Happy Birthday to the Oldest American Graduate School

Yale University will mark the establishment of its graduate school 150 years ago -- the first in the United States -- with a weekend of scholarship and festivity, from April 25-27.

Yale University will mark the establishment of its graduate school 150 years ago – the first in the United States – with a weekend of scholarship and festivity, from April 25-27.

Members of the media are welcome. See the attached schedule for sesquicentennial event details.

The Graduate Department opened in 1847 with 11 students, eight of them concentrating in the sciences. Seminars were offered in chemistry and metallurgy, agricultural science, Greek and Latin literature, mathematics, philology, and Arabic that year, but the records don’t indicate how many students signed up for each course. In the early years, the number of students was small and the majority pursued scientific studies. The faculty consisted of two full-time science professors, Benjamin Silliman, Jr. and John P. Norton, and five Yale College faculty members who offered advanced courses in their subject areas. Yale’s President Theodore Dwight Woolsey was the professor of Greek. Only master’s degrees were granted.

Today the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offers instruction in 48 departments and programs leading to masters and doctoral degrees. Enrollment is close to 2,300 students each year, and almost all of them enjoy generous financial support from University funds. The faculty, shared with Yale College and to a lesser degree with the professional schools, numbers approximately 750. There are about 20,000 living alumni – and they’ve all been invited to the party.

University President Richard C. Levin, Ph.D. 1974, comments, “Yale’s ability to attract the world’s best teachers and researchers depends on the strength of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Graduate School’s alumni teach and conduct research in virtually all the world’s most distinguished universities and research institutes, and are leaders in many non-academic settings.”

“In many ways, the Graduate School is the very center of Yale University,” says Thomas Appelquist, M.A.H. 1976, dean of the Graduate School since 1993 and Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics. “The research goals of its students and faculty define the University’s fields of study. Yale’s libraries, laboratories, and institutes for specialized study revolve around the Graduate School.”

Program highlights

Jaroslav Pelikan, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, will deliver an address on Saturday night at a banquet in University Commons, adjacent to Woolsey Hall, Grove and College streets. His title is “The Gladdest Years of Life,” and his tone will be celebratory. The Wilbur Cross Medal, the Graduate School’s highest award, will be presented at that time to alumni Anne Briscoe and William L. Gaines, who jointly chaired the Yale Graduate School Alumni Fund for 19 years. The medal is named for a scholar of English literature, former dean of the Graduate School and four-term Governor of Connecticut.

Another event of special interest will take place on Sunday morning, when Thomas K. Wolfe, Jr., Ph.D. American Studies, 1957, author of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff,” “The New Journalism,” and “From Bauhaus to Our House,” will moderate an all-star panel on “Yale Graduate School: Learning and Leadership,” at 10 a.m. in the Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St.

The panelists, alumni of the Graduate School, are all national leaders in academia, business, and the public sector. They include John W. Cook, 1975, History of Art, president of the Luce Foundation and long-time faculty member at Yale; Nannerl O. Keohane, 1967, Political Science, president of Duke University; Donald F. Schutz, 1964, Geology and Geophysics, vice president and general manager of Teledyne Brown Engineering, Environmental Services and past chair of the Environmental Sciences Division of the American Nuclear Society; Pepper Schwartz, 1974, Sociology, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and media commentator on issues of sexual relationships, marriage, and parenting; Nancy Ruddle, 1968, Epidemiology, professor of epidemiology, biology and immunobiology at Yale Medical School; and Peter Sutton, 1978, History of Art, current director of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.

Historic Milestones

Established by act of the Yale Corporation in August 1847, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was originally called the “Department of Philosophy and the Arts.” This department was entirely separate from Yale College in its funding, and curriculum. Students who had completed four-year undergraduate degrees enrolled to study “philosophy, literature, history, the moral sciences other than law and theology, and natural sciences excepting medicine,” according to the course catalogue of that first year. This was the fourth advanced program at Yale and the first to focus on research and scholarship. The other three programs offered professional training in medicine –1810, theology – 1822, and law – 1824.

Harvard had a head start, but didn’t hold onto the lead: its first graduate program began in 1831, but it was restricted to the study of comparative philology and folded quickly for lack of enrollment. It wasn’t until 1872 Harvard that established a Graduate Department of Philosophy, which became, in time, its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In the early years of graduate education, Yale granted only master’s degrees, but at Commencement 1861, the University awarded the first three Ph.D. degrees in the United States. The University of Pennsylvania followed in 1870; Harvard, in 1872; and Princeton, in 1879.

In 1876 Edward Alexander Bouchet – Yale College Class of 1874 – was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the United States. His degree was the sixth physics doctorate ever awarded in that field.

In 1892, the department was officially renamed the Graduate School and its first dean, Arthur Twining Hadley, was appointed. He later became Yale’s 13th president.

Women were admitted into the Graduate School that same year and in 1894, Elizabeth Deering Hanscom earned the first Ph.D. among American women. She went on to a long and distinguished career as professor of English and American literature at Smith College. Late in life, Dr. Hanscom gave her Yale doctoral hood to Miriam Usher Chrisman, Ph.D. 1962, to whom she was both mentor and friend. In 1978, Professor Chrisman, now emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, passed that hood to Lorna Jane Abray on the occasion of her earning a Ph.D. in history from Yale. Professor Abray now teaches at the University of Toronto.

A Sampling of Outstanding Alumni of the Yale Graduate School

* Josiah Willard Gibbs, Ph.D. 1863, engineering: Considered by many to be America’s greatest scientist, his discoveries in thermodynamics led to the foundation of a new science, physical chemistry.

* Lee De Forest, Ph.D. 1899: Called the “Father of Electronics,” he invented the audion vacuum tube that was the basic component of radios, televisions, and computers before the transistor.

* Grace M. Hopper, Ph.D. 1934: Pioneer in computer programming, co-inventor of COBOLT computer language, and a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.

* Vincent Joseph Scully, Jr., Ph.D. 1949: Sterling Professor Emeritus, History of Art, author of influential books on architecture, from contemporary to ancient.

* Eleanor Holmes Norton, M.A. 1963: Attorney and educator, former U.S. Congresswoman for the District of Columbia; chair of the Committee on Humanities, EEOC; chair of the National Advisory Council, ACLU.

* James Thomas Laney, Ph.D 1966: U.S. Ambassador to Korea since 1993, and prior to that, president of Emory University during 16 years of extraordinary growth.

* Janet L. Yellen, Ph.D. 1971: Head of the Council of Economic Advisers and former governor of the Federal Reserve Board.

Chronology of Graduate and Professional Education at Yale

1810Medical Institution chartered, precursor to the Medical School

1822Department of Theology founded, precursor to the Divinity School

1824Legal studies offered, precursor to the Law School

1847Department of Philosophy and the Arts established, precursor to the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

1854Yale Scientific School established

1861First three Ph.D. degrees awarded at Yale – and in the United States

1861Scientific School renamed Sheffield Scientific School

1864Yale University becomes the official name of the institution

1866School of Fine Arts established

1869Women admitted to the School of Fine Arts

1892Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences takes is official name

1894School of Music established

1900School of Forestry established

1913Architecture courses offered in the School of Fine Arts

1920Yale undergoes major reorganization of academic areas

1923School of Nursing established

1924Department of Drama established in the School of Fine Arts, precursor to the Drama School

1930Hall of Graduate Studies dedicated

1955School of Drama established

1958School of Fine Arts renamed School of Art and Architecture

1972School of Art and Architecture split into separate schools

1972 School of Forestry renamed School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

1974School of Management established

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325