1818–1829

Charity Fund Established

May 1818: At the annual meeting of the Trustees of Amherst Academy, a local primary school, Col. Rufus Graves presents a plan for a charitable foundation to give free instruction to "indigent young men of promising talents and hopeful piety, who shall manifest a desire to obtain a liberal education with the sole view to the Christian ministry." This is the origin of the College’s endowment. Monetary contributions both large and small are received from the citizens of Amherst and the surrounding towns. Though there is opposition to the plan, the Charity Fund reaches its goal of $50,000. Learn more.

Laying of the Cornerstone for South College

Aug. 9, 1820: A ceremony marks the laying of the cornerstone of the South College building, which will be built with financial and other support from citizens of Amherst and surrounding towns. Lexicographer Noah Webster, a co-founder of Amherst College, delivers an address titled “A Plea for a Miserable World,” and the Rev. Daniel A. Clark, pastor of the First Church and Society in Amherst, preaches a sermon. Learn more.

Zephaniah Swift Moore Inauguration as First President

Sept. 18, 1821: At the town’s First Parish meetinghouse, Zephaniah Swift Moore is inaugurated as the first president of Amherst College. Moore's acceptance speech notes: "While we use our efforts to conduct those under our care in the paths of literature and science … it is of primary importance that we be correct in our moral and religious instruction. We are never to forget that an essential and primary object of this institution is the promotion of Christian knowledge and piety."

Israel Trask Appointed to the Board of Trustees

September 1821: Col. Israel Trask’s political connections in Boston make him a valuable addition to the Amherst Board of Trustees as the College fights for its charter from the state. Trask was elected to the State Legislature and was a member of the convention for revising the State Constitution in 1820 and served on the Judiciary Committee. His wealth and status are based on enslaved labor on the cotton plantation he owns with his brother in Mississippi. Trask was born in Brimfield, Mass., where he established one of the first cotton mills in the state in 1815, an example of the multiple ties between Northern industry and Southern slavery.

First College Catalog Issued

March 1822: Following the example of Williams College, Amherst College issues a "Catalogue of the Faculty and Students of the Collegiate Institution," exactly one page long. Complaints about the meager document lead later that month to an eight-page replacement, which includes information about faculty members, classes, the curriculum and literary societies. Williams College adopts the new format. Learn more.

First College Commencement

Aug. 28, 1822: At the College’s first commencement, two seniors graduate: Pindar Field, who will go on to become a clergyman, and Ebenezer Strong Snell, who will become principal of Amherst Academy and later a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Amherst College. Because Amherst has no legal authority to grant degrees without a charter from the state legislature, the earliest graduates receive degrees from Union College "on suitable certificates from Amherst." Learn more.

Heman Humphrey Inauguration

Oct. 15, 1823: Amherst inaugurates the Rev. Heman Humphrey as its second president, succeeding the recently deceased Zephaniah Swift Moore. Humphrey previously served as a minister in Munsonville, Conn., and Pittsfield, Mass. Confessing that he himself once fell asleep in a pile of leaves, Humphrey says at his inauguration, "You must begin with [a young man] early, must teach him self-denial, and gradually subject him to such hardships, as will help to consolidate his frame and give increasing energy to all his physical powers.” Learn more.

College Receives Charter

Feb. 21, 1825: The Amherst Collegiate Institution becomes Amherst College upon receiving a charter from the State of Massachusetts. The charter states that, if Williams trustees wish, Williams College may merge with Amherst within seven years. It also asserts "that no Instructor … shall ever be required by the Trustees to profess any particular religious opinions as a test of office; and no student shall be refused admission to, or denied any of the privileges, honors, or degrees of said College on account of the religious opinions he may entertain." Learn more.

College Adopts Corporate Seal and Motto

Aug. 22, 1825: Amherst College adopts a corporate seal and motto. The seal shows a sun and a bible illuminating a globe, with the motto Terras Irradient ("Let them enlighten the lands") underneath. Learn more.

The Gymnastic Society Is Established

July 1, 1826: The Gymnastic Society is established. Students clear the College Grove and set up an outdoor vaulting horse, a swing, parallel bars and a running track behind Middle College (North Dormitory at the time). Students also construct an outdoor bath: Into a trough dug from the college well (just east of Johnson Chapel), a student can pour buckets of water, which flow to a tank across the grove, where he can pull a cord to release the water for a cold shower.

Dedication of Johnson Chapel

Feb. 28, 1827: The College formally dedicates its first chapel, which has been constructed partly in response to friction between students and townspeople during Sunday services at the First Parish meetinghouse. On Aug. 28, 1828, the trustees name the building Johnson Chapel, in honor of the local carpenter whose bequest to the College funded the construction of the building. For its first half century, it also houses a laboratory, a museum and recitation rooms. Its library has no reading room, nor even a table, and is open only one hour per week for students to check out books. Learn more.


1830–1839

First Student Publication

1829 to 1830: The first Amherst College student publication, a handwritten periodical titled La critique, is circulated. Its several issues feature reflections on student experiences and College events and societies. Learn more.

Chi Delta Theta, First Fraternity on Campus

July 29, 1830: Eight Amherst seniors receive a charter from Yale College to form a chapter of Chi Delta Theta, Amherst’s first fraternity. In contrast to the College’s older Athenian and Alexandrian literary societies, which are open to all students, this fraternity’s membership is based upon "classical merit." Chi Delta Theta dissolves on July 16, 1845, but "Secret" and "Anti-Secret" societies proliferate in the coming decades at Amherst and other American colleges. Learn more.

Anit-Venenean Society/Temperance

Oct. 1, 1830: John Tappan of Boston, co-founder of the American Temperance Society and Massachusetts Bible Society, offers $500 to the Amherst student body to form an association pledging to abstain from alcohol, opium and tobacco. Students establish the Antivenenian Society but vote to give the money to the College "for the purchase of Philosophical Apparatus." Tappan’s gift seeds a fundraising campaign to expand Amherst's book collection. At its peak, the Antivenenian Society will include 827 members. Tappan becomes an Amherst trustee in 1834. Learn more.

First Printed Student Publication

May 1, 1831: Sprite, Amherst’s first printed (as opposed to handwritten) student publication, is founded. This literary magazine contains "tales, generally of a fanciful and romantic nature, essays and poems, of varying degrees of merit, with now and then a humorous sketch." After six months, it is displaced by The Shrine, which survives through two volumes of six issues each, but ceases publication in 1833. Other short-lived early magazines include Guest (est. 1833), Horae Collegianae (est. 1837), The Indicator (est. 1848) and The Experiment (1850). Learn more.

Society of Natural History Established

Aug. 26, 1831: Students establish a Society of Natural History, whose object is "the investigation of Natural History, though no branch of science [is] excluded from its consideration." Students begin collecting scientific specimens and developing a scientific library. Missionary alumni send boxes of specimens from around the world. Learn more.

College Choir Formally Established

Dec. 3, 1833: The College Choir is formally established and its constitution adopted. Faculty agree to grant $50 to the Choir annually, as long as students strictly follow its constitution and submit a report for the approval of the College president. Learn more.

Students form Anti-Slavery Society

July 19, 1834: Students form an Anti-Slavery Society, which clashes with the Colonization Society. The faculty requests that both societies disband. The Colonization Society complies in summer 1834, but the Anti-Slavery Society protests and persists. In February 1835, the faculty declares that "in the present agitated state of the public mind, it is inexpedient to keep up any organization under the name of anti-slavery, colonization, or the like in our literary and theological institutions." The Anti-Slavery Society thereafter meets in secret. Learn more.

Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity Established

Oct. 1, 1836: The first national fraternity to open an Amherst chapter, Alpha Delta Phi (formerly the literary society Iota Pi Kappa), holds its inaugural campus meeting. Psi Upsilon follows in 1841. In 1842, the faculty, long uneasy about secret societies, demands the frats’ constitutions and records, but both refuse. College President Edward Hitchcock and his freshman son are invited to join Alpha Delta Phi in 1845; their acceptance puts the question to rest. For some time, fraternities rent meeting rooms in Amherst dormitories.

Mount Holyoke Female Seminary Established

Nov. 8, 1837: Mary Lyon establishes the nation’s first women’s college, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, later called Mount Holyoke College. She models the course catalog on Amherst College’s. Amherst professor Edward Hitchcock, an early trustee of the seminary (and Lyon’s former teacher and future biographer), lectures there on subjects such as galvanism and human anatomy; Ebenezer Snell teaches architecture and natural philosophy. Other Amherst professors and presidents to become Mount Holyoke trustees include Heman Humphrey, Julius Seelye, William S. Tyler and Edward Hitchcock Jr.


1840–1849

Edward Hitchcock Inauguration as Third President

April 14, 1845: The trustees appoint Edward Hitchcock, professor of chemistry and natural history, Amherst's third president. Born in 1793 in Deerfield, Mass., Hitchcock boasts an education from Deerfield Academy and Yale. His past positions include teacher and principal at Deerfield and minister at the Congregational Church in Conway, Mass. His wife, fellow Deerfield teacher Orra White, collaborates extensively with him, illustrating his books, articles and lectures. Having begun teaching at Amherst College in 1826, he remains there until his death in 1864.

Alexandrian and Athenian Societies & Social Union Disbanded

July 1, 1846: The Alexandrian and Athenian Societies disband. Competition among them has distracted from coursework and caused financial strain on some students. Two new groups are introduced the next day, the Academia and Eclectic Societies, with reduced fees and each class divided between them “by lot,” "as equally as possible." In 1853, the societies reclaim their original names, with the faculty's blessing, to reignite their rivalry. An overarching Social Union is established to hold meetings, exhibitions and debates open to members of both societies. Learn more.

First issue of “The College Dial”

January to October 1847: Students publish The College Dial, a newspaper whose content included the current Amherst catalog, statistics drawn from other New England college catalogs, lists of students and faculty, college notices, and information about Amherst student societies and clubs, as well as editorials, parodies and a cantata. Learn more.

First Issue of “The Indicator”

June 1, 1848: Students publish the first issue of The Indicator. The literary periodical’s February 1850 issue features Emily Dickinson’s first appearance in print: a Valentine's Eve letter she wrote to George Gould of Amherst’s class of 1850. Learn more.

Dedication of Octagon

June 28, 1848: The Octagon, an eight-sided building designed by architect Henry A. Sykes, is dedicated. The Octagon’s internal “cabinet of Natural History” is named for businessman Josiah B. Woods, in honor of his fundraising efforts. Its observatory is named for Abbot Lawrence, a Boston merchant who was persuaded to contribute $1,000 by Woods' assertion that a scientist as important as President Edward Hitchcock deserved proper scientific facilities. The Octagon will be the home of geology at Amherst until 1908. Learn more.

