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The founding of Connecticut College

Every great story needs a great beginning. The founding of Connecticut College had it all: a wrong that needed to be righted, twists of fate and a fortuitous combination of forward thinking, selflessness and a belief in the power of education.

It started on a hilltop where cows had grazed for centuries in fields that overlooked Long Island Sound and the Thames River. Here, thanks to the contributions from about 6,000 New Londoners, from message boys to a multimillionaire, Connecticut College was born.

The series of fortunate events that led to the founding of the College in 1911 actually began with a major setback: Wesleyan University announced in 1909 that it would no longer accept women as students. At a time when more women were demanding their rights, including the right to vote, the decision left the state without a four-year college for half of the population. In response, a committee of concerned citizens formed a committee, chaired by Elizabeth C. Wright, a Hartford teacher and Wesleyan alumna, to explore the establishment of a women's college. The committee found strong interest across the state and, before long, a promising site on a grassy hilltop above New London's harbor. The quest was not over.

In order to secure state funding for the new college, New London would have to compete with several other cities vying for the honor. The state required a $100,000 investment from the city to ensure that the proposal would succeed. And the city had to deliver in 10 days. New Londoners answered the challenge to "Get it by March 1st!" by digging into their own pockets, exceeding the goal by $35,000. The College's new board of incorporators (later the board of trustees) petitioned the state for a charter, and by April 5 the ink was drying on that historic document. The chairman of the board was financier Morton F. Plant.

At the second meeting of the trustees that spring, held at a time that conflicted with a game by his beloved baseball team, a restless Plant posed the famous question, "Would it help if I just gave you a million dollars?"

It would - and he did. Soon the founders were hiring faculty and designing a program for "the best education of women, meeting the demands of the times."

When classes began, in 1915, 14 majors were offered: English, Greek and Latin, modern languages, history, social sciences, psychology and philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, hygiene and physical education, dietetics, design in fine and applied art, and music.

January 5, 2011