Note on Numbers of Antebellum Colleges

                    A Note on the Proliferation of Ante-Bellum Colleges


What’s being counted?
Colleges chartered, opened, operating in 1860 and today
Colleges chartered, opened, operated in 1860 but since closed
Colleges chartered, opened, but closed by 1860
Colleges chartered but never opened for classes
Colleges advertised as contemplated

The Parties at Interest:
Donald G. Tewksbury, The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War (Teachers College, 1932)
Richard Hofstadter, Academic Freedom in the Age of the College (1955) [“The Great Retrogression”]
Colin B. Burke, American Collegiate Populations: A Test of the Traditional View (NYU Press, 1982)

Tewksbury  for 16 states à Hofstadter accepts and cites
Ante-Bellum  Colleges:
All:                                         516 [900 plus for all 32 states?]
Living (1n 1930) :                104
Dead:                                    412
% Died:                                 81%

Burke for 32 states:
All:                              241
Failed:                           40
% Died                           17%

New England better at limiting # of colleges and have larger enrollments per inst’n; Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, New York not so; South and SW mortality still higher
Why even as many as 200?
Denominational competition
Local boostering
Ease of chartering
Surplus in labor supply of teachers;
Relatively low labor costs

How many is too many, given the supply of would-be male collegians?
% of collegians in population dropping, steady, rising??
Resultant Problems
Local competition keeps most colleges small and poor
New York
Baptist – Alfred/Colgate/Rochester
Episcopalian – Columbia/Hobart
Presbyterian – Union/Hamilton/NYU
Roman Catholic – Fordham
Public – CCNY/Cooper Union
Curriculum options very limited; focus on Greek and Latin as cost-saving
1/3rd of curriculum given over to Greek, Latin, ancient history….

Salaries and working conditions for faculty non-appealing
No voice in the operations of college; harassed by students

Students have themselves a buyer’s market – colleges anxious to retain them
Consumer sovereignty

Absence of occupational inducements to /regulations requiring  college-going
Professions open to non-collegians by state law
[Non-collegians of the era: Andrew Jackson; Herman Melville; Andrew Carnegie; John D. Rockefeller

Few colleges with adequate financial base to expand curriculum; most with faculties of 3-4 men who found the ministry or law unappealing or unwelcoming.

Largest faculties in ante-bellum period; Harvard and Yale with 18-20 faculty, including young tutors.


Last updated: January 8, 2014

Leave a Reply