Zephaniah Swift Moore, Amherst’s first president
Aug. 18, 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 underneath.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Sabrina statue in the College Garden in 1868
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
May 8, 1873: Melvil Dewey ’74 develops the Dewey Decimal System while working in the College library as a student. He presents the library committee with a scheme for reclassifying the disorganized collection by subject. He implements and copyrights his system after graduating. In 2019 the American Library Association removes his name from one of its top awards, citing his history of sexual harassment, racism and antisemitism.
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.
Neesima, the founder of Doshisha in Kyoto, 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.
Nov. 1, 1884: The first Amherst-Williams football game is played in Williamstown, Mass. Williams wins 15–2.
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.
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.
The Glee Club circa 1880, before Amherst hired its first music professor
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 1–5, 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.”
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.
President Coolidge greets an Amherst football captain
Aug. 3, 1923: Coolidge is inaugurated as the 30th president of the United States, following the unexpected death of Warren G. Harding.
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.
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.”
Sept. 18, 1936: Amherst badly needs a new gym. President Stanley King calls upon alumni for donations, and his efforts are rewarded. The name Alumni Gymnasium reflects the contribu- tions of many alumni, rather than a single donor.
After the hurricane that made the “Hurricane Class”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 16, 1946: The College dedicates Memorial Field and the War Memorial, which includes the names of alumni who died in the two World Wars. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visits the space in July.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
A scene from the April 1969 Moratorium
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.
April 28–29, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Students at the La Causa occupation in Fayerweather
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.
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.
June 27, 1982: Some 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.
Feb. 19, 1984: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Oct. 16, 1994: Tom Gerety is inaugurated as president, replacing Pouncey, who will go on to write a critically acclaimed novel. Under Pouncey, Amherst expanded the faculty, added several buildings, and started new, interdisciplinary programs. Gerety’s nine-year tenure sees rising admission standards, increasing student diversity and near tripling of the endowment.
Celebrating Amherst’s first NCAA team 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.
May 25, 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.
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.
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.
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 receive financial aid, thus allowing most students to graduate with low or no debt. This is an expansion of a groundbreaking "no loan" 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 all students, regardless of citizenship.
June 14, 2011: Succeeding Tony Marx, Martin is the first woman named 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From left, the students who started the Uprising: Katyana Dandridge ’18, Lerato Teffo ’18 and Sanyu Takirambudde ’18
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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.
March 9, 2020: President Martin announces that, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, 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, faculty and staff remain in their homes, and classes are conducted online. The 2020 commencement ceremony takes place online.
May 30, 2021: The commencement ceremony in Coolidge Cage caps an unprecedented year that sees a mix of in-person and remote learning. Graduating seniors wear special Bicentennial medallions and stoles. “Each and every one of you,” says class speaker Jordan Andrews ’21, “has a vibrant light that the world deserves to see.”
Kelly is the head of Archives & Special Collections at Amherst, where he oversees a collection of more than 80,000 rare books along with a host of archival materials and manuscripts. Duke is Amherst magazine’s assistant editor.