Society of Natural History Dissolved

Oct. 4, 1848: With the opening of the Octagon, students decide to dissolve their Society of Natural History and donate their collections to the College. President Edward Hitchcock prioritizes the natural sciences, providing much better opportunities for student engagement with science. Learn more.


1850–1859

First “Class Day” celebration

June 30, 1852: Amherst’s first "Class Day" is celebrated when the class of 1852 marks the end of exams with a gathering to hear an oration and poem, followed by a procession to various professors’ homes. Most of the College and much of the town join in, led by a band. At each stop, professors are expected to return speech for speech. The seniors finally adjourn to a supper. In later years, Class Day expands to include additional public performances and ceremonial burial of textbooks. Learn more.

Phi Beta Kappa Chapter Established

August 9, 1853: Amherst’s chapter of the nation’s oldest honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, holds its first meeting. (Seniors petitioned the faculty about the matter as early as 1846; in 1849, the faculty were still waiting on the Harvard chapter to grant a chapter to Amherst.) The officers elected at the first meeting are all professors: W.S. Tyler, president; G.B. Jewett, vice president; and E.S. Snell, corresponding secretary.

“Amherst Collegiate Magazine” First Published

Oct. 1, 1853: The first issue of the Amherst Collegiate Magazine is produced by the senior class. In 1857, it becomes the Ichnolite, and later the Amherst College Magazine. It endures for nine years-- longer than any of its predecessor publications. It features "short, sharp, spicy articles on interesting issues of the day," and is "characterized by an independence of thought and expression seldom found in student publication[s]." The magazine’s "department of Collegiana" includes detailed accounts of college events. Learn more.

Dedication of Morgan Library

Nov. 22, 1853: Morgan Library is dedicated, after five years of fundraising on the grounds that there is no "valuable public library" in the four counties of Western Massachusetts, nor in "the contiguous parts of the adjoining states." Constructed on the site of the First Parish's parsonage, the library is the College's first stone building, made of Pelham gneiss. It is not called Morgan Library until 1884, when the trustees name it in recognition of Henry T. Morgan's generous bequest to fund renovations.

Stearns Inaugurated President

Nov. 22, 1854: President Edward Hitchcock delivers his retirement address, and the Rev. William Augustus Stearns is inaugurated as the College’s fourth president. Stearns was born in Bedford, Mass., in 1805, the son of a long line of ministers, and educated at Phillips Academy, Harvard College and Andover Theological Seminary. He pastored a church at Cambridgeport for nearly 23 years before assuming the presidency at Amherst. Learn more.

Appleton Cabinet Built

Aug. 9, 1855: A new natural history cabinet is built, thanks to a $10,000 gift from Boston philanthropist Samuel Appleton. Named Appleton Cabinet, it provides space for the College's ever-expanding wealth of specimens.

First issue of “The College Olio”

Oct. 1, 1855: The College Olio yearbook—later renamed the Amherst Aurora and then the Amherst College Olio—begins publication. The first edition includes a list of student societies and their members, as well as satirical pictures of students and faculty. Most volumes published until 1937 can be considered "junior yearbooks," because they highlight the activities of a class during its junior year. In 1937, the senior class assumes responsibility for publication of the Olio. Learn more.

“Old” North Destroyed by Fire

Jan. 19, 1857: North College burns overnight, "because a lounge was left too near the open fire in Dick Mathews's room." Because students regard it as the "most unsightly and most uncomfortable structure" on campus, President William Augustus Stearns describes the fire as "one of the greatest catastrophes and one of the greatest blessings the College ever experienced." The burned dormitory will be replaced by Williston Hall, built on the same site, and East College, constructed near the present site of James and Stearns Halls.

Sabrina Arrives on Campus

July 1, 1857: Joel Hayden donates a 350-pound bronze water nymph statue, named Sabrina, to ornament the College Garden. Students habitually deface the statue, relocate it and use it in pranks. In the early 1880s, the College president instructs the “campus janitor and watchman, to remove Sabrina and break her up. Instead ... he conceal[s] her under a pile of hay in his barn, where she repose[s] for two or three years, only to emerge in 1886 as a goddess, cherished by her adorers." Learn more.

First Intercollegiate Baseball Game

July 1, 1859:Amherst and Williams compete in the nation’s first intercollegiate baseball game, in Pittsfield, Mass. After falling behind Williams 9-1 in the first inning, Amherst (led by captain James F. Claflin '59) mounts a comeback to win the three-hour game 73-32, using only one pitcher. News of the victory is celebrated on campus with bell-ringing, a bonfire and “a copious display of enthusiasm and rockets.” The baseball game is followed the next day by a chess match, which Amherst also wins.

Cornerstone of Barrett Gymnasium Laid

Oct. 13, 1859: The cornerstone is laid for Barrett Gymnasium, a building substantially financed by Dr. Benjamin Barrett of Northampton. It is completed in August 1860 at a cost of $10,000. Barrett also provides a $5,000 fund for maintenance and new equipment, and later spends more money to install galleries overlooking the second-floor gymnastic space. Bowling alleys and offices are located on the first floor.


1860–1869

Songs of Amherst Published

March 1, 1860: After a committee from the class of 1862 is organized to address the matter, the College releases the first issue of Songs of Amherst. This 75-page volume contains lyrics for 62 songs, all but eight written especially for Amherst. Only four pages of music are included, as everyone is expected to know the popular tunes to which the lyrics are set. Learn more.

Department of “Hygiene and Physical Culture” Established

Aug. 10, 1860: The trustees vote to create a Department of Hygiene and Physical Culture. Dr. Edward "Old Doc" Hitchcock, son of former president Edward Hitchcock, is hired to head the department in 1861. His comprehensive program of medical exams, exercise and hygiene education is the first of its kind, and becomes a model for secondary schools and colleges in the United States and abroad. Later known as the “Amherst Plan,” it involves mandatory group calisthenics, along with voluntary strength training, classes in anatomy and healthy living, and extensive measurements of all students taken throughout their college careers. These measurements are used to demonstrate students’ progress and to prove the program’s efficacy. However, from a modern perspective, the program’s collecting of measurements has uncomfortably close ties and similarities to eugenics.  Learn more.

First College Orchestra Concert

March 29, 1861: Edwin R. Lewis '61 leads Amherst College's orchestra in its first concert. This orchestra is well-regarded—its music is of “such superior excellence” that it is “employed to play at nearly all the public exhibitions of the College"—but it lasts only a year. Samuel C. Vance '62 leads a new version in 1862. The orchestra continues under many different names and various leaders throughout the College's history. Learn more.

Professor Clark ’48 Is Commissioned as a Major

Aug. 21, 1861: Professor of Chemistry William S. Clark '48 is commissioned as a major in the American Civil War. With the Twenty-First Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, he is swiftly promoted to colonel, and fights in most battles during the war's first two years. Following Clark’s example, 78 undergraduates leave Amherst to join the army, and many others enlist after graduation. Several students from Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia leave Amherst to return to the South at the outbreak of war.

Frazar Stearns ’63 Killed at Battle of New Bern, NC

March 14, 1862: Frazar Stearns ’63, son of President William Augustus Stearns, is killed at the Battle of New Bern, N.C. His body is sent to Amherst and lies guarded by students in the library. On March 22, the entire College and many townspeople march the casket to its burial site. Emily Dickinson recalls in a letter to her cousins: "Frazar rode through Amherst, classmates to the right of him, and classmates to the left of him, to guard his narrow face!" Learn more.

Massachusetts Agricultural College Holds First Classes

Oct. 1, 1867: Massachusetts Agricultural College (now known as the University of Massachusetts) holds its first classes. William Smith Clark '48, professor of chemistry, resigns from Amherst College to help establish this new school, and serves as its president from 1867 until 1879. William Tyler refers to it as "the daughter of Amherst College and the natural outgrowth of our Departments of Physics Science. President Hitchcock was, to say the least, one of the god-fathers of the Institution."

First issue of The Amherst Student

Feb. 1, 1868: Eight students from the class of 1869 establishThe Amherst Student newspaper. Eight-page issues appear on alternate Saturdays, and subscriptions cost $2 per year. The first issue contains a short poem, a short history of earlier Amherst publications, reports on meetings of the Alexandrian and Athenian Societies, editorials, notes penned by alumni and faculty, and several advertisements. Except for a brief hiatus during World War II, The Student has remained in continuous publication ever since.

College Colors Adopted

April 30, 1868: Students vote to adopt "Purple & White" as Amherst College’s official colors. The previous college colors, mauve and white, are deemed "too tame."

Call for Free Speech in The Amherst Student

Nov. 6, 1869: The Amherst Student declares, “The College is not sectarian, nor does it pretend to take sides with any political party. What we want is, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and we demand it. We demand the same right for the Democrat as for the Republican; for the Catholic and Infidel as for the Protestant. ... We consider that man most worthy of our attention who dares to present a subject which he knows to be unpopular.”


1870–1879

The Amherst Student Endorses Coeducation

Feb. 12, 1870: The Amherst Student newspaper endorses coeducation: "[L]east of all did we, here at Amherst, consider the possibility of knocks, by female knuckles, upon our own doors. But ... the question of admitting them … must very soon be laid before the authorities for definite action. The answer … will probably be yes! ... There is nothing in the College Statutes against it. There are many gentlemen in the Faculty and among the Trustees who favor it. The ladies demand it."

Cornerstone Laid for Stearns Church

Sept. 22, 1870: The cornerstone is laid for Stearns Church, containing, among other items, Amherst and Mount Holyoke College catalogs, the college laws, copies of The Amherst Student and gymnasium statistics. The church tower will hold chimes promised by George Howe of Boston, and "a memorial tablet, keeping fresh the names of those noble sons of Amherst who died that their country might live." The chimes in the completed tower ring out at the College's semicentennial in 1871. The church opens to students in 1873.

Semi-Centennial Festivities (50th Anniversary)

July 12, 1871: The College marks the 50th anniversary of its founding with speeches and celebrations attended by nearly 700 alumni, as described in the book Exercises at the Semi-Centennial of Amherst College. Two other books are published for the occasion: History of Amherst College During Its First Half Century, 1821-1871, by Professor William Seymour Tyler ’30, and Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, Their Membership and History, by George Cutting ’71. Learn more.

Mark Twain Visits Campus

Feb. 27, 1872: Mark Twain delivers a lecture titled "Roughing It" in College Hall. The Amherst Student's review is lukewarm: "[T]he audience went there on purpose to laugh, and ... they all laughed, as they intended to. We do not know whether the audience had expected too much of the funny Mark Twain from reading his funny book, or whether two hours of nonsense is more than people care for at once … but ... they had heard enough of him when he was done."

