Handsome Dan to Cheez Whiz: An Education in Collegiate History

When you think about the historical roots of modern-day colleges and universities you’re likely to cite notable institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge as some of the world’s first institutions of higher learning.  Though it’s true that teaching has taken place at Oxford since 1096, and Cambridge since 1209, it’s actually The University of Al-Karaouine in Morocco that holds the Guinness Book of World Records honor as the “oldest, continuously-operating, degree-granting university in the world”.  Perhaps an even more significant fact than the year it was founded (859!) is that it was founded by a woman!

Since the year 859 there have been many changes in higher education and a plethora of interesting discoveries and events on campuses worldwide.  Check out these fun and noteworthy historical facts:

  • The word “College” comes from the Latin term collegium meaning “community”. The term “University” is derived from the Latin phrase universitas magistronum et scholarium meaning “a community of masters or scholars”.
  • Harvard, founded in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature, is the oldest university in the United States.  The school’s original name was “New College”.
  • Phi Beta Kappa was the first Greek-letter student society/fraternity.  Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary (VA), the organization now boasts 280 chapters across the United States.
  • Oberlin College (OH) was the first institution of higher education to admit both female and African-American students.  The first group of women to receive college degrees from Oberlin graduated in 1841.
  • The first degree-granting college established solely for African-American students was the Ashmun Institute (now named Lincoln University).  Founded in 1854, the Pennsylvania college counts Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall amongst its alumni.
  • The first college football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers University.  Rutgers went on to win the 1869 match-up by a score of 6-4.
  • Tuition amounts have skyrocketed over the years but in 1870 you could attend Harvard for just $150/year (about $3,000 in today’s dollars).  Even more of a steal was the $75/year tuition to attend Brown University that year.
  • The first live college mascot wasn’t a lion, a tiger, or a bear, but rather an English bulldog named Handsome Dan.  Belonging to Yale University, Handsome Dan first appeared on the scene in 1889 and since that time there have been 17 bulldogs that have filled the role.  The original Handsome Dan was stuffed and can be seen on display in the Yale Gymnasium.
  • The SAT was first administered in 1926 to more than 8,000 students.  In 2012 more than three million students sat for the exam.
  • Few people realize that the “Ivy League” actually refers to an athletic conference formed in 1954 made up of eight colleges: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.
  • Nine U.S. Presidents never attended college: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Harry S. Truman.
  • Harvard has graduated eight U.S. presidents (including both undergraduate and graduate programs), more than any other university: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes (Law School), Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush (Business School), and Barack Obama (Law School).  Yale boasts the next largest number of presidential alumni with five: William Taft (Law School), Gerald Ford (Law School), George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton (Law School), and George W. Bush.
  • Universities are hotbeds of creativity so it’s no surprise that Cheez Whiz (Rutgers -1952), Gatorade (University of Florida – 1965), and Benadryl (University of Cincinnati -1942) were all invented on college campuses.