, and students of Trinity College. After all, so many of us owe our education and work today to this institution and to the zeal of our founders for the liberal arts tradition we so dearly love.
This article first appeared in the Trinity Tripod on Saturday, May 16, 2020.
By Brendan W. Clark ’21
Editor; History Major
An Introduction: The Pandemic of a Century
A review of Trinity’s response to the 1918 flu pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish influenza” or the “Spanish flu,” is doubtless merited in our present time living through the 2019 coronavirus. With that in mind, the following is a recitation of Trinity’s actions and some student responses made during the course of an event that impacted millions at the start of the twentieth. There are admittedly few Trinity sources, but those that remain illumine this region of history so relevant for us today and form the subject of our study.
While the College archives reveal that Trinity was not unaffected by the pandemic, there is no mention of it in our two major annals of College history. Esteemed College archivist Peter Knapp ’65 makes no mention of the pandemic in Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. Rather, he notes correctly that the gravamen in 1918 for the College—and President Flavel Sweeten Luther ’70—was World War I and the institution’s military response. Knapp, quoting Luther, indicates that “other areas of concern included student social and academic life, which had suffered from the disruptions of World War I.” Knapp notes, also, that the College held its Commencement in June 1918 in the midst of the pandemic. Indeed, with former President Theodore Roosevelt in attendance as an honorand and speaker, he gave his peroration to “‘the largest crowd of people ever assembled at one time on campus,’ estimated at approximately 5,000.”
Neath the Ashes: Revisiting the Veracity of Trinity’s Alma Matter in the Present Day
Alumni and present students of Trinity alike will recall fondly their jovial experiences of youth whenever the refrain of Trinity’s alma matter ‘Neath the Elms is heard at various college events: “No more shall we meet, our classmates to greet, / ‘Neath the elms of our old Trinity.” The tune, first set to words by Augustus P. Burgwin, Class of 1882, is still a centerpiece of tradition amongst Trinity students and stands as a bulwark against the changing landscape of Trinity in the 21st century.
Indeed, all may be surprised to know that the majority, save a few stragglers, of those familiar elms referenced in the tune were gone by the early 1970s. Before that matter can be addressed, however, the history of the trees which became eponymous with the song must first be examined.
First in 1880 and thereafter in 1883, the Trustees allocated funds and authorized the planting of several rows of English elm trees on the Quad. The location of these earliest rows can be ascertained by the location of the trees which currently stand parallel to Seabury and Jarvis and also the rows of trees that project outward from Northam Towers.
Written by: James Barrett (History, IDP, Class of 2017)
It is a difficult task to imagine a world without highways. Every city, big and small, has multiple routes in and out. This is nothing new of course, most people have experience with highways whether they commute everyday to go to work or just drive on them once or twice a year. But it is also possible to view highways as a recent development, especially in the United States. The 1939 New York World’s Fair had a great deal to do with the development of the highways. General Motors, in a mission to sell more cars, presented their “Futurama” exhibit which depicted “modernized expressways speeding traffic through great skyscraper cities at one hundred miles per hour.” Looking back, it is easy to see how this display impressed attendees of the World’s Fair. With that said however, it is also easy to see that the relationship between highways, cars, and cities did not exactly pan out the way General Motors thought it would.