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.”
By Brendan W. Clark ’21
Editor; History Major
Aidan Turek ’20 is the President’s Fellow in Political Science and a senior thesis writer in the History Department. History@Trinity’s Brendan Clark spoke with Aidan to ask him a few questions about his thesis and his experience with the History Department.
1. Describe your research topic in two minutes or less (let’s say 200 words or less).
My thesis is a study of Albert Speer, the famed Nazi architect, designer, and industrial genius who was Hitler’s right-hand man and a possible successor. Specifically, I’m examining his life and legacy through the lens of biographization—how historical memory is constructed and deconstructed. Speer was intimately involved in the functioning of the Third Reich, and yet at Nuremberg he successfully presented himself as an apolitical technocrat, and in doing so escaped the executions that befell his colleagues. In his hugely influential autobiography, Speer basically set the tone for Nazi apologists, manipulating his own life and historical fact to prove his own innocence. While more recent biographies have gone back and seriously questioned his life, to this day Speer still guides the discourse surrounding him, and thus Nazism more generally. My goal is to reopen some of the areas neglected by Speer and his biographers, to explore interesting facets of his life that reveal the true extent of his moral culpability and the criminal nature of his actions. I think that researching Speer allows me to delve into fascinating ethical questions while also exploring and illuminating just how history gets constructed.
2. What specific aspects of your academic career at Trinity and your personal historical interests led you to select this topic?
This actually all started after watching a YouTube video about one of Speer’s projects. I figured myself an amateurish expert in World War Two, but Speer’s name had only come up in passing, and none of it dealt with his unique contributions to fascism. And then there’s the fact that he died so recently—in 1981—which got me wondering how Nazis could stick around and have a say for that long. Personally I was drawn in by this muddle of philosophical and historical trends, but I gained quite a bit from Trinity as well. I have an avid interest in political science and German studies, and Albert Speer and his life have actually come up quite a bit. I’ve encountered scholars in classes that discuss the direct historical background, like Weimar Germany’s political culture, alongside literature on the authoritarian capacity of architecture. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Berlin with Trinity to get a hands-on look at what I’ve been researching.
By Brendan W. Clark ’21
Editor; History Major
Gillian Reinhard ’20 is the President’s Fellow in History, the Department’s inaugural Chatfield Fellow, and a senior thesis writer. History@Trinity’s Brendan Clark sat with Gillian to ask her a few questions about her thesis and her experience with the History Department.
- Describe your research topic in two minutes or less.
I am looking at the 1926 opera Turandot, by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The first part of my thesis concerns how different cultures portrayed exoticism and embraced Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism. I am applying what I have learned in the first chapter to look specifically at how British audiences perceived Puccini’s opera when it arrived in London a year later, again from the perspective of Orientalism. The relationship between Britain and China is a unique one, with a long, complicated history, and I am hopeful that an analysis of this opera can shed light on this relationship.
- What specific aspects of your academic career at Trinity and your personal historical interests led you to select this topic?
Firstly, I have studied Mandarin Chinese since middle school and had the opportunity to study abroad in Shanghai during the fall of my junior year. My experience abroad truly shed light on the concept of Orientalism in the West. Also, I read Orientalism, by Edward Said, in my first-year seminar “Arabian Nights” with Associate Professor of History Zayde Antrim. That text has shaped much of my academic work. I decided to look at it through the lens of opera, as it has always been a quirky interest of mine.
By Brendan W. Clark ’21
Editor; History Major
I wrote this not as an assignment but for publication here after being inspired by the mention of this practice in my Parliamentary Debate class with Professor Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre. What started as a search for an answer became an exhilarating six-hour review through the annals of British parliamentary history.
On the evening prior, the question was posed in a general sitting of History 270: Parliamentary Debate, a course duly held under the tutelage of one Dr. Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre, a professor of British History, inter alia, at Trinity College, as to the ambiguity of the nature of Parliamentary tradition surrounding the “putting out of the wig,” as it is so-called in the Parliamentary tradition. Ergo, it stood within my earnest desires and in keeping with the general station of my inquisitive character to endeavor to establish, through scholarly review and research, the history of this unique practice. It is my hope that the forthcoming may provide an answer to this most perplexing and under-researched historical oddity in Parliament.
By David Lowenthal “How tiresome are the endless anecdotes about [William Best] Hesseltine, his seminar, and his students,” wrote Wisconsin editor Paul Hass.1 Yet the unsung historiographical lessons that seminar imparted to me and others richly merit recording. By scanning our mentors’ publications in skeptical depth, students learned that hidden bias always skews evidence, that secondary sources are ipso facto unreliable, and that myriad minor errors betoken major sins. Still more, they learned that even paragons do not have enough time, patience, or probity to prevent all such lapses and avoid their egregious epistemic consequences. Historians ever stumble on feet of clay. How tiresome are the endless anecdotes about [William Best] Hesseltine, his seminar, and his students,” wrote Wisconsin editor Paul Hass.1 Yet the unsung historiographical lessons that seminar imparted to me and others richly merit recording. By scanning our mentors’ publications in skeptical depth, students learned that hidden bias always skews evidence, that secondary sources are ipso facto unreliable, and that myriad minor errors betoken major sins. Still more, they learned that even paragons do not have enough time, patience, or probity to prevent all such lapses and avoid their egregious epistemic consequences. Historians ever stumble on feet of clay. At the University of Wisconsin from 1932 until his death in 1963, Hesseltine was a renowned chronicler of the Civil War and its aftermath, whose “commandments” on historical writing are still often cited. His anathemas forbade the passive voice, the present tense, designating persons by their last names only, and quoting from secondary sources. He inveighed against the rising tide of pompous impedimenta: “do not discuss thy methodology”; “write about thy subject and not about the documents concerning thy subject”; “fight all thy battles in the footnotes.” And––pertinent in today’s Wiedergutmachung spate of apology, tempting historians to turn moralist—”thou shalt not pass judgments on mankind in general nor … pardon anyone for anything.” 2 A retrospective celebrant prized Hesseltine’s “strange blend of pacifism, anarchism, Menckenism, Calvinism, and sheer naked perversity.”3”
[From The Art of History column in the March 2013 issue of Perspectives on History]