The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Amherst College

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Edition of 1920. See also Amherst College on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

AMHERST COLLEGE, one of the best known institutions of learning in the United States, is situated in Amherst, Hampshire County, Mass. The cornerstone of the present South College, the first of the college buildings, was laid on 9 Aug. 1820, and upon this occasion an address was delivered by Noah Webster. Exercises of dedication and inauguration were held on 18 Sept. 1821, and on the following day, with a president, two professors and 47 students, the work of the college was begun. The first president was the Rev. Zephaniah Swift Moore, D.D., who had resigned the presidency of Williams College in order to come to Amherst, and who brought with him 15 students from Williamstown. After two adverse votes in the legislature the college finally secured a charter from the commonwealth, the date of its approval being 21 Feb. 1825. A number of students in the intervening classes, being compelled to graduate without a degree, received their degrees from Union College, on suitable certificates from Amherst. Of the charter just mentioned a few words are all that the present sketch permits, or that are pertinent to present conditions. As to the board of trustees, it “provided, . . . that the number of members (including the president of said college for the time being, who shall ex officio be one of said corporation) shall never be greater than seventeen”; and as to keeping that number good, it was in the same section “provided, further, that as vacancies shall occur in said board, they shall be so filled that the said board shall as soon as may be, and forever after, consist of seven clergymen and ten laymen.” The first five vacancies that occurred in the board were filled by vote of the legislature; but when, 50 years after the founding of the college, the number of alumni had become sufficient to warrant it, the alumni were empowered to choose five members of the board, electing one each year as their terms of service expired. Regarding instructors and students, it was enacted, “That no instructor in said college 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.” By an act approved 4 Feb. 1916, that part of the act of 1825 which required that the board of trustees should consist of seven clergymen and ten laymen was repealed. Amherst College is a college of liberal arts and sciences and does not undertake to provide a technical training. The course of study, normally requiring four years, and leading to the degree of bachelor of arts, is partly prescribed and partly elective. The requirements for admission are based upon the subjects usually studied during a four years' course in the best high schools. In order to secure a degree a student must complete 40 semester courses which shall include one year of English, one year of mathematics, one year of history or philosophy, two years of Greek or two years of Latin, two years of science in the group, biology, chemistry, physics, and he must have a reading knowledge of either German or a Romance language (French, Italian or Spanish). In addition to the 40 courses, work is required in public speaking and in physical education. On the other hand, the fact that many courses are elective allows a student to follow to some extent his own inclinations; in fact it is possible for a student to so shape his college course that after graduation he may secure an engineering degree from a technical school by two years of additional study. The college also offers to holders of the bachelor's degree a year's course of study leading to the degree of master of arts. For many years the college offered a course leading to the degree of bachelor of science. The requirements for this degree placed less emphasis upon the classical languages and more upon the sciences than do those of the course leading to the degree of bachelor of arts. No candidates have been accepted in this course, however, since those who entered college in 1913. The catalogue for the academic year 1915-16 shows a student enrolment of 429, and a faculty of 48 actively engaged in teaching. Since the college was founded about 9,000 students have been enrolled, and of this number about 5,000 are living. The buildings and equipment are valued at approximately $1,200,000 and include, besides recitation halls, laboratories, dormitories, etc., an infirmary, a gymnasium, two large athletic fields and a skating rink. The college has also many valuable collections. Among these are the Adams collection of shells, a part of Audubon's celebrated collection of birds, the Woods collection of minerals, the Shepard collection of meteorites, the famous Hitchcock ichnological collection, an anthropological collection and an unusually complete and interesting collection of Indian relics. The total funds of the college amount to over $2,800,000, of which the income of more than $420,000 is available annually for fellowships, scholarships and prizes. The corporate name of the institution is “The Trustees of Amherst College.”