An Amherst Timeline


Cornerstone laid for South College, first College building.

Zephaniah Swift Moore

College is founded as Amherst Collegiate Institution.

§ Zephaniah Swift Moore, clergyman and former president of Williams College, begins term as first president (1821-23).


First College Catalog issued — a single sheet.

Heman Humphrey

Clergyman Heman Humphrey begins term as second president (1823-45).

Amherst Seal 1825

Massachusetts Legislature grants charter to create Amherst College.

§ First graduating class (25 seniors) receives degrees.

§ August 24: College adopts 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.

Johnson Chapel 1827

Johnson Chapel dedicated February 28.


The students organize a form of government for ensuring more order on campus. As the "House of Students," they make laws for the protection of the buildings and grounds, and promote better observance of study hours.

Ebenezer S. Snell

Professor of Mathematics Ebenezer S. Snell, one of the first two College graduates (AC 1822), begins to systematically keep weather records.


A disagreement about appointments to the Junior Exhibition sparks the Gorham Rebellion, led by William O. Gorham (AC 1838). In response to the protest, the College threatens to remove the Class of 1838. The students backed down, but the controversy was the subject of discussion for years.

Amherst's first fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, is established.


Amherst's first Alumni Association is formed at reunion, July 27.

A gift of $10,000 from Boston merchant David Sears rescues Amherst College during a difficult time and marks the beginning of the Sears Foundation of Literature and Benevolence.

Edward Hitchcock

Edward Hitchcock, geologist and clergyman who had taught at Amherst since 1825, begins term as third president (1845-54).

Morgan Library

Morgan Library completed. It has 296 donors and the surplus funds are used for books. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is among the donors.

William Augustus Stearns

William Augustus Stearns, clergyman and biblical scholar, begins term as fourth president (1854-76).

The Olio begins in October 1855. Initially in newspaper form and known as the College Olio, the first versions of the publication are more a combination of college catalog and student newspaper than yearbook.

Massachusetts Governor Joel Hayden of Haydenville gives the College Sabrina, a statue of a wood nymph. For years, the statue is the subject of class rivalries in which one class would steal and hide the statue from another.

Amherst Express newspaper
In July in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Amherst and Williams play the first intercollegiate baseball game. After 3 1/2 hours and 26 innings, Amherst defeats Williams, 73-32.

Barrett Gymnasium
Barrett Gymnasium is constructed, housing the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education. The department was established in 1860 in an attempt to combat student ill health, making Amherst the first college to introduce physical education and hygiene into the curriculum.

College adopts school colors of mauve and white, later changed to purple and white.

Walker Hall
Walker Hall cornerstone laid June 10. The building was completed in 1870.

§ The Amherst Student publishes its first issue on February 1. Its focus is on "topics immediately associated with college life, and a summary of college news," rather than on the literary and philosophical essays and articles of previous College publications.


Amherst celebrates its semicentennial.

§ Two women - Miss Frazier of Watertown, Connecticut, and Miss Lidd of Lynn, Massachusetts - apply for admission to Amherst College. Some members of the Board of Trustees are in favor and suggest a merger with Smith College. Henry Ward Beecher (AC 1834), a member of the Board of Trustees, states "Amherst for universal education. If a woman is fully qualified, its doors will be open to her." The women are not admitted, and it will be more than 100 years before the first woman receives a bachelor's degree from Amherst.

Stearns Church dedicated July 1.

§ While working as a student library assistant, Melvil Dewey (AC 1874) devises a decimal system for cataloguing books. The Dewey Decimal System, eventually a model for libraries across the country, permitted open stacks.

The freshman class revives the practice of burning or burying the textbooks of the most arduous courses, most often mathematics, in an elaborate mock funeral service. These class-sponsored events were viewed as a way to demonstrate class spirit.

Alpha Delta House
Alpha Delta House built, the first college fraternity house in the United States.

Julius Hawley Seelye
Julius Hawley Seelye (AC 1849), clergyman and biblical scholar, begins term as fifth president (1876-90). The first alumnus to serve as president, Seelye introduces "The Amherst System," a then-revolutionary concept of allowing students to govern their own affairs and decide on disciplinary methods. The group formed under this system, known as the College Senate, acted on questions of college order and decorum, with the president granted the power of veto.

Walker Hall burns and is rebuilt, reopening in 1884.

Amherst receives its first gift for a building from an alumnus, Charles Millard Pratt (AC 1879).

Amherst and Williams play their first two football games. Williams beats Amherst, 15-2 and 11-0.

Merrill Edward Gates
Merrill Edward Gates, former president of Rutgers College, begins term as sixth president (1890-99).

George Harris (AC 1866), clergyman and professor of theology, begins term as seventh president (1899-1912).

Alexander Meiklejohn
Alexander Meiklejohn, Brown University dean and educator, begins term as eighth president (1912-24).

Robert Frost teaching
Robert Frost comes to Amherst, where he teaches on and off for more than 40 years.

Charles Hamilton Houston '15
Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) graduates. Houston served as Dean of Howard University Law School, and was the guiding genius behind the fight against racial segregation in the United States, laying the groundwork for the landmark decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education in Topeka.

Converse Library 1917

Converse Library completed.

§ Amherst adjusts to war efforts and is under government control during WWI. The College forms an ROTC unit and later a Student's Army Training Corps.