Melvil Dewey Invents Dewey Decimal System

May 8, 1873: Melvil Dewey ’74 develops the Dewey Decimal System while working in the Amherst College library as a student. He presents the library committee with a new scheme for reclassifying the notoriously disorganized collection by subject. After graduating, he serves as assistant librarian until 1876 and implements his system. Soon thereafter, he seeks a copyright for the system and helps to establish the American Library Association, of which he will later become president. Learn more.

An English Department Emerges Under Professor Neill

Nov. 5, 1874: The trustees elect Heman Humphrey Neill '66 professor of rhetoric, oratory and English literature. Neill recruits John Franklin Genung to teach rhetoric. The addition of Henry Allyn Frink, to teach oratory, brings about something like a modern English department by the mid-1880s. Neill also introduces a seminar-like class: an informal discussion with about 13 students around a table in Walker Hall. This approach, little-known in U.S. education at the time, was likely influenced by Genung’s education at the University of Leipzig.

Founding of the Doshisha School in Japan

Nov. 29, 1875: Joseph Hardy Neesima (Niijima Jo) '70 founds Kyoto’s Doshisha School to prepare students for Christian ministry. The young samurai fled Japan as a stowaway in 1865 and arrived in the U.S. on a ship owned by Amherst trustee Alpheus Hardy, thanks to whom Niijima learned English and attended Phillips Andover. He graduated from Amherst, then attended Andover Theological Seminary. Beginning with eight students and two teachers, Doshisha grows into a university. Amherst graduates serve as faculty and trustees. Learn more.

Trustees Elect Julius H. Seelye Fifth President

July 28, 1876: After William Augustus Stearns’ death, Julius H. Seelye ’49 becomes the first Amherst alumnus elected College president. Originally from Bethel, Conn., Seelye has received his postgraduate education at Auburn Theological Seminary and Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. He served as a pastor in Schenectady, N.Y., then returned to Amherst in 1858 as a professor of mental and moral philosophy. He completes his term as a Massachusetts representative in the U.S. Congress before being inaugurated president on June 27, 1877.

First Football Game

Nov. 2, 1878: Amherst competes in its first intercollegiate “foot-ball” game, against Yale, in New Haven, Conn.


1880–1889

Walker Hall Is Gutted by Fire

March 29, 1882: Built in the late 1860s and dedicated in 1870 to house the Departments of Mathematics, Astronomy and Natural Philosophy, Walker also includes the Shepard Mineralogical Cabinet and rooms for the president, trustees and treasurer. Two days after winter term’s end, with most faculty out of town, the building burns. Suspected cause: improper handling of floor varnish. Items lost include mineral specimens, laboratory apparatus, mathematical diagrams, astronomical calculations, board meeting minutes and the president's private papers.

Amherst Offers PhD

June 26, 1883: The trustees vote to begin granting doctorates to alumni who complete a two-year course at Amherst, focusing on "two subjects of science or literature, or one subject of each," with approval of appropriate faculty. The course will culminate in an examination in both subjects and a thesis upon one. Tuition will be $100 annually, plus a $5 diploma fee. Very few seek the Ph.D., and fewer still acquire it; it is no longer offered as of the 1900-01 school year.

Pratt Gymnasium Is Built

Jan. 1, 1884: This new gym, which replaces Barrett Gymnasium, is first used for the annual spring gymnastics exhibition. Commencement festivities are held there in June, including the senior promenade. At the dedication, Charles M. Pratt '79 pays homage to Edward "Old Doc" Hitchcock, pioneering head of Amherst’s Department of Hygiene and Physical Culture.

Amherst’s Course Catalog Is Revised

Sept. 11, 1884: It is arranged according to academic departments for the first time. The catalog for 1883-84 lists a course of study organized by class year, with elective courses introduced after the first term of sophomore year, but the revised catalog for 1884-85 reorganizes the curriculum into academic departments, with more substantial descriptions of courses than ever before. The 1884-85 catalog also includes a letter to alumni about the status of the school. 

1883-84 Catalog

1884-85 Catalog

First Amherst-Williams Football Game 

Nov. 1, 1884: The first Amherst-Williams football game is played in Williamstown, Mass. Williams wins 15–2. A second match, on Nov. 15, ends with a score of Williams 11 – Amherst 0. 

First Annual Meet of the NEIAA

May 27, 1887: The New England Intercollegiate Athletic Association, co-founded by Amherst that spring, holds its first annual meet. Amherst comes in second to Dartmouth that year—but it wins the 1888 meet.

The Newports' Amherst Legacy

Oct. 1, 1889: Chi Psi Lodge janitor Dwight “Doc” Newport—great-great-grandson of Amos Newport, who sued for his own freedom from slavery—becomes an athletic trainer at Amherst, serving for 48 years. Doc's son, Edward Foster Newport, attends the College for two years (starting in 1909) before following in his father’s footsteps, becoming janitor of Phi Delta Theta house and then athletic trainer. Edward’s portrait hangs over the Phi Delta Theta fireplace until fraternities are abolished in 1984. The house is renamed Newport House.


1890–1899

Dedication of Pratt Field and Grandstand Fieldhouse

May 22, 1891: The College dedicates Pratt Field, named for Frederic B. Pratt ’87, who has donated $20,000 "for the purchase and preparation of a suitable piece of land to be used for athletic sports" and for the upkeep of that land. The 13 acres, bordered on the south by the Massachusetts Central Railroad, feature a quarter-mile running track, a 120-yard straightaway for dashes, a baseball diamond, a football field, and a grandstand with bathrooms and dressing rooms.

Gates Inauguration at 70th Commencement

June 25, 1891: After Julius Seelye resigns, Merrill Edward Gates is inaugurated president of Amherst College at commencement. Born in Warsaw, N.Y., in 1848 and educated at the University of Rochester, Gates has previously been principal of Albany Academy, chancellor at the University of Nashville and president of Rutgers University. An Amherst Student editorial says his appointment shows Amherst "falling into line with all that is more progressive in this age." His presidency brings increasing conflict with students, faculty, alumni and trustees. Learn more.

Mabel Loomis Todd lectures on Emily Dickinson

June 2, 1892: Five years after the poet’s death, Mabel Loomis Todd (wife of Amherst professor David Peck Todd) gives a lecture at the College titled "An Hour with Emily Dickinson." Enlisted by Emily’s sister as literary executor and editor, Mabel Todd has already published two volumes of Emily's poetry. Todd becomes an increasingly active touring speaker and local organizer, helping create the College’s Faculty Club, the Amherst Woman's Club, the Amherst Historical Society and a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Fayerweather Laboratory Opens

Jan. 4, 1894: Fayerweather Physical Laboratory officially opens (though it is not given that name until November 1898). The College has needed a new chemistry for at least a decade. Two trustees and one future trustee put up $20,000 for the project in the late 1880s. Daniel Fayerweather, a New York leather merchant, dies in 1890 and leaves $228,145 to Amherst, finally spurring construction. Ground is broken in 1892, and the building ultimately includes laboratories for both physics and chemistry.

Glee Club tours England

October 1894: Under the direction of Edward Sumner, Amherst’s Musical Association becomes the first U.S. college glee club to perform abroad, touring England for four and a half weeks, before enthusiastic audiences. The same year, William P. Bigelow ’89 is appointed Amherst’s first professor of music. At that time, Harvard is the only other American school with such a position, but more soon follow: Columbia, Dartmouth and then Williams College, which appoints Amherst alumnus Sumner Salter ’77 professor of music in 1905. Learn more.

Latin Honors at Commencement

June 29, 1898: For the first time, those graduating from Amherst are ranked “magna cum laude,” “cum laude” and “rite” in the report of degrees conferred. In 1904, Vernon Seymour Clark and DeWitt Tilden Cope become Amherst's first “summa cum laude” graduates. Learn more.

Trustees Elect George Harris Seventh President

June 27, 1899: After Merrill Edward Gates’ resignation, the trustees elect George Harris ’66 to the College presidency. Harris is 55 years old and originally from East Machias, Maine. He has attended Andover Theological Seminary and served as professor of Christian theology there. He has recently published two books, Moral Evolution and Inequality and Progress, and has been tried for heresy over his progressive theology. Harris raises academic standards at Amherst, and his administration is one of stability and good will.

Triangular League Dissolved

Oct. 1, 1899: The old athletic “triangular league” of Amherst, Dartmouth and Williams is dissolved, and a new one is formed, consisting of Amherst, Wesleyan and Williams. Today, this trio is known as “the Little Three.” Learn more.


1900–1909

Trolley Service Between Amherst and Northampton

Jan. 22, 1900: The Northampton & Amherst Street Railway begins operating a trolley service. The 45-minute ride includes crossing the Connecticut River bridge in large wagons. Amherst has had limited trolley service since 1897, when cars started running from the town common to North Amherst, but trolley service to Northampton has been delayed for five years by Amherst merchants concerned about the potential for lost business. Learn more.

First Basketball Victory

Feb. 16, 1901: Amherst College wins its first-ever basketball game, with a score of 13-10, in Pratt Gymnasium against a team from Williston. Learn more.

Departmental Honors Introduced

Sept.18, 1902: Students are given the opportunity to graduate with honors in a specific subject. They must complete the last six term courses in that department, pursue additional study related to the last three term courses, and pass a special examination and/or complete a thesis. They must also maintain an 80 percent minimum average for their entire course of study, 75 in every senior-year subject and 90 in their chosen subject. Honors in multiple subjects are allowed only by faculty vote. Learn more.

Cornerstone Laid for Observatory

June 23, 1903: The cornerstone for an astronomical observatory is laid on Snell Street. The observatory opens on April 13, 1905, equipped with an 18-inch refractor telescope. The construction is funded by a $15,000 gift given to the College in 1897, as well as a later gift of $25,000 from Ellen Curtiss James, mother of Arthur Curtiss James, class of 1889, matched by donations from alumni. 

Swimming Pool and Squash Courts added to Pratt Gym

Sept. 1, 1904: Harold I Pratt, class of 1900, and Mortimer L. Schiff, class of 1896, pay for a “natatorium” and squash courts to be built into Pratt Gymnasium. The same year, Paul Phillips, professor of hygiene and physical education, de-emphasizes gymnastic exercises in favor of athletic exercises such as squash, handball and swimming.

“Lord Jeffery Amherst” Song Written

Sept. 1, 1905: James Shelley Hamilton ’06 writes “Lord Jeffery Amherst” for the Glee Club. The song, one of more than a dozen he composes, is first published in Amherst College Songs in 1906. Hamilton later writes: “The whole thing had been frivolously conceived and carelessly done, without any reference to historical justification or fact and even with Jeffery’s name mis-spelled. But it went well enough, though without causing any noticeable enthusiasm and was kept on the Glee Club programs.” Learn more.

