Dickinson College

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Dickinson College
Dickinson College seal.svg
Latin: Collegium Dickinsonium
Motto Latin: Pietate et doctrina tuta libertas
Motto in English
Freedom is made safe through character and learning [1]
College newspaper The Dickinsonian
Type Private liberal arts college
Established1773;251 years ago (1773)
Academic affiliations
Oberlin Group
Annapolis Group
Endowment $583 million (2022) [2]
President John E. Jones III
Academic staff
Undergraduates 2,420 [3]
Location, ,
United States
Campus College Town, 170 acres (69 ha)
Colors    Red & white
Nickname Red Devils
Sporting affiliations
NCAA Division IIICentennial
Website dickinson.edu
DesignatedJuly 1, 1947 [4]

Dickinson College is a private liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1773 as Carlisle Grammar School, Dickinson was chartered on September 9, 1783, [5] making it the first college to be founded after the formation of the United States. Dickinson was founded by Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The college is named in honor of John Dickinson, a Founding Father who voted to ratify the Constitution and later served as governor of Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Norris Dickinson. They donated much of their extensive personal libraries to the new college. [6]


Dickinson School of Law, founded in 1834 as the college's law department, is located adjacent to the college campus. Dickinson School of Law received an independent charter in 1890 and ended its affiliations with the college in 1917. [7] In 2000, it merged with Penn State University and serves as Penn State's law school.


18th century

Waidner-Spahr Library Dickinson College 9.JPG
Waidner-Spahr Library

The Carlisle Grammar School was founded in 1773 as a frontier Latin school for young men in Western Pennsylvania. Within years Carlisle's elite, such as James Wilson and John Montgomery, were pushing for the development of the school as a college. In 1782, Benjamin Rush, a physician who was a prominent leader during and after the American Revolution, met in Philadelphia with Montgomery and William Bingham, a prominent businessman and politician. As their conversation about founding a frontier college in Carlisle took place on his porch, "Bingham's Porch" was long a rallying cry at Dickinson.

Dickinson College was chartered by the Pennsylvania legislature on September 9, 1783, six days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; it was the first college to be founded in the newly independent nation. Rush intended to name the college after the president of Pennsylvania John Dickinson and his wife Mary Norris Dickinson, proposing "John and Mary's College." The Dickinsons had given the new college an extensive library which they jointly owned, one of the largest libraries in the colonies. [8] [9] The name Dickinson College was chosen instead. Dickinson College's location west of the Susquehanna River made it the westernmost college in the United States at the time of its 1783 founding. Rush made his first journey to Carlisle to attend the first meeting of the trustees, held in April 1784. The trustees selected Charles Nisbet, a Scottish minister and scholar, to serve as the college's first president. He arrived and began to serve on July 4, 1785, serving until his unexpected death in 1804. [10]

Among Dickinson's 18th century graduates were Robert Cooper Grier and Roger Brooke Taney, both of whom later became U.S. Supreme Court justices, serving together on the court for 18 years.

19th century

The collaborative relationship between Dickinson College and Carlisle Indian Industrial School lasted almost four decades. Carlisle Tobacco Cloth.1.png
The collaborative relationship between Dickinson College and Carlisle Indian Industrial School lasted almost four decades.
Zatae Leola Longsdorff Straw, an 1887 graduate of the college Zatae Leola Sturgis Longsdorff Straw - Crop.jpg
Zatae Leola Longsdorff Straw, an 1887 graduate of the college

A combination of financial troubles and faculty dissension led to a college closing from 1816 to 1821. In 1832, when the trustees were unable to resolve a faculty curriculum dispute, they ordered Dickinson's temporary closure a second time. [11] [12]

The law school was founded in 1833. It became a separate school in 1890, although the law school and college continued to share a president until 1912. The law school is now affiliated with the Penn State University. [11]

During the 19th century, two noted Dickinson College alumni had prominent roles in the lead-up to the Civil War. They were James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States, and Roger Brooke Taney, the 5th chief justice of the United States. Dickinson is one of three liberal arts colleges to have graduated a president and a chief justice (Bowdoin and Amherst are the others). Taney led the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which held that Congress could not prohibit slavery in federal territories, overturning the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan threw the full prestige of his administration behind congressional approval of the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas. During the Civil War, the campus and town of Carlisle were occupied twice by Confederate forces in 1863. [13]