Amherst celebrates its centennial and launches the Centennial Campaign, which raises $3,000,000. Jeffery Amherst (then Viscount Holmesdale, later the fifth Earl Amherst) visits the College for the occasion.

George Daniel Olds
George Daniel Olds, professor of mathematics and Dean of the College who had been at Amherst since 1891, begins term as ninth president (1924-27).

Arthur Stanley Pease
Arthur Stanley Pease, classics scholar who had taught Latin at Amherst since 1924, begins term as tenth president (1927-32).

Amherst learns that it is the principal legatee of alumnus Henry Clay Folger (AC 1879) and receives the Folger collection of Shakespeareana. The Washington, D.C. library will house the collection, and most of Folger's estate will endow the library.

Folger Shakespeare Library established.

Stanley King
Stanley King (AC 1903), attorney, businessman, and active member of the College's Board of Trustees, begins term as eleventh president (1932-46).

Amherst House is dedicated at Doshisha University in Kyoto on October 29, commemorating the special relationship between Amherst and the institution that Shimeta (Joseph Hardy) Neesima (AC 1870) founded in 1874, when he returned to Japan after completing his theological training. In order to obtain an education at a time when Japanese citizens were forbidden to leave their homeland, Neesima had stowed away and was taken under the protective custody of the "Wild Rover" captain Alpheus S. Hardy.

Hurricane damage 1938
September hurricane strikes the northeast, changing the face of the Amherst campus.

Valentine Hall 1941
Valentine Hall opens for central campus dining.

Eight military units use the College's facilities to train for the new specialized needs of a modern army. College service projects spring up to serve the local needs of the community.

Charles Woolsey Cole
War Memorial and Memorial Field dedicated June 16 in commemoration of Amherst College veterans of World Wars I and II.

§ Economist and historian Charles Woolsey Cole (AC 1927) begins term as twelfth president (1946-60).

The famous "New Curriculum" of required courses begins. It lasts until 1967. Program established to provide a general education during the first two years and a period of more extensive work in one field in the second two. This was achieved in the requirement of full-year courses in science, history, and English/humanities.

Amherst College Masquers perform first televised Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar.
Mead Art Museum completed.

§ The Amherst College Masquers, a dramatic society, perform television's first broadcast of a complete Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. The performance takes place in the Elizabethan Playhouse at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Calvin Hastings Plimpton
Calvin Hastings Plimpton (AC 1939), medical doctor, professor of medicine, and Dean of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, begins term as thirteenth president (1960-71).

John F. Kennedy 1963
Walker Hall razed to build Frost Library.

§ In October U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaks at Convocation and the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library. It is one of the president's last public appearances; he is assassinated one month later. The library was completed in 1965, and poet Richard Wilbur (AC 1942) spoke at the dedication.

The College introduces a new curriculum that recognizes students' ability to tailor their own programs around basic distribution requirements.

Groundbreaking for creation of Hampshire College, an institution of higher education created by Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts.

§ The College abolishes compulsory morning College Assembly requirement.

Moratorium and period of anti-war protest on campus. In spring, student grievances over the Vietnam War, race relations, College governance and coeducation lead to plans to take over a College building. Advance warning allows an ad hoc committee of students and faculty to request a two-day suspension of classes (April 28 and 29), called the Moratorium, to allow for College-wide discussion of these campus and national concerns.

§ Amherst establishes its Black Studies Department.

John William Ward
John William Ward, professor of history, English, and American Studies who had taught at Amherst since 1964, begins term as fourteenth president (1971-79).

Amherst establishes the nation's first undergraduate neuroscience program.

Coeducation is officially confirmed at Amherst. Women will be admitted as transfer students in fall 1975 and as first-year students in fall 1976.

Thanks to alphabetical order, Anita Cilderman, a transfer student from Mount Holyoke College, is the first woman graduate to receive a bachelor's degree from Amherst.

Amherst establishes Introduction to Liberal Studies Program.

Julian Howard Gibbs
Julian Howard Gibbs (AC 1946), chemist and professor of chemistry, begins term as fifteenth president (1979-83).

G. Armour Craig (AC 1937), professor of English who had taught at Amherst since 1940, serves as Acting President (1983-84) following the death of Julian Gibbs.

§ The College establishes a Department of Asian Languages and Literatures (now Asian Languages and Civilizations).

Peter R. Pouncey
Peter R. Pouncey, classics scholar and former dean of Columbia University, begins term as sixteenth president (1984-94).

§ The Board of Trustees abolishes on-campus fraternities.

The 100th Amherst football game
Amherst plays the 100th football game with Williams College. The first game was in 1884, but the 100th game is celebrated in 1985 because there were several years with multiple games and others in which there was no game. Williams won the first two games in 1884, but Amherst wins the 100th game, 35-20.

The College establishes the Department of Women's and Gender Studies.

The College establishes the Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought.

Tom Gerety
Tom Gerety, lawyer, philosopher, and former president of Trinity College, begins term as seventeenth president (1994-2003).

Amherst College celebrates its 175th anniversary.

Anthony W. Marx
Anthony W. Marx, Columbia University professor of political science and educational innovator, begins term as Amherst's 18th president (2003-2011).
President Biddy Martin
Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former provost of Cornell University, begins term as Amherst's 19th president (2011-).

Text and images courtesy of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.