Charles Pratt ’79 Funds Ice Rink

Sept. 23, 1907: Trustee Charles M. Pratt, class of 1879, donates land to the east of Woodside Avenue (on the south edge of which Hitchcock Road will eventually be constructed) for a skating rink near Pratt Field. He also dedicates construction funds to the project. The surface of the rink will be 200 by 150 feet, and the water, provided by underground pipes, will be 30 inches deep.

Playwright Clyde Fitch ’86 Dies

Sept. 4, 1909: Clyde Fitch, class of 1886, dies of appendicitis. Fitch is among the nation’s most popular playwrights, having penned over 50 plays. He is credited with elevating student theatrical productions while at Amherst as an actor, set designer and director. Converse Hall’s Clyde Fitch Memorial Room, containing many furnishings and most of the books from his study in New York City, is given to the College by Fitch's mother. His library and personal papers are now in Amherst’s Archives and Special Collections.


1910–1919

Morris Pratt ’11 Dies, Family Donates Dormitory

July 15, 1910: When the son of Charles Pratt ’79 dies during the summer after his junior year, his family donates the Morris Pratt Memorial Dormitory. It is the first student housing the College has built since East College in 1858. As a fully modern building with social spaces and up-to-date bathroom facilities, it quickly becomes the most popular dormitory on campus.

Trustees Elect Alexander Meiklejohn Eighth President

May 17, 1912: Alexander Meiklejohn, dean and philosophy professor at Brown University, represents a departure for Amherst’s presidency: he is neither a clergyman nor an Amherst alumnus. At 40, he is also the youngest president to date. Born in England and educated at Brown and Cornell, Meiklejohn is an athlete and a Theta Delta Chi member. Per The Amherst Student, he believes in "the tremendous possibilities of the fraternity system for good or evil or both"; he has a similar attitude toward athletics. Learn more.

Swimming Test Introduced

Sept. 18, 1913: Professor Paul Phillips continues to innovate physical education at the College. Starting in the fall of 1913, "[e]very student who on entering College cannot swim is required to learn during the first year and before the end of Sophomore year to pass the college requirements in swimming." The swimming requirement is eliminated after first-year student Gerald Penny ’77 drowns during a swimming test in 1973.

First Meeting of the Alumni Council

May 20, 1914: Amherst graduates establish The Society of the Alumni in 1842, but the modern Alumni Council is established decades later. In 1912, the Trustees appoint a committee of alumni to study the subject and make a formal proposal for an Alumni Council. By 1913, a group of alumni organize themselves and draft a constitution and bylaws. The Trustees approve the plan at their March 1914 meeting, and the Alumni Council is launched. In November 1914, the council donates $60,000 to the College.

Charles Hamilton Houston ’15 Graduates

June 30, 1915: Houston graduates with majors in English, music and French. He later earns law degrees at Harvard and the University of Madrid. As vice dean, he makes Howard Law School a respectable training ground for African-American lawyers. As special counsel to the NAACP and in private practice, he argues education and labor cases that contribute to the civil rights movement. Speaking at Amherst in 1978, Thurgood Marshall credits Houston with developing the strategy that culminates in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Henry Ward Beecher Statue Dedicated

Sept. 10, 1915: Henry Ward Beecher, class of 1834, was a leading abolitionist in the years before the Civil War. The statue depicting him is a gift from the class of 1914, dedicated in 1915 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Beecher’s life is recounted in the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography The Most Famous Man in America, by Debby Applegate, class of 1989.

Robert Frost’s Association with Amherst Begins

April 8, 1916: Frost appears at the College for the first time to give a poetry reading. He charms President Meiklejohn and English professor Stark Young, at whose suggestion Frost was invited, and the two agree that Amherst should offer Frost a job. Although Frost has taught elementary and high school, he has no college degree. Frost hurries to finish his third poetry collection, Mountain Interval, and moves with his family from the White Mountains to a rented house in Amherst in January 1917.

Amherst "Black Cats" Ambulance Unit Formed

June 15, 1917: A World War I ambulance unit is recruited from Amherst College students and local residents. It comprises 25 Amherst alumni and undergraduates, plus 30 other soldiers, five officers and eventually some French personnel. After training in Allentown, Pa., and departing on Aug. 7, 1917, they arrive in France and adopt the image of the black cat for their insignia. They return to America on April 2, 1919, and most of the Amherst soldiers are discharged on April 14 at Camp Devens, Mass.

Amherst Masquers Established

Feb. 23, 1917: The Masquers' Association, organized by dramatics coach Everett Glass '14, is the first theatrical association to unite "all branches of the college's dramatics." The Masquers have women play female roles in student productions for the first time. In 1949, Masquers appear in five performances of Julius Caesar in the Elizabethan Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The April 3 show is broadcast by NBC, becoming the first televised American performance of a full Shakespeare play.

WWI Impact on Campus Life

April 25, 1918: The Amherst Student reports that only 39 seniors are still attending college; the others have been drafted or volunteered for the war effort. The Student Council makes decisions in light of wartime economic constraints: With consent of the Military Committee, football will continue. The Council now financially controls the Student, which will publish only one weekly issue, not two. Each student will pay $6 to cover the year’s activities. There will be no student elections, except for freshman class officers.

Influenza Epidemic of 1918

Sept. 28, 1918: The State Board of Health prohibits Amherst students from leaving town by car or train. There are 20 known flu cases on campus when Harold E. Bradway perishes in Pratt Health Cottage, the first casualty in the college community. The administration cancels chapel and classes. Representatives of each fraternity and dorm must report daily on the health of students in their residence. Hygienic standards are enforced by a "sanitary officer." Classes resume after 21 days, once those in the infirmary have recovered.

“Amherst Books” Series for Centennial

June 15, 1919: The trustees vote to celebrate the College’s first 100 years by publishing a series of books by faculty, alumni, advanced students and visiting lecturers. President Meiklejohn oversees the series, along with a faculty editorial board. Titles eventually include Germany in Travail (1922), by Professor of German Otto Mathey-Zorn; Parties and Party Leaders (1923), by Professor of History and Political Economy Anson Daniel Morse; and The Coming of Man (1923), by Professor Emeritus of Biology John M. Tyler.


1920–1929

Centennial Celebrations

June 18 to 22, 1921: The College celebrates its first 100 years with an extended series of lectures, concerts and receptions that begin with Class Day and Commencement. Commencement day overlaps with "Historical Day" of the Centennial celebrations, followed by "Educational Day" and concluding with "Centennial Day."

“Lady Jeff” Issue of Lord Jeff Magazine Published

March 1, 1922: The Amherst humor magazine Lord Jeff publishes its first issue written entirely by women. Items are submitted from across the country, but Smith College students contribute the most. The Amherst Student characterizes the issue as "unusually fun, abnormally versatile, and undoubtedly successful." Running from 1920 until 1935, Lord Jeff regularly features Lord Jeffery Amherst as a cartoon character remarkably similar to Jeff from the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. The humor in the magazine often plays upon gender stereotypes and racist tropes and caricatures.

George D. Olds Becomes Ninth President

July 1, 1923: To replace Alexander Meiklejohn, the Trustees elect 71-year-old George D. Olds. Professor of mathematics since 1891 and dean of the faculty since 1910, he has served as acting president four times previously. Born in Middleport, N.Y., Olds was educated at the University of Rochester and taught mathematics there before coming to Amherst. According to Claude Fuess ’05, Olds has a reputation as “quick” and “incisive,” “just and sympathetic” but “keen in the transaction of business and prompt to reach a decision.”

Professor Loomis Digs Mammoth Bones

Jan. 10, 1924: Having spent the end of 1923 and the start of 1924 working on an excavation in Melbourne, Fla., Hitchcock Professor of Mineralogy and Geology Frederic B. Loomis ’96 returns to Florida in 1925 to finish unearthing a nearly complete Columbian mammoth skeleton. In 1926, the bones are mounted in the Amherst zoological museum. Now in the College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History, it remains one of the largest mammoth specimens in the world. 

Calvin Coolidge ’95 Inaugurated 30th U.S. President

March 4, 1925: After the unexpected death of Warren G. Harding on Aug. 2, 1923, Coolidge wins the 1924 election. He is the first Amherst alumnus to hold the presidency of the United States. Having begun his legal and political career in Northampton (where his Presidential Library and Museum is located today), and having served as Massachusetts governor and U.S. vice president, Coolidge is a conservative Republican and a man of few words; he is nicknamed “Silent Cal.”

Lord Jeffery Inn Opens for Business

June 3, 1926: Amherst’s need for a conveniently located inn is felt early in the 20th century. Ernest M. Whitcomb ’04 forms a committee of alumni who, in 1921, send out a brochure featuring an illustration of the proposed building and declaring, “Complete plans have been prepared by Putnam & Cox, Boston.” Whitcomb organizes the Amherst Inn Co. and raises money through stock sales to alumni and townspeople. Costing $378,790.22, construction begins in 1925. The inn’s 1926 opening is publicized with a small photo booklet. In 2018, in keeping with a decision made by the board of trustees in 2016, the inn is renamed the Inn on Boltwood. Learn more.

Trustees Elect Arthur Stanley Pease 10th President

June 18, 1927: Pease, a classicist and field botanist whom faculty describe as an "indefatigable pedestrian and New Englander to the core," becomes president of Amherst College. Born in Somers, Conn., he was educated at Phillips Academy and then Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude and secured his doctorate. He taught at Harvard and the University of Illinois before President Olds recruited him to Amherst as professor of Latin in 1924. A respected and dedicated scholar with little administrative experience, Pease accepts the presidency reluctantly.

Fraternity House Construction

Oct. 1, 1929: A major expansion of Phi Gamma Delta house ends an era of construction and renovations by Amherst’s 13 fraternities, financed by wealthy alumni. Alpha Delta Phi house (now Hitchcock), built in 1928, boasts a living room, drawing room, library, parlor, card room, ladies’ retiring room and telephone room. The second and third floors hold six suites, each with a fireplace. Delta Kappa Epsilon house (now Plimpton), built in 1915, includes a library fireplace made with materials salvaged from Isaac Newton's London home.


1930–1939

Henry Clay Folger ’79 Dies, Leaves Collection to Amherst

June 11, 1930: Having collected the world’s largest Shakespeare library, Folger has instructed Amherst’s trustees to manage its funds after his death. The Folger Shakespeare Library opens in Washington, D.C., in 1932, with Folger’s widow, Emily C. Jordan Folger, contributing millions of her own dollars. At Amherst, a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired Folger to explore the source of "the extraordinary condensation of poetic imagination" evident in Emerson's study of Shakespeare. Folger also joined a College club dedicated to reading Shakespeare's plays aloud.

