College History



1911 - The College was founded following a decision by Wesleyan University to stop admitting women. Elizabeth Wright, a Wesleyan alumna, rose to the challenge and convinced women from the Hartford College Club to explore the idea of founding a college. New London, eager to host the new institution, offered a beautiful hilltop site and launched a $100,000 fundraising drive. Within 10 days, the people and businesses of New London had exceeded the goal by $35,000.

The state of Connecticut granted the school a charter in April 1911 under the name of Thames College. The chair of the new Board of Trustees, real estate magnate Morton Plant, provided a $1 million endowment and changed the name to Connecticut College for Women.

1913 - Frederick H. Sykes became the first president. Ewing & Chappell designed the first buildings, and the landscaping firm of Olmsted Brothers recommended an axial layout preserving the long view toward New London and Long Island Sound. Two residence halls, Plant and Blackstone, and an academic building, New London Hall, were rushed to completion.

1917 - As president, Benjamin T. Marshall raised the college's sights by suggesting that it had an opportunity and an obligation to provide the world with educated people of "character, understanding, power and vision.

1929 - Katharine Blunt became the first woman president in the College's history and oversaw creation of a modern-day college. Twelve new buildings were erected, the first capital campaign met with great success and the Arboretum was established.

1943 - During her two-year presidency, Dorothy Schaffter formalized many of the College's rules and procedures and established more efficient budget and accounting systems. Following her departure, Katharine Blunt returned to serve another year, making her the second-longest serving president in the College's history.

1947 - Rosemary Park, a scholar of German literature, became president and served until 1962. Her tenure was highlighted by a major revision of the curriculum, competition of a capital campaign marking the college's 50th anniversary and continued construction of campus facilities.

1962 - Charles E. Shain became president. Under his leadership, the College became co-educational and introduced interdepartmental and self-designed majors. Unity House, the College’s multicultural center, was founded in 1973.

1974 - Physicist Oakes Ames became president, overseeing the construction of Shain Library and the Athletic Center. His tenure is also remembered for the 1986 Fanning takeover, when 54 students locked themselves inside the administration building and demanded more support for diversity, Unity House and affirmative action.

1988 - The College welcomed its first alumna president, Claire Gaudiani ’66. During her tenure, many building and renovation projects were undertaken, including construction of the F.W. Olin Science Center. She also oversaw the establishment of four interdisciplinary centers that remain among the most distinctive features of the College’s academic program.

2001 - Norman Fainstein becomes the College’s ninth president. He is credited with strengthening the College’s financial position and system of shared governance. He formed a presidential commission to study issues of diversity and pluralism on campus. Several of the key recommendations have since been implemented.

2006 - President Leo I. Higdon, Jr. was inaugurated as the College’s 10th president. He began immediately to work with alumni, parents and the campus community to further renew the campus, academic program and residential life in preparation for the College’s 100th birthday. In his inaugural remarks, he emphasized sustaining and enhancing the original vision of the College. He said: “Connecticut College was built on a foundation of pragmatism, global awareness, equity and respect for others … Everything we do, every investment we make is about engaging students leading to a richer and deeper learning experience.”

This brief history borrows from previously published essays by Brian Rogers, former College librarian, and Judy Kirmmse, affirmative action officer.