Carlisle was also the location of the Carlisle Army Barracks, which was converted in the late 1870s for use as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. In 1879, Dickinson College and the nearby Carlisle Indian School began a collaboration, when James Andrew McCauley, president of the college, led the first worship service at the Indian School. The collaboration between the institutions lasted almost four decades, from the opening day to the closing of the Indian School in 1918. Dickinson College professors served as chaplains and special faculty to the Native American students. [14] Dickinson College students volunteered services, observed teaching methods, and participated in events at the Indian School. [15] Dickinson College accepted select Indian School students to attend its Preparatory School ("Conway Hall") and gain college-level education. [16]

When George Metzger, class of 1798, died in 1879, he left his land and $25,000 (equivalent to $785,000in 2022) to the town of Carlisle to found a college for women. In 1881, the Metzger Institute opened. The college operated independently until 1913, when its building was leased to Dickinson College for the education of women. The building served as a women's dorm until 1963. [17]

In 1887, Zatae Longsdorff became the first woman to graduate from Dickinson. [18] [19]

20th century

In 1901, John Robert Paul Brock became the first black man to graduate from Dickinson; in 1919, Esther Popel Shaw was the first black woman to graduate. [20]

Dickinson also admitted Native American students directly: Thomas Marshall was one of the first such students at Dickinson. In 1910, Frank Mount Pleasant was the first Native American to graduate from Dickinson College.

In the 1990s, the college experienced financial troubles stemming from poor management and acceptance rates climbed upwards. Henry Clarke, an alumnus who developed the Klondike bar into a national brand for an ice cream bar, founded the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues at Dickinson College, and in 1994 established the Clarke Center. [21] William Durden, who became the 27th President in 1999, was credited with improving financial climate and revamping the school academics. [12]

21st century

Dickinson's acceptance rate is 35%, [22] and the institutional endowment has more than doubled since 2000. [23]

In 2000 Dickinson opened a new science building, Tome Hall, a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary facility to host astronomy, computer science, math, and physics. Tome houses Dickinson's innovative "Workshop Physics" program and was the first stage of a new science complex. [24] Opened in 2008, the LEED Gold certified Rector Science Complex serves as a place of scientific exploration and learning in an environment that is artful and sustainable.

Dickinson acquired Allison United Methodist Church for college expansion in 2013. The building, located at 99  Mooreland Avenue, provides the college with more than 33,000 square feet (3,100 m2) for events, guest speakers, student presentations, meetings, ecumenical worship, and additional offices. [25]

Dickinson aims for campus environmental sustainability through several initiatives. In the Sustainable Endowments Institute's 2010 green report card Dickinson was one of only 15 schools in the United States to receive an A−, the highest grade possible. In the same year, Dickinson was named a Sierra magazine "Cool School" in its Comprehensive Guide to the Most Eco-Enlightened U.S. Colleges: Live (Green) and Learn. [26] The college's commitment to making study of the environment and sustainability a defining characteristic of a Dickinson education was also recognised through being top of The Princeton Review's 2010 Green Honor Roll. [27]

In 2008, the college bought 100% of its energy from wind power, [28] had solar panels on campus, [29] owned and operated an organic garden and farm, [30] and had signed the American Colleges & Universities Presidents Climate Commitment. [31] The college's emphasis on sustainability education recognizes its importance for innovation and the lives of tomorrow's graduates. [32] [33] [34] The college had made a commitment to being carbon neutral by 2020. [35] This involved a mixture of increased energy efficiency on campus, switching energy sourcing, promoting behavior change and carbon offsetting. [36]


In addition to offering either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in 22 disciplinary majors and 20 interdisciplinary majors, Dickinson offers an engineering option through its 3:2 program, which consists of three years at Dickinson and two years at an engineering school of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or Case Western Reserve University. Upon successful completion of both portions of the program, students receive a B.S. degree from Dickinson in their chosen field and a B.S. in engineering from the engineering school. [37] Its most popular majors, by 2021 graduates, were: [38]

