Why the 10 Oldest US Colleges Changed Their Names

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

Sure the Romeo and Juliet love was doomed because of their family names; hence, names are important Imagine what it would be like to call Harvard College “New College” instead?

Or to say, “I study at the Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible Church” to refer to Arizona Christian University?

Names carry a lot of history, and for schools, which have stood for more than a century, names signify change and progress.

The colleges that have seen so much change are the oldest in the country.

How many colleges have changed their names, and what were they called before they carried the new names they have now?

Here’s a List of the 10 Oldest Colleges and Why They Changed Their Names

Harvard University


image source: en.wikipedia.org

It’s not surprising that the Ivy League schools are composed of the oldest colleges and universities in the country.

As the oldest college in the country, Harvard was founded in 1636 and used to be called “New College” or “the college at New Towne”.

It named “Harvard” after John Harvard, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, who donated his wealth and estate to the school.

The college had originally been teaching ministers, and had courses with underlying theological principles.

It was only in 1708 when the college president wasn’t a clergyman that the school began to expand its courses and teaching methods away from purely Puritan ideals.

College of William and Mary


photo courtesy: wm.edu

The school where many early United States presidents graduated from, the College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II, hence the school’s name.

Virginia wanted to establish a school for Native American students and colonist sons, but these plans were changed due to many events including the English Civil War, the Indian Massacre, and rebellions.

The college was also home to the first secret society, the Flat Hat Club (or FHC Society whose initials actually stood for “Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio”).

St. John’s College at Annapolis


photo source: en.wikipedia.org

This liberal arts college with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico was founded in 1696. It started out as King William’s School, a prep school.

It wasn’t until 1784 that the school became a college after receiving a collegiate charter..

The college only grants one degree – in Liberal Arts.

Yale University

Yale University founded 1701

photo by: en.wikipedia.org

Yale University was actually founded by former Harvard College graduates who were disappointed that Harvard was becoming more liberal with its courses.

They wanted to build a more conservative school that still adhered to religious, Puritan teachings.

Yale started out as the Collegiate School when it was founded in 1701.

More than a decade and a half later, “The Founders” of the Collegiate School asked financial help from a businessman to establish a new building for the school.

The businessman was named Elihu Yale. The college became a university in 1887.

Washington University


image by: gwu.edu

This liberal arts college started out as Kent County Free School located in Chestertown Maryland, which had started around the early 1720s.

The college was a greenhorn school, and in the 1780s, George Washington allowed them to use his name after giving 50 guineas to the school where he later became a board member.

After giving financial support, the school soon became Washington College in 1782 after being granted a charter and is the 10th oldest college in the U.S

Moravian College


photo courtesy: youvisit.com

Another liberal arts college, Moravian College first began as Bethlehem Female Seminary, which was founded in 1742.

It was the first boarding school for female students in the entire country, although not the first women’s college.

In 1913, the school became the Moravian Seminary and College for Women.

But before that, there were two schools for male students that merged in 1759. It became part of the Moravian College and Theological Seminary in 1807.

But in 1954, the two colleges merged to form one co-educational institution. Although the colleges were built ages ago, they did not start conferring degrees until 1863.

University of Delaware


photo by: udel.edu

It is the largest university in the state, and has several satellite campuses in the country.

The school was established in 1743, as a Free School in Pennsylvania. The school underwent many changes – including names and locations.

It is presently located in Newark, and was once called Academy of Newark.

Delaware wasn’t a state yet, so the school wasn’t allowed to become a college so it wouldn’t compete with then College of Philadelphia (now UPenn).

In 1834, a new school, Newark College started, and it merged with the Academy of Newark soon after.

In 1921, the “Delaware College” became University of Delaware and finally merged with the Women’s College of Delaware in 1945.

 Princeton University

princeton university Ivy League school 1746

photo from: en.wikipedia.org

This Ivy League school started in 1746 as the College of New Jersey.

Like Harvard and Yale, its purpose was to train clergymen. The school changed its location in 1756 to Princeton.

One of the trustees wanted the school to be named Belcher College after the governor, who wisely foresaw the disaster that would be.

One president changed the direction of the school, from training ministers to training leaders of the nation. It changed its name to Princeton University in 1896.

Washington and Lee University


photo source: en.wikipedia.org

This university started out in 1749 as Augusta Academy.

In 1776, due to the revolution, it changed its name to Liberty Hall. Soon, it changed location and was called Liberty Hall Academy, and offered degrees.

One of its students was John Chavis, a freed African slave, who had also studied at the College of New Jersey.

George Washington gave the academy a huge endowment in 1769, and General Robert E. Lee became the school president.

In the 1870s, the school became Washington and Lee University.

University of Pennsylvania


photo from: upenn.edu

UPenn is one of the founding institutions of the Association of American Universities, and was actually founded by Benjamin Franklin.

It is considered the first college in the country to grant both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The university started out first as a structure built in 1740 for a preaching hall, and was supposed to be a charity school. But without the funds, the plans were abandoned.

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin came up with a plan for the “Public Academy of Pennsylvania”, a school that would not be primarily for religious teachings.

The academy started classes at the abandoned preaching hall in 1751. In 1755, it became known as the College of Philadelphia. It was only in 1791 that it became the University of Pennsylvania.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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