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The Oldest Colleges in the United States

The United States may not have thousands of years of educational history such is the case in Europe, however it can boast of some grand and fine Colleges and Universities. Here’s the list of the nine oldest Colleges in the United States, which collectively are commonly referred to today as the “Colonial Cottages.”

harvard logo1. Harvard University: 1636

Initially known as “New College,” Harvard was established by a vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

It was later renamed in 1639 after John Harvard, who bequeathed the College his library of four hundred books and 779 pounds, 17 shillings, and two pence, a sizable sum in those days.

Although never formally affiliated with a church, Harvard trained Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy.

College of William & Mary logo2. College of William & Mary: 1694

Founded in Williamsburg, Virginia, the College of William & Mary was established by a letters patent issued by King William III and Queen Mary I which stated that the College was to “make, found and establish a certain Place of Universal Study, a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good arts and sciences…to be supported and maintained, in all time coming.”

The College was originally founded as an Anglican institution. The college became the first (formal) American university with the establishment of its graduate schools in law and medicine.

yale logo3. Yale University: 1701

Originally known as the Collegiate School, Yale was established by an Act of the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut on 9 October 1701 as an institution to train clergy.

Yale was changed to its existing name in 1718, and is named after benefactor Eilhu Yale, the Governor of the British East India company.

princeton logo4. Princeton University: 1746

Princeton was originally founded by the New Light Presbyterians as the College of New Jersey in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey to train Ministers.

Following moves to Newark in 1747 then Princeton in 1756, the institution did not get its current name of Princeton University until 1896.

University of Pennsylvania logo5. University of Pennsylvania: 1740/ 1749

There’s some conjecture when the University of Pennsylvania was established. The first building was originally built in 1740 and was intended to be used as a charity school, however the first meeting of the board of Trustees did not occur until 1749. Further the University did not receive a formal charter until 1755.

Unlike other Colleges of the period the University did not just focus on education for the clergy, but offered (for the first time in what is now the United States) a multidisciplinary model, had a non-sectarian board, and study was open to the public.

Columbia University logo6. Columbia University: 1754

Columbia was founded as King’s College by Royal Charter of King George II in 1754 with funding from the General Assembly of New York.

Columbia has a tumultuous early history, having been closed and ransacked during the American Revolutionary War as American and British forces both traded places in holding the New York itself. At the end of the war the “rebels” renamed the Kings College to Columbia University.

brown university logo7. Brown University: 1764

Brown was founded as the “College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” in 1764 as a Baptist College to train Baptist Ministers.

It is renamed Brown University in 1804 after Nicholas Brown Jr, who between 1786 and 1804 contributed $5,000 toward an endowed professorship.

rutgers logo8. Rutgers University: 1766

Chartered as Queens’ College in 1766, Rutgers was founded by the Dutch Reformed Church to train those who wanted to become Ministers.

The College closed between 1795 and 1807 and for a period following the War of 1812 and 1825. Its named changed to Rutgers College in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Henry Rutgers the year it reopened (1825,) until finally becoming know as Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey by two acts in 1945 and 1956.

dartmouth college logo9. Dartmouth College: 1769

Dartmouth was founded by Puritan Minister Eleazar Wheelock as a school to primarily train Native Americans as missionaries.

It is named after William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth and early supporter of Wheelock.