With Amherst College’s Bicentennial coming right up in 2021, we in the Archives are working closely with the Digital Programs Department to digitize collections relating to Amherst College history, including the Amherst College Olios and soon, The Amherst Student. With this in mind, we have revised the finding aid for the Amherst College Early History Collection in preparation for digitization.
The Early History Collection is an artificial collection, meaning a collection of material with varied provenance assembled around a single topic, in this case the early history of Amherst College.
The Early History Collection contains printed material, legal documents, financial records, correspondence and other papers documenting the history of Amherst Academy, the Charity Fund, and the inception and founding of Amherst College.
Noah Webster, publisher of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and trustee of Amherst Academy since its incorporation in 1815, was president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees in 1821. Webster played a vital role in fundraising, advocating for, and founding “the Charity Institution,” which would become Amherst College. The Early History Collection includes Lucius Boltwood’s transcription of Noah Webster’s notes on the history of Amherst Academy and Amherst College.
The Charity Fund was the first endowment of Amherst College. Stanley King writes in The History of the Endowment of Amherst College, “The goal was a fund of fifty thousand dollars. Pledges and gifts were secured from some two hundred and seventy-five subscribers. The largest subscription was for three thousand dollars and was paid by the transfer to the College of land in Maine; the smallest was for five dollars.” The Early History Collection includes four subscription notebooks showing pledges paid in full, as well as pledges paid with labor.
This collection includes early circulars and catalogs of both Amherst Academy and Amherst College, including the first “Catalogue of the Faculty and Students of the Collegiate Institution” printed in March 1822.
The Massachusetts Legislature granted Amherst College its charter in 1825—the same year that the college awarded degrees to its first class of 25 graduates. This collection includes many pamphlets petitioning for or opposing the incorporation of Amherst College, as well as the proposed charter and newspaper articles reporting on the founding and incorporation of the College.
In addition to the Amherst College Early History Collection, great resources on the founding and early history of Amherst College have been digitized and are freely available online:
History of Amherst College during its first half century, 1821-1871 by W. S. Tyler, 1873
A History of the Endowment of Amherst College by Stanley King, 1950
“The Consecrated Eminence” The Story of the Campus and Buildings of Amherst College by Stanley King, 1951
Sketches of the Early History of Amherst College by Heman Humphrey, 1905
Reminiscences of Amherst College by Edward Hitchcock, 1863