Glee Club Goes on Tour

March 5, 1931: The Amherst Glee Club has a long history of singing tours of England and Continental Europe as well as around the United States. The group first visits Bermuda in 1928 and returns in 1931. They perform at the White House in 1920, during Calvin Coolidge ’95’s term as U.S. vice president, and embark on a world tour in 1967. Amherst's reputation as "The Singing College" spreads far and wide.

Trustees Elect Stanley King ’03 11th President

July 1, 1932: The Amherst Graduates Quarterly describes King’s election as "long foreseen and enthusiastically approved." King graduated summa cum laude from Amherst and completed his law degree at Harvard. Rather than practice law, he became a shoe manufacturer. During World War I, he served on the Council of National Defense, as special assistant to the U.S. secretary of war and as secretary of Woodrow Wilson's Industrial Conference Board. Long active on the Alumni Council, King had been an Amherst trustee since 1921.

Student Hand-Book of Amherst College Published by Administration

Sept. 20, 1933: The Amherst College YMCA begins publishing a student handbook in 1891, entirely under the control of Amherst students. In 1933, the College’s administration takes full control of its contents, making it an official statement of College policy. Today, handbooks from 1891 through 2015-16 are available online.

Flying Club Purchases Airplane

April 1, 1934: The Amherst College Flying Club purchases a 40-horsepower, two-passenger Taylor Cub, named Sabrina. Donald Hood '27, a licensed transport pilot, provides instruction at the Northampton airport. Richard King '35, son of President Stanley King, is elected president of the group. The following fall, the club helps to form a Smith College Flying Club, which uses the Amherst club's plane, and which Hood also instructs. The Amherst club later hosts a meeting to form the New England Intercollegiate Flying Club.

Gertrude Stein Lectures at Amherst

Jan. 9, 1935: Gertrude Stein gives a lecture in Johnson Chapel before an audience of 500. She starts her talk by saying that nothing has been more exciting to her than diagramming sentences, segueing from a discussion of grammar into an attempt at defining poetry and prose. According to an Amherst Student article, "Miss Stein leaned easily against the desk and read the lecture with slow clarity, serenely appreciative of her own words."

Alumni Gymnasium Opens

Sept. 18, 1936: After completing Pratt Gymnasium in 1884 and the Davenport Memorial Squash Courts in 1934, Amherst still badly needs a new gym. President King personally calls upon alumni for donations during the Great Depression, and his efforts are rewarded. The name Alumni Gymnasium reflects the contributions of many alumni, rather than a single donor. Harold ’00 and Herbert Pratt ’95 continue the family tradition of funding athletics facilities and pay for Pratt Pool, which opens in 1937, rounding out the new athletics quad.

Construction of Kirby Theater

April 3, 1937: J.A.S. MacMeekin, executor of the late Ellwood R. Kirby, writes to President King that Amherst will receive $100,000 toward "erect[ing] a building to be known as the Kirby Memorial Theater." Kirby, a Philadelphia surgeon, considered theater an avocation and had no family heirs when he died in 1935. MacMeekin was persuaded by son Richard MacMeekin ’34 to memorialize Kirby with a theater at Amherst. Construction is completed in late 1938. The theater is dedicated on March 17, 1939.

Hurricane of 1938

Sept. 21, 1938: On opening day of the new school year, a devastating storm sweeps through Amherst. Morrow Dormitory’s roof is torn off, as are parts of the roofs of Johnson Chapel and the Biology Building (Webster Hall). On and around campus, hundreds of trees are lost. The entire student body, organized by Professor Lloyd Jordan of the physical education department, volunteers to help clear the wreckage at the College and in town. The class of '42 comes to be known as the Hurricane Class.

President King Proposes Valentine Dining Hall

Nov. 27, 1939: Citing the social divisions created by students’ eating in fraternity houses and the nutritional dangers of students’ self-made meals, President Stanley King proposes the construction of Valentine Dining Hall. The facility opens in 1941, named in memory of Samuel H. Valentine '66, a lawyer who died in 1916 and left Amherst $5,000 for campus beautification. For the new dining hall, King commissioned a set of problematic china "featuring Lord Jeffery and the French and Indians"; it remains in daily use until renovations in 1975.


1940–1949

Registration for the Draft

Oct. 3, 1940: Amherst prepares to register all students over the age of 21 under the Selective Service Act. Failure to appear entails a maximum prison term of five years and a maximum fine of $10,000. In a campus survey, Amherst students favor conscription four to one. 

Harlan Fiske Stone ’94 Becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

July 3, 1941: President Franklin Roosevelt nominates Stone for chief justice; the Senate quickly confirms. Having served as attorney general and as an associate justice of SCOTUS since 1925 (appointed by President Calvin Coolidge ’95), Stone remains on the court until his death in 1946.

First Female Professor Hired

Sept. 18, 1941: Dorothy Wrinch, newly married to biology department chair Otto C. Glaser, arrives as a visiting professor of biology at Amherst in 1941. Glaser cannot convince President King to keep Wrinch, even if $10,000 from Merck & Co. pharmaceuticals should be available to support her research. Wrinch becomes a professor at Smith in 1942. The first woman to earn a doctorate of science from Oxford, Wrinch also has master's degrees from Cambridge and the University of London, plus another doctorate from the latter institution.

First Woman Receives Amherst Diploma

June 5, 1944: Mary Elizabeth Berry becomes "the first female student to receive a Degree in Course at Amherst College." Berry is a graduate assistant with a B.S. from Massachusetts State College (now UMass), researching genetics. The biology department considers her M.A. exam "one of the best ever presented at Amherst." After another year as a teaching assistant, she stays in town, married to a Mass State zoology professor. Three women earn Amherst master's degrees in 1948, and two in 1955.

Herbert Lee Pratt ’95 Bequeaths Rotherwas Room

Feb. 3, 1945: Pratt wills Amherst a collection of paintings and art objects, as well as the Rotherwas Room, "one of the finest examples of Elizabethan panelling now in existence." A successful businessman, he has developed his art collection over 40 years. He purchased the Rotherwas Room in 1913 after the death of Count Lubienski Bodenham, whose family estate in Herefordshire, England, had contained the room since the early 17th century. Today the room is part of the Mead Art Museum.

Trustees Elect Charles Woolsey Cole ’27 12th President

July 1, 1946: Cole, 39, becomes the youngest person to assume the duties of Amherst College president. From Montclair, N.J., Cole was editor-in-chief of The Amherst Student senior year and graduated summa cum laude. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia, then returned to Amherst as an economics professor before accepting a history professorship at Columbia. Under Cole, Amherst becomes more selective as it grows, and the endowment increases in value from $16 million to $42 million over 13 years.

War Memorial and Memorial Field Dedicated

June 16, 1946: John J. McCloy '16, assistant secretary of war, speaks at the dedication of these gifts from the Alumni Fund. Memorial Circle is a granite block with the College seal in the center, surrounded by 13 concentric "stripes" and 48 stars. Its compass points show "that Amherst men have fought in every part of the world." The stripes are engraved with names of those killed in World Wars I and II. Memorial Field covers five acres between the Alumni Gymnasium and Hitchcock Field.

“New Curriculum” Introduced

Sept. 30, 1947: Under the rigorous “New Curriculum,” likened to “boot camp,” freshmen and sophomores will take four courses, rather than five, but three of those courses will be a part of two-year “sequences.” One sequence covers math and natural sciences, another English and humanities, and the third history and social sciences. The curriculum also includes requirements in language, physical education and public speaking. Seminars are to promote extensive discussion and independent thinking. The New Curriculum survives until 1966.

First Black Student Pledges an Amherst Fraternity

April 28, 1948: Thomas W. Gibbs '51 is chosen by Phi Kappa Psi during spring rush. Representatives of the national fraternity urge withdrawal of the pledge, but the Amherst chapter stands its ground. At the fraternity’s convention, the national executive council votes that Gibbs cannot be admitted. The Amherst chapter is later suspended, but remakes itself as a local fraternity, Phi Alpha Psi, and initiates Gibbs and other pledges on Dec. 4. Gibbs becomes president of Phi Alpha Psi in his senior year.

Mead Art Museum Opens Its First Exhibition

Nov. 8, 1949: The Mead holds its first exhibition, even though the building is unfinished. The exhibition, on display for two weeks, focuses on the turmoil in Europe in 1848, resulting from revolutions and industrialization. In winter 1949, the building’s foundation was built while Stearns Church was demolished. The $500,000 structure, funded by bequests from the late William R. Mead ’67 wife Olga K. Mead, contains classrooms, studios, lecture halls, exhibit spaces, extensive storage space and a 3,000-volume fine arts library.


1950–1959

First WAMF Radio Broadcast

Feb. 25, 1950: Five years after its founding, WAMF, the College radio station, broadcasts its first program to reach the entire campus. Listeners first hear a pregame music presentation, announced by H.B. Stoker Jr. '52, followed by the play-by-play details of the Amherst-Wesleyan basketball game, described by R.M. Marvin '52 and R.R. Fernald '50.

U.S. Air Force ROTC Introduced at Amherst

Sept. 19, 1951: The College introduces its U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. That fall, 329 freshman and sophomores join. Once a student completes the program and earns an Amherst degree, he will be considered a second lieutenant in the USAF Reserve. The program is short-lived; in the 1956-57 academic year, students are directed to the Air Science program at UMass, and after that, it is no longer mentioned in the Amherst College catalog.

New Foreign Exchange Student Housing Plan

Sept. 20, 1952: Amherst welcomes seven international students from France, Mexico, Algeria, Austria and Sweden as part of a new foreign exchange program. Professors Scenna (German), Funnell (French) and Johnson (Romance languages) design a plan to increase their sense of belonging: fraternities house exchange students assigned by the College administration. At first there is backlash from some fraternities, but more than enough agree to participate, and when Amherst Student reporters interview fraternity members, everyone agrees that the plan is working out "fine."

President Cole and Wife Katharine Tour Japan

Winter 1953: The first American invited by the Japan Committee for Intellectual Exchange, Cole lectures on U.S. economic history and higher education. The Coles visit Doshisha University in Kyoto, met by students singing “Lord Jeffery Amherst,” and attend an alumni supper in Ōiso at the home of Count Aisuke Kabayama '89. They are guests of honor at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Yoshida and attended by 200 intellectual and cultural leaders, and they have an audience with Emperor Hirohito at the Imperial Palace.

Alumni House Dedicated

June 10, 1955: Constructed behind Chi Phi House, on the former site of Genung House, Alumni House is mostly complete by May 1, but the basement is not finished for several years. Alumni Secretary J. Alfred Guest '33 says alumni are free to use this building at any time, as may parents of undergraduates. Classes may occupy the front two seminar rooms during the week, and official College gatherings, such as those attended by trustees, the administration, faculty, and undergraduates, may also take place here.

