History & Traditions

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and consistently ranks among the world’s greatest academic institutions. Home to a celebrated liberal arts curriculum and pioneering professional schools, Dartmouth has shaped the education landscape and prepared leaders through its inspirational learning experience.

History & Traditions

Throughout its rich history, Dartmouth has never stopped changing and innovating. The College has forged a singular identity, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate liberal arts and graduate education with distinguished research and scholarship in the Arts & Sciences and its three leading professional schools—the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business. Dartmouth was named one of the world’s “most enduring institutions” by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in 2004.

On the colonial frontier

The charter establishing Dartmouth—the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States—was signed in 1769, by John Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, establishing an institution to offer “the best means of education.” For nearly 250 years, Dartmouth has done that and more.

Dartmouth’s founder, the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, established the College as an institution to educate Native Americans. Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock’s first students, was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to found the College. In 1972—the same year the College became coeducational—Dartmouth reaffirmed its founding mission and established one of the first Native American Programs in the country. With nearly 1,000 alumni, there are now more Native graduates of Dartmouth than of all other Ivy League institutions combined.

Governor Wentworth provided the land that would become Dartmouth’s picturesque 269-acre campus on the banks of the Connecticut River, which divides New Hampshire and Vermont. The College’s natural beauty was not lost on President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who visited in 1953 and remarked, “This is what a college should look like.”

'There are those who love it'

Dartmouth was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1819, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the College prevailed against the State of New Hampshire, which sought to amend Dartmouth’s charter. The case is considered to be one of the most important and formative documents in United States constitutional history, strengthening the Constitution's contract clause and thereby paving the way for American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.

Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, passionately argued for the original contract to be preserved. “It is … a small college,” he said, “and yet there are those who love it.”

World-class academics

Ranked No. 1 in undergraduate teaching for the last four consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report and recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as a “research university with very high research activity,” Dartmouth combines elite academics with thriving research and scholarship.

Dartmouth is home to about 4,200 undergraduates in the liberal arts and 1,900 graduate students in more than 25 advanced degree programs in the Arts & Sciences and at Dartmouth’s professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the nation’s fourth-oldest medical school; Thayer School of Engineering, one of the nation’s first professional schools of engineering; and the Tuck School of Business, the world’s first graduate school of management.

Dartmouth is also the first school in the world to offer a graduate degree in health care delivery science.

Modern traditions

For more than a quarter of a century, Dartmouth has hosted debates featuring presidential candidates, most recently in 2011. The College is a frequent stop on the campaign trail, giving students the chance to experience firsthand New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary that every four years attracts candidates hoping to woo voters locally and capture attention nationally.

Dartmouth is also home to many cherished traditions, including Dartmouth Night and Homecoming, when alumni return to their alma mater and, along with current students, take part in a parade and bonfire, the latter dating back to 1888.

The annual Winter Carnival began more than 100 years ago as a way to showcase the Colleges winter athletes. In 1955, Sports Illustrated said the popular celebration “is a 30-ring circus that makes Ringling Brothers look like a two-wagon job on a vacant lot.” The current incarnation includes a hugely popular “Polar Bear Swim” in Occom Pond.

Another beloved tradition is First-Year Trips, Dartmouth’s outdoor orientation program for incoming students. Led and organized by returning students, the first years get to know Dartmouth and each other while exploring the region’s exceptional natural environment. Students can opt for local excursions—the Appalachian Trail passes through downtown Hanover—or venture as far as Dartmouths Second College Grant, a 27,000-acre wilderness 140 miles northeast of Hanover that provides recreational opportunities as well as a unique research laboratory.

For more than four decades, every spring brings the Dartmouth Pow-Wow, honoring Dartmouth’s historic mission of educating Native students. Each year it draws hundreds of competitors and participants from across the Northeast who gather on the Green to celebrate and experience Native culture and history.