International Business/Trade/Commerce (58)
Political Science & Government (35)
Psychology (32)
Biology/Biological Sciences (25)
Economics (25)
Neuroscience (23)
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (21)


Entrance to the Academic Quad showing Bosler Hall Dickinson College 2.JPG
Entrance to the Academic Quad showing Bosler Hall
An 1810 illustration of the original Dickinson College building, now known as West College, designed by Benjamin Latrobe Westcollege1810.jpg
An 1810 illustration of the original Dickinson College building, now known as West College, designed by Benjamin Latrobe
Waidner-Spahr Library Dickinson College 3.JPG
Waidner-Spahr Library
The college's science center Dickinson College 10.JPG
The college's science center
The Weiss Center for the Arts The Weiss Center for the Arts.jpg
The Weiss Center for the Arts

Dickinson's campus is three blocks from the main square in the historic small town of Carlisle, the county seat of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and the site of the nation's second oldest military base, Carlisle Barracks, which is now used as the U.S. Army War College. The campus is characterized by limestone-clad buildings and has numerous trees.

The frontier grammar school was founded in 1773 and housed in a small, two-room brick building on Liberty Avenue, near Bedford and Pomfret streets. When Dickinson College was founded in 1783, this building was expanded to accommodate all the functions. [39] In 1799 the Penn family sold 7 acres (2.8 ha) on the western edge of Carlisle to the nascent college, which became its campus. On June 20 of that year, the cornerstone was laid by founding trustee John Montgomery for a building on the new land. [40] The twelve-room building burned to the ground on February 3, 1803, five weeks after opening its doors. The college operations were temporarily returned to their previous accommodations.

Within weeks of the fire, a national fundraising campaign was launched, enticing donations from President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall, and others. Benjamin Latrobe, soon-to-be named as Architect of the Capitol, designed the building now known as "West College" or "Old West." It was finished in 1822. Old West is today the ceremonial heart of the college, as all students march through the open doors during convocation and march out the same doors at graduation.

Throughout the 19th century, Dickinson expanded across what has now become its main academic quadrangle, known formally as the John Dickinson Campus. Dickinson expanded across College Street to build the Holland Union Building and Waidner-Spahr Library, which along with several dormitories, makes up the Benjamin Rush Campus. Across High Street (U.S. Route 11) lies the Charles Nisbet Campus, home to the largest grouping of dormitories. The Dickinson School of Law, part of Penn State, lies directly to the south of the Nisbet Campus. Together these three grass-covered units compose the vast majority of the college's campus.

Student life

There are over a hundred organizations representing different facets of the college. [41]

Theatre and performing arts

Working in cooperation with the Dickinson Department of Theatre and Dance, The Mermaid Players, Dickinson's student-run theatrical society performs regularly. There are three main performance spaces on campus for theatre and dance: Mather's Theatre, The Cubiculo, and The Site. Rubendall Recital Hall is a music performance venue. [42]


The Dickinson Red Devils participate in intercollegiate sports at the NCAA Division III level as members of the Centennial Conference. [43] The Red Devils sports uniforms of red, white, and black.

Dickinson has 23 varsity sports teams, including baseball and softball, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, football, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's swimming, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's riding, women's volleyball, and women's field hockey. The college also has a cheerleading squad and dozens of intramural and club sports including ice hockey, men's volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, and ultimate frisbee.

The school's cross-country teams are led by long-standing coach Don Nichter. The women's cross country team has made 15 consecutive appearances at the Division III National Championships. [44] The men's team has seen similar success, with eight consecutive appearances at the nationals championships. [45]

The current head coach of the Dickinson Red Devils football team is Brad Fordyce.

Dickinson won the 1958 men's lacrosse team national title and Roy Taylor Division championship, also defeating Penn State in its final game to clinch the title.