Millicent Todd Bingham Donates Dickinson Collection

March 23, 1956: Bingham—daughter of the late Amherst professor David Todd '75 and Mabel Loomis Todd, who acted as Emily Dickinson's literary executor—gives the College her collection of Dickinson papers. It includes more than 900 poems, letters and fragments; a silhouette portrait cut by Charles Temple, class of 1845; and the only daguerreotype of Dickinson. President Cole has negotiated with Bingham and Harvard University to settle competing claims to Dickinson's literary rights. As of 2012, Amherst has its Dickinson manuscripts freely available online.

Chapin Hall Built

January 7, 1957: President Cole announces a new religious life building, to be called Chapin Hall. Nestled between Barrett Hall and Fayerweather Physics Laboratory, the building will include a chapel, a lounge and small kitchen for the Christian Association, classrooms, seminar rooms and offices. This much-needed space to focus religious activity on campus is donated by Clara M. Chapin of Holyoke, Mass., who wishes to dedicate the building to the memory of her father, Edward Whitman Chapin '63, and brother, Arthur Beebe Chapin '91.

Plans for a Fifth College

1958: The Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of Education gives the area’s four colleges a $20,000 grant to create an experimental fifth college. University of Massachusetts Provost Shannon McCune heads the planning committee. Other members are Professor of English Cesar L. Barber, representing Amherst; Professor of History Donald Sheehan, representing Smith; and Professor of Psychology and Education Stuart M. Stoke, representing Mount Holyoke. Later that year, they publish their proposal. The new experimental school, Hampshire College, opens in 1970.

Coach James Ostendarp Arrives at Amherst

March 2, 1959: Having played two seasons with the NFL, then coached football at Bucknell, Cornell and Williams, Ostendarp becomes a beloved and successful coach at Amherst. At the time of his retirement in 1991, he has the fifth-best all-time record in Division III football: 169 wins, 91 losses and five ties in 33 seasons, a .681 winning percentage.


1960–1969

Trustees Elect Calvin H. Plimpton '39 13th President

Oct. 30, 1960: When elected to succeed President Cole, Plimpton is a professor and assistant dean at Columbia's medical school; he also assists at Presbyterian Hospital and runs his own private practice.

Bassett Planetarium Dedicated

June 10, 1961: During commencement weekend, the planetarium in Morgan Hall is formally dedicated to Preston R. Bassett ’13, retired vice president of Sperry Corp., who has funded the project. The $25,000 facility is intended to be used by all Four College astronomy students, as the astronomy professors from each college work together as a single department, sharing the teaching of advanced classes.

Rose Olver Becomes First Woman Hired in a Tenure-Track Position

Sept. 18, 1962: With a B.A. from Swarthmore and Ph.D. from Radcliffe, Olver joins the Amherst psychology department as her husband joins the University of Massachusetts faculty. She later learns that President Plimpton has made sure Amherst would pay her a starting salary lower than her husband's, "so as not to upset the stability of [her] marriage." Olver earns tenure in 1968, eventually becoming professor of women's and gender studies as well as professor of psychology. She retires from the College in 2012.

Capital Campaign Launched

March 16, 1962: Amherst launches the Capital Program, aiming to raise $17 million in the first three years and a total of $36 million over 10 years. The funds will go primarily toward raising faculty salaries and funding construction. Frost Library, the Social Dorms and an expansion of Valentine Hall are supported by this campaign.

President John F. Kennedy Speaks on Campus

Oct. 26, 1963: Just weeks before his assassination, Kennedy is awarded an honorary Amherst degree and speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library (which is dedicated two years later). The address, considered one of Kennedy’s finest, can be heard online through the JFK Presidential Library. Kennedy's visit is thoroughly documented in Amherst’s archives and in the 2018 documentary and book JFK: The Last Speech, produced by members of the class of 1964 after their 50th reunion. Learn more.

Scrutiny Begins Publication

Sept. 1, 1967: Launched as Student Course Critiques in 1966 and renamed Scrutiny in 1967, this magazine publishes student course evaluations for the benefit of other students. It becomes a valuable resource for studying the impact of the revised curriculum launched in 1966 to replace the “New Curriculum” of the late 1940s through mid-1960s.

Black and White Action Committee Formed

April 29, 1968: President Plimpton appoints six professors and six students to form the Black and White Action Committee on the problem of the “disadvantaged in our society,” especially “blacks victimized by history and racism.” The committee includes Dean of the Faculty Prosser Gifford and professors James Denton, Benjamin DeMott, Hugh Hawkins, Leo Marx and Edwin Rozwenc. Students on the committee are Dennis Aftergut ’69, David Altschul ’69, Fred Baron ’69, Harold Dash ’70, Adrian Johnson ’68 and Harold Wade ’68.

Arms Music Center and Merrill Science Center Open

Sept. 1, 1968: The building spree of the 1960s includes two badly needed additions to campus: a dedicated music building with rehearsal and performance spaces, and an up-to-date science center.

First Moratorium

April 28 and 29, 1969: Student grievances over the Vietnam War, race relations, College governance and coeducation lead to plans to take over a campus building. Advance warning allows an ad hoc committee of students and faculty to request a two-day suspension of classes, called the Moratorium, to allow for College-wide discussion. Afterward, the College community votes on the committee's proposals regarding College reforms and the drafting of a letter of concern addressed to President Nixon.


1970–1979

Black Students Occupy Four Campus Buildings

Feb. 18, 1970: From 1 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., some 250 Black Five College students occupy Converse Hall, College Hall, Frost Library and Merrill Science Center. The protestors issue demands to the college presidents, including, among others, the formation of a Five College Black studies program and an Amherst College Black studies department, increased recruitment of and financial aid for Black students, and funding for the Black Cultural Center. Learn more.

Student Strike / Second Moratorium

May 3, 1970: Area college students participate in a national student strike to protest "the U.S. entry into Cambodia, political repression at home, and campus complicity in the form of ROTC and war-related research," according to The Amherst Student. On May 4, faculty and students propose temporarily canceling classes and forming departmental committees for discussion and action. Ultimately, on May 7, after a proposal by the Ad Hoc Student Assembly Steering Committee, faculty vote to suspend classes for the remainder of the semester. Learn more.

Amherst Establishes Department of Black Studies

Fall 1970: Amherst establishes an official Department of Black Studies, in response to demand from students and faculty for an academic space to explore issues of race and the cultural connections between Africa and the Black Diaspora. Black studies courses first appear in the catalogue for 1969-70, most of them cross-listed with departments such as American studies, anthropology and sociology, and interdisciplinarity remains an intentional hallmark of the department to this day. Among those to chair the department in the 1970s are Asa J. Davis and renowned poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, the first Black woman to teach at Amherst. See the 1970–71 Catalog and learn more.

John William Ward Inaugurated as Amherst’s 14th President

Oct. 23, 1971: Ward, who succeeds Calvin Hastings Plimpton ’39, serves as president from 1971 to 1979, a tumultuous period for the College and the nation. He presides over the transition to coeducation and works to support African-American students in their fight for equality and justice. Along with his wife, 400 Amherst students and 20 professors, Ward is arrested for civil disobedience in protest against the Vietnam War at Westover Air Force Base in May 1972. Learn more.

Amherst Launches First U.S. Undergraduate Neuroscience Major

Sept. 7, 1973: The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards Amherst a $400,000 grant to begin a neuroscience program that will combine premedical courses with those on electronics, psychology and more. The grant allows Amherst to purchase new equipment, hire a neurobiology professor and recruit visiting faculty. After three years, the College funds the program independently.

Dedication of the Gerald Penny ’77 Center

Oct. 12, 1974: The College’s Black Cultural Center, in the Octagon, is renamed in honor of Penny, who drowned during a swimming test the previous fall. (His death prompted faculty to vote to eliminate all physical education requirements and introduce elective P.E. options.) During the ceremony, Sonia Sanchez reads an original poem about Penny, and the organizers of the dedication, Ameer Jabal '77 and Lloyd Miller '77, present a gift to his family. Visiting artist William Utermohlen unveils his portrait of Penny. Learn more.

Faculty Vote in Favor of Coeducation

Oct. 15, 1974: The faculty vote 95 to 29 to “reaffirm … its sense that Amherst College should become a College for men and women.” When the motion is introduced, the women faculty members, sitting together, rise and reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Keep Abreast of the Times — Vote Yes.” On Nov. 2, the trustees vote in favor of the change. In fall 1975, 94 sophomore, junior and senior women begin at Amherst: 79 transfer students and 15 from the Twelve College Exchange. Learn more.

First Women Graduate with Amherst Bachelor’s Degrees

June 6, 1976: By virtue of alphabetical order, psychology major Anita Cilderman ’76 from Teaneck, N.J., becomes the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from Amherst. She is one of nine women to graduate during the Commencement ceremony that day. Learn more.

La Causa Occupies Fayerweather Snack Bar to Advocate for Cultural Center

Dec. 6, 1978: This takeover by La Causa—the cultural, political and service organization for students interested in Latinx issues and culture awareness—leads to the establishment of the José Martí Cultural Center in Keefe Campus Center. Learn more.

Trustees Elect Julian H. Gibbs ’46 as 15th President

Sept. 10, 1979: Gibbs, who characterizes himself as “40% chemist, 30% physicist, 15% biologist, and 15% mathematician,” leaves his position as chemistry professor at Brown University. After graduating magna cum laude with a chemistry degree from Amherst, Gibbs earned his PhD from Princeton. He brings to his presidency a desire to hire more female faculty and administrators, and a belief that the college should not take a public stance on any political issue.


1980–1989

“Women at Amherst: A Fifth-Year Perspective”

May 11, 1981: The work of multiple students and faculty over the past year, a multimedia presentation takes place in the Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall, dedicated to English professor Elizabeth Bruss, who died suddenly that spring. Bruss arrived at Amherst in 1972 and was among the first women awarded tenure at Amherst. She was a supporter of coeducation and an advisor to this project.

Gay and Lesbian Alumni Group Established

1982: A group of gay Amherst alumni, who cross paths at a New York City Pride parade, decide to form the Amherst Gay and Lesbian Alumni group. They announce their organization in Amherst magazine. The group, known as GALA, begins publishing a newsletter in 1986.

President Gibbs Dies of Heart Attack

February 20, 1983: The sudden death of President Gibbs stunned the college community. One week later the Trustees appointed G. Armour Craig (AC 1937) acting President, an office he holds until the next President can be found.

Fraternities Abolished

Feb. 24, 1984: On Feb. 19, 400 students stage a sit-in in Converse, saying trustees have not made an "adequate effort to solicit student opinion" on the question of fraternities. Five days later, the trustees nevertheless unanimously recommend that the College discontinue fraternities after May 31 and improve residential and social life. Students hang effigies of Acting Dean Kathleen Deignan and Acting President G. Armour Craig ’37 from the Chi Psi flagpole; the latter effigy is later burned on the Delta Kappa Epsilon lawn.

Peter R. Pouncey Inaugurated 16th President

Oct. 14, 1984: More than a year after President Julian Gibbs dies of a heart attack, Pouncey is inaugurated to succeed him. Born in China to British parents, Pouncey has been educated at Oxford and then Columbia University, where he has served as dean and professor of Latin and Greek. His inaugural address includes references to the works of George Orwell, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Aristotle, as well as Thucydides, about whom Pouncey has written an award-winning book.

Women Protest Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedure

May 12, 1985: At President Pouncey's office in Converse Hall, 85 women sit in to protest the administration's procedures for handling sexual harassment and intimidation. Kate Silbaugh '85 explains that the administration refuses to "engage in a systematic critique of the judicial board in terms of the way it may be inappropriate for certain types of cases such as sexual, racial and heterosexist harassment." Although the women speak extensively with the president, they leave feeling that he neither understands nor supports their concerns.

College Establishes AIDS Policy

1986: The administration establishes a formal policy and includes it in the 1987-88 Student Handbook: Students with HIV/AIDS "will not be restricted from using campus facilities provided they are receiving medical attention. An AIDS student will be allowed in study areas, dining facilities, libraries and theaters and permitted to live in the dormitories." The College pledges to maintain student confidentiality, with the exception of communication with the Health Center and communication between the Health Center and state health department.

Department of Women's and Gender Studies Established

Sept. 1, 1987: The Jan. 29, 1987, issue of The Amherst Student reports that the faculty has approved a new department, Women's and Gender Studies, on the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Conditions of Work for Women at Amherst College. Previously, students could pursue an interdisciplinary independent course in women's studies. The department officially opens in September.

Review of Keefe Campus Center

May 27, 1988: Nine months after Keefe has opened for business, The Amherst Student publishes a review of the new student center in its Commencement issue. Although there are some criticisms, the overall review is that the new student center is on its way to being very successful.

“Dry Week” and Alcohol on Campus

March 1, 1989: Five years after Massachusetts raises the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, forcing multiple changes in policy, the Amherst administration announces "Dry Week," during which no alcohol will be served at College functions. Dean of Students Ben Lieber expresses alarm at the number of kegs discovered in first-year dorms.


1990–1999

PRISM Devotes Entire Issue to Homosexuality

1990: The Amherst literary magazine PRISM, in a first for campus publications, releases an issue called "One in Ten," entirely devoted to topics related to homesexuality. The following year, PRISM publishes an issue on "Men and Masculinity," exploring the growing movement to expose and "break out of the masculine binary."

Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Endows Amherst Center for Russian Culture

Sept. 1, 1991: Whitney—a diplomat, journalist, translator and author—gives the College what is considered the West’s largest private holding of rare Russian books, manuscripts, newspapers and periodicals. Also included are galley proofs, memos, photographs, menus, wallets, leaflets, broadsides, diaries and other personal effects. Formerly housed in a converted barn in Washington, Conn., Whitney’s collection has taken almost 50 years to assemble. Today the Amherst Center for Russian Culture is located on the second floor of Webster Hall.

Rodney King Verdict Sparks Protest

May 1992: From The Amherst Student: "Partially in response to the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of a black motorist in Los Angeles, the Black Student Union hangs effigies of lynched black men and women as a graphic reminder of the history of racial persecution in the United States. The Rodney King verdict also [prompts a 38-hour] takeover of Converse Hall, as a group of students attempt to force the administration to act with greater speed in its hiring of minorities for faculty and administrative positions."

LJST Department Established

November 1992: After much debate, faculty vote to turn Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought into Amherst’s 29th independent department. It began in 1985 as an experimental program called Law and the Social Order. From September 1990 to September 1993, LJST was offered as a “program without a major.” The program’s development was supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon, W.M. Keck and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

Tom Gerety Inaugurated 17th President

Oct. 16, 1994: The Stearns Steeple bells ring for the first time in 15 years at the inauguration of Gerety, a Yale-educated law professor and philosopher who has previously served as dean of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law and president of Trinity College. Gerety’s inaugural address emphasizes the importance of dialogue and the “radical conjunction of teaching and learning” in a liberal arts education. His nine years as Amherst president see rising admission standards, increasing student diversity and near tripling of the endowment.

Women’s Tennis Team Wins National Championship

May 7, 1999: With a 5-2 victory against Williams College at The College of New Jersey, women’s tennis becomes the first Amherst team to win an NCAA Division III national championship. The team is led by coach Jackie Bagwell and co-captains Pam Diamond ’99 and Neely Steinberg ’99. In the years since then, 12 additional national championship titles have gone to Amherst teams, including women’s lacrosse, men’s basketball, women’s cross-country, women’s ice hockey, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and men’s soccer. Learn more.


2000–Present

Traditional Canes Come Back at Commencement 

May 2003: At Commencement, all graduates receive a wooden walking cane—a revival and reshaping of a College tradition that originated in the 19th century. When a student attained sophomore status, they were allowed to wear a class top hat and carry a class cane.Jose Abad ’03, Benjamin Baum ’03 and Siona van Dijk ’03 propose reviving the tradition, and it receives broad support across the College, eventually gaining permanent funding.  The tradition continues today as the Conway Canes. In the 21st- century adaptation, the canes are a visual metaphor for a college education: they support graduates throughout their lives. Learn more.

Anthony W. Marx Inaugurated 18th President

Oct. 26, 2003: Marx’s inauguration includes, among other events, a reading by poet Richard Wilbur ’42 and a panel on “The Liberal Arts: Privilege and Responsibility.” Educated at Wesleyan, Yale and Princeton, Marx has previously helped to found Khanya College in South Africa, served on the political science faculty at Columbia University and written three books. As president, he works to make Amherst more accessible to students from low-income backgrounds. Learn more.

Emily Dickinson Museum Established

Feb. 5, 2003: The College, which has owned the historic Dickinson Homestead on Main Street in Amherst since 1965, announces its plans to acquire The Evergreens-- the home next door where poet Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, lived with his wife, Susan. Together, The Homestead and The Evergreens will constitute the Emily Dickinson Museum, with a new governing board to oversee its development. Learn more.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Speaks on “Constitutional Interpretation”

Feb. 10, 2004: Invited by President Tony Marx, the conservative associate justice (parent of an ’02 Amherst graduate) gives a controversial lecture to a packed Johnson Chapel, arguing for a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. In a letter to The Amherst Student, 16 faculty members who object to Scalia’s views and record have announced their refusal to attend. In peaceful protest, student groups distribute pamphlets outside the event. Some two dozen local protestors, one wearing a duck costume, demonstrate on the quad. Learn more.

Nelson Mandela Receives Honorary Amherst Doctorate

May 12, 2005: Nearly 1,300 people, including 400 Amherst students and 150 faculty and staff, gather in St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan for the bestowing of honorary doctorates upon the former South African president and his wife,Graça Machel, former minister of education of Mozambique. “In South Africa, in America, in all the world—we must provide education, not as a privilege, but as a right; not for some, but for all,” Mandela told the crowd, adding, “We are all South Africans now.” Learn more.

Beneski Earth Sciences Building and Beneski Museum of Natural History Opens

March 2006: The new building, designed by Boston architecture firm Payette and located behind Fayerweather Hall, houses the College’s geology department, as well as its collection of minerals, mammoth and mastodon skeletons, dinosaur footprints and other natural history specimens. Five years later, the building and museum are renamed in honor of benefactors Ted ’78 and Laurie Beneski. Amherst’s previous natural history museum space is soon renovated and reopened as Charles Pratt Dormitory. Learn more.

Amherst Receives $6 Million for Low-Income African and Latin American Students

Feb. 21, 2007: Philanthropist and retired businessman Athur W. Koenig ’66 pledges $6 million over six years to establish the Koenig Scholarship Fund, which will support five talented low-income students each year from Latin America and Africa. He hopes not only that the scholarship recipients will succeed, but also “that the students and staff at Amherst are influenced by these students.” The first five Koenig Scholars arrive on campus in fall 2007, from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Guatemala. Learn more.

Amherst Makes Historic Decision to Replace Loans with Grants and Scholarships in Financial Aid Packages

July 19, 2007: The College announces that, as of the 2008-09 school year, it will replace loans with scholarship funds for all students who need financial aid, thus allowing students to graduate debt-free. This is an expansion of a groundbreaking policy instituted in 1999 for students from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year. In 2008, Amherst also becomes one of the first U.S. colleges to extend its need-blind admission policy to international students. Learn more.

Multicultural Resource Center Opens 

Sept. 15, 2008: A grand opening is held for Amherst’s Multicultural Resource Center-- the result of several years of planning, debate and work by students, staff and administration regarding the need for greater support for students of color and more effective cultural programming. The MRC opens in the basement of Keefe Campus Center, in a space temporarily granted to it by the Association of Amherst Students after much negotiation. Today, the MRC is located on the main floor of Keefe. Learn more.

First Environmental Studies Majors Graduate

May 24, 2009: At Commencement, six students receive degrees in environmental studies, an interdisciplinary major—encompassing perspectives from biology, economics, statistics, political science and other fields --introduced at Amherst in 2008. Environmental studies becomes its own department in 2014, and its first full-time faculty member, Ashwin Ravikumar, is hired in 2017. By 2019, the number of environmental studies majors in the graduating class quintuples to 30. Learn more.

Amherst Receives Largest Monetary Gifts in Its History

Nov. 3, 2009: The College announces that two anonymous alumni have donated $100 million and $25 million, over five years, to support “efforts to provide the finest possible undergraduate education and access to it, and to maintain Amherst’s standing as the most selective and the most diverse liberal arts college.” The $100 million is thought to be the largest unrestricted gift ever given to such a college. Both gifts are part of the Lives of Consequence capital campaign, launched in 2008 to raise $425 million. Learn more.

Film and Media Studies Major Approved

November 2009: Faculty approve the development of a film and media studies (FAMS) major at Amherst. Though some professors have long taught film studies within their own departments, and the Five Colleges have offered a film studies program, the Amherst FAMS major will require students not only to study media but to create it. Amelie Hastie joins the faculty in 2010 as the first chair of the program, and the College’s first FAMS major graduates in 2012. Learn more.

Carolyn “Biddy” Martin Inaugurated 19th President

June 14, 2011: Succeeding Tony Marx, Martin is the first woman inaugurated president of Amherst College. Having grown up in rural Virginia in a family who “worried that, especially for girls, higher education might be a negative force,” Martin holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from The College of William & Mary and a Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has published two books. She has previously served as provost of Cornell University and as chancellor of UW-Madison. Learn more.