Dickinson men's lacrosse is led by head coach Dave Webster, whose squad posted a compiled record of 65–10 over 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. The team won three consecutive Centennial Conference championships (2011, 2012, 2013) and went to the NCAA Division III Men's Lacrosse Championship four consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). Prior to the 2010 season, Dickinson had never been in the NCAA tournament. In 2013, Heather Morrison and Brandon Palladino were named the NCAA Division III Outstanding Players of the Year: Iroquois Nationals Award. Palladino was also the first player in Centennial Conference history to earn first-team all-conference honors all four years of his career.

Dickinson's men's basketball team won Centennial Conference titles in 2013 and 2015, and an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in 2014. Dickinson reached the "Elite Eight" in the 2014 NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament. [46] Gerry Wixted '15 was named D-III National Player of the Year in 2015. [47]

From 1963 to 1994, the college hosted the summer training camp for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL). [48] [49]


Approximately 300 students study music at Dickinson every year. Music ensembles, open to all students by audition, include the Dickinson College Choir, the Dickinson College Collegium, the Dickinson College Jazz Ensemble, the Dickinson Orchestra, the Dickinson Improvisation and Collaboration Ensemble, and the Dickinson Chamber Ensembles. [50]

Dickinson's radio station is WDCV-FM.

Language, culture, and global education

Dickinson College has various on-campus houses and clubs dedicated to language and culture. On-campus student houses include a Romance Language House, [51] the Russian House, [52] the Global Community House, [53] and the Social Justice House. The Center for Sustainable Living, or Treehouse, is an on-campus student house dedicated to sustainability and environmentalism. [54]

Religious life

Dickinson has a number of different religious organizations, including the Harlow Family Hillel and the Asbell Center for Jewish Life, [55] the Dickinson Christian Fellowship (DCF), the Dickinson Catholic Campus Ministry (DCCM), and the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA).

Greek organizations

Dickinson College has three recognized fraternities: Delta Sigma Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, and Sigma Lambda Beta. The college has six recognized sororities: Delta Nu, which was founded at Dickinson College in 1971; Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Pi Beta Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, and Sigma Lambda Gamma. [56] Fraternities that are suspended, inactive, or not currently recognized by the school include: Kappa Sigma and Phi Delta Theta, both unrecognized by the school in 2017; Phi Kappa Sigma (Epsilon chapter), established in 1854 as the first fraternity at Dickinson until it was suspended in 2009; [57] [58] Sigma Alpha Epsilon, suspended in 2012; [59] [60] Theta Chi, unrecognized by the school in 2008; [61] Beta Theta Pi, which founded its Alpha Sigma chapter at Dickinson in 1874 and was suspended in 2000; and Sigma Chi, unrecognized by the school in 2004. [62]

The Dickinsonian

The Dickinsonian , first published in 1872, is the student-run newspaper. [63]

School songs

The Mermaid, a school icon Dickinson College 15.JPG
The Mermaid, a school icon

The college's musical tradition dates back to at least 1858 when the Medal of Honor recipient and author, alumnus Horatio Collins King, wrote the alma mater, "Noble Dickinsonia" to the tune of "O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree"). In 1937 the college published a book titled Songs of Dickinson, which contains over 70 works from Dickinson's past. In 1953 the men's glee club recorded an album of college songs. In 2005–2006, The Octals, Dickinson's all-male a cappella group, recorded a similar CD.

Hat Societies

Dickinson College has four Hat Societies on its campus. This name is given by the distinctive hats members wear on campus. To gain admittance into a hat society, one is "tapped" as a junior by current senior members to then serve as a member during his or her senior year. The induction ceremony is known as a tapping ceremony. While membership criteria differ amongst the organizations, overall character, and general campus leadership are major requirements for membership in any of the organizations. [64]


Notable alumni of Dickinson College include Chief Justice of the United States Roger B. Taney (1795); President of the United States James Buchanan (1809); John Goucher (1868), the founder of Goucher College; Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Chief Bender (1902); former chief of the Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force (SAC) Richard H. Ellis (1941); baseball executive Andy MacPhail (1976).

Rankings and awards

Academic rankings
Liberal arts
U.S. News & World Report [65] 46
Washington Monthly [66] 21
Forbes [67] 138

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40°12′09″N77°11′43″W / 40.20262°N 77.19522°W / 40.20262; -77.19522