Occupy Amherst College

Nov. 17, 2011: Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations against economic inequality in New York, a student movement known as Occupy Amherst College joins other local and Five College Occupy groups to protest at the town’s Bank of America branch, forcing the bank’s temporary closure. The protestors then march to Amherst College and UMass. Other Occupy demonstrations involving Amherst students, faculty and staff happen throughout the year. Learn more.

Architectural Studies Major Approved

May 2012: The faculty vote to approve Amherst’s participation in the Five College Architectural Studies major. “This is neither an architectural history major nor a design major in the traditional sense,” says Heidi Gilpin ’84, associate professor of German, who serves as the College’s first chair of architectural studies; nor is it a pre-professional program. Instead, each student will undertake an independent, interdisciplinary course of study, drawing from classes in art, history, economics, physics and other fields. Learn more.

Sexual Misconduct and Title IX

October 2012: The Amherst Student and student-run website AC Voice each publish, within a week of one another, opinion pieces from separate students detailing what they describe as instances of misogyny, unaddressed sexual misconduct on campus and a “pattern of forgiving instances of violence against women” at Amherst. Their first-person accounts ignite a firestorm of criticism of the College for its handling of sexual assault, and empower other survivors to come forward with their stories. Later that semester, classes are suspended for a rare all-campus Day of Dialogue organized to facilitate constructive conversations among the community. In the following months and years, Amherst overhauls its sexual misconduct reporting and adjudication processes and hires its first full-time Title IX coordinator. 

Launch of Amherst College Press

Dec. 5, 2012: The College announces a new initiative, conceived by head librarian Bryn Geffert: a digital press that will publish peer-reviewed scholarly works in the humanities and offer them for free online. The business model of Amherst College Press is presented as an egalitarian alternative to traditional academic publishing, which requires libraries, scholars and the general public to pay for access. The press hires its first director and begins publishing texts in 2014. Learn more.

Portrait of Rose Olver Unveiled in Johnson Chapel

Jan. 22, 2013: The painting, by artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, is the first portrait of a woman to be permanently displayed in the chapel alongside depictions of Amherst presidents and prominent alumni. It honors the career of Olver, the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita, who became, in 1962, the first woman to earn tenure at the College, and who later chaired the committee that created the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Learn more.

Book & Plow Farm Takes Root

February 2013: Inspired by a 2010 student proposal and named for the imagery on the Town of Amherst’s seal, the Book & Plow Farm is established on campus. Farmers Peter McLean and Tobin Porter-Brown lease land from the College around Tuttle Hull, on which they grow produce to sell to Valentine Dining Hall, with the aim of expanding and diversifying the farm and offering work and learning opportunities for students. Initially a for-profit farm, today Book & Plow is a staffed department of Amherst College. Learn more.

Statistics Major Approved

Spring 2014: In response to increased student enrollment in statistics courses, the College approves statistics as its 38th major, turning the Department of Mathematics into the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The major is based on guidelines set by an American Statistical Association working group chaired by Professor Nicholas Horton, who helps develop Amherst’s program along with Amy Wagaman, Shu-Min Liao and Xiaofei Wang. The number of statistics majors rises rapidly from four in the class of 2015 to 20 in 2019. Learn more.

Board Statement Reaffirms Abolition of  Fraternities

May 26, 2014: The Board of Trustees votes to abolish fraternities—gain. In 1984, the Board prohibited the use of any College facilities or resources by fraternities or sororities, and it revoked any College affiliation with, or recognition of, these organizations. After the 1984 decision, however, several fraternities took on life underground. In response to a 2013 report from the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee expressing concern that the underground fraternities’ unofficial status prevents the College “from enforcing appropriate expectations for student behavior with respect to them, including accountability under the Honor Code,” the 2014 Board resolution reaffirms, unambiguously, the spirit and intention of the 1984 decision and prohibits membership in off-campus fraternities, while committing the College to new efforts to improve student life. Learn more.

Powerhouse Opens as Social Center

Sept. 5, 2014: The Powerhouse, a steam plant originally built on the east side of campus at the turn of the 20th century, reopens after renovations designed by architects Bruner/Cott of Cambridge, Mass. The brick building becomes a popular site for parties, movie nights, concerts and student performances. Learn more.

Black Lives Matter Awareness Week

Oct. 15, 2014: With support from the College’s Black Student Union, Multicultural Resource Center, Queer Resource Center and Women’s and Gender Center, and with the participation of the Amherst College Police Department, a Black Lives Matter Awareness Week begins on campus to address issues of police brutality and racism within law enforcement. The week involves discussions, performances, a film screening, “Know Your Rights” training and a vigil for victims. Learn more.

Gender Matters Book Explores the “Coeducation of the Faculty”

Oct. 16, 2014: The College publishes a book titled Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst, based on an October 2011 campus symposium of the same name. Featuring symposium transcripts, essays and biographies of dozens of female faculty “pioneers” employed by Amherst between 1962 and 1983, the book chronicles how Amherst has evolved as a workplace for women and looks toward the future for a new generation of professors. Learn more.

Day of Dialogue on Race and Racism

Jan. 23, 2015: After the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo.-- about which hundreds of students stage a “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” walkout of classes in December 2014 --Amherst holds a Day of Dialogue. Over 1,300 students, faculty and staff attend a panel with race educators, then break into groups to share concerns and ideas for the future. While many appreciate the day as an encouraging step, some students and faculty note its insufficiency in addressing many facets of racism and inequality at Amherst. Learn more.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Speaks

Sept. 8, 2015: After a standing ovation, Sotomayor walks the aisles of Johnson Chapel, poses for photos and conducts an hour-long Q&A with eager students. She talks with them about citizenship, religion, her days at Yale Law School, and the challenges of being the first Hispanic and the third woman ever to serve on the nation’s highest court. President Biddy Martin announces that students will receive copies of Sotomayor’s 2013 memoir, My Beloved World, the next day. Learn more.

Amherst Uprising

Nov. 12, 2015: Amherst students plan a one-hour sit-in in Frost Library in solidarity with Black students protesting racism at the University of Missouri, Yale and other schools. The sit-in grows into a weekend-long peaceful occupation of the library, during which students of color and others who feel marginalized testify about their struggles at Amherst. The weekend leads to a highly publicized long-term movement-- known as the Amherst Uprising --to push the administration to take steps to address discrimination and inequities at the College.

Amherst Uprising Information & Sources

Amherst Uprising Clarifies Long-Term Goals

Trustees Vote to Abolish Unofficial “Lord Jeff” as Mascot

Jan. 26, 2016: In response to the Amherst Uprising and “scores (all right, hundreds) of communications from alumni, students, and others,” board chair Cullen Murphy ’74 issues a statement on behalf of the trustees that the College will no longer mention or depict the controversial “Lord Jeff” in its communications. Never an officially adopted College mascot but long a de facto one, Lord Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797) was a British army officer who suggested using smallpox as a weapon of war against Native Americans. Learn more.

Shakespeare’s First Folio Displayed at Amherst

May 2016: The College serves as the only Massachusetts stop on a nationwide tour of the exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare. A First Folio from 1623 is displayed in the Mead Art Museum, open to Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not To Be” monologue. The exhibition is an initiative of the Folger Shakespeare Library in celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Learn more.

Mammoth Announced as New Mascot

April 3, 2017: After formation of a Mascot Committee and a months-long process of nomination and voting among students, faculty, staff and alumni, the Mammoth is announced as Amherst’s official mascot. It is a reference to the Columbian mammoth skeleton unearthed in the 1920s by Professor Frederic Brewster Loomis, class of 1896, and now displayed in the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The College works with a design firm to develop a Mammoth logo, which it unveils at a Homecoming bonfire on Oct. 20, 2017. Learn more.

Latinx and Latin American Studies Major Approved

May 2017: Faculty approve a major in Latinx and Latin American studies, dedicated to critical examination of the diverse histories and cultures of Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. Latinx population. The preceding decade at Amherst has brought a twofold increase in the number of Latin American, Latinx and Caribbean students enrolled, and an eightfold increase in the number of courses focusing on those regions and cultures. Learn more.

Launch of Promise: The Campaign for Amherst’s Third Century 

April 2018: In a letter to the Amherst community, President Martin announces the launch of Promise: The Campaign for Amherst's Third Century. The campaign launch is celebrated with a weekend of events on campus that feature student talent and achievement and include students, faculty, staff, families, and friends of the College. The five-year, $625 million fundraising effort seeks to promote the enduring values of liberal arts education as well as reinvent aspects of the liberal arts to meet the needs of current and future generations of students. Learn more.

New Greenway and Science Center 

Oct. 20, 2018: A day of tours, panels and scientific demonstrations celebrates the grand opening of the College’s new Science Center. The 255,000-square-foot building, sustainably designed by Boston architecture firm Payette, replaces Merrill Science Center and the Maguire Life Sciences building as the home of numerous science departments, laboratories and classrooms. It’s additionally intended to serve as a major social hub and the centerpiece of the campus’s Greenway, which also includes four newly built dormitories. Learn more.

Climate Action Plan

Jan. 29, 2019: In light of concerns about climate change, Amherst announces a trustee-approved plan to achieve a carbon-neutral campus by 2030. The plan will involve transitioning the heating and cooling systems from steam to lower-temperature hot water; procuring zero-emission energy to meet all heating, cooling and electrical needs; and reducing energy consumption through continued building improvements, energy-efficiency projects and behavior change. The College intends to tie the technical aspects of Climate Action Plan into educational and community-engagement opportunities for students. Learn more.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Visits Campus

Oct. 3, 2019: After addressing a smaller group in Converse Hall that afternoon, “RBG” converses with President Biddy Martin in front of 1,600 students, faculty and staff members in Coolidge Cage (as well as hundreds more watching an online livestream). Among other topics, the 86-year-old associate justice answers questions, from Martin and audience members, about landmark SCOTUS decisions, the possibility of an Equal Rights Amendment and her love of opera. The Choral Society performs music from her favorite, The Marriage of Figaro. Learn more.

College Transitions to Remote Learning During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 9, 2020: President Biddy Martin announces that, in order to prevent the spread of the virus on campus, Amherst will follow a remote teaching and learning model for the rest of the semester: Instead of returning to campus after spring break, most students and faculty must remain in their homes around the world, and classes, lectures and panels are conducted online. All but a few essential College staff work from home. Commencement for the class of 2020 is postponed until 2021. Learn more.

President Martin outlines Anti-Racism Plan for Amherst

August 3, 2020: President Martin outlines a plan for how Amherst can address anti-Black racism that includes 17 specific points of change and accountability. “In truth, there is only one legitimate response to the fact of anti-Black racism and the damage it inflicts,” Martin writes. “That response is opposition. And opposition requires that we take more intentional measures.” Learn more.