In the heart of central Pennsylvania, in the middle of the colonial town of Carlisle, sits the oldest college in the United States. Technically. If you speak to any Dickinson student, go on a tour of the campus or sit in on one of the Admissions’ houses information sessions you will be sure to hear the fact that Dickinson is the oldest college in the actual United States after being chartered in 1783, six days after the American Revolution ended. The college founder, Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, doctor in Philadelphia, and now immortalized with a statue on the Academic Quad at Dickinson, and his ideals have gone with the college since the gates opened after the Revolution.
One of Dickinson’s strongest departments, world languages, can be traced back to Benjamin Rush and the original plans for the college. Dickinson was the first college in the United States to offer modern languages to students and today that has expanded to thirteen languages offered on campus, fifteen study abroad programs operated by the college, and numerous partner programs for students to choose from. The language departments at Dickinson are one of the many aspects of Dickinson that have evolved over time but still have their roots in the founding of the college.
Benjamin Rush not only founded the college, he also gave the original mission statement, which we still use today. Rush wanted “to offer students a useful and progressive education in the arts and sciences, an education grounded in a strong sense of civic duty to become citizen-leaders.” (Dickinson College). In true Dickinson form this motto has played a major influence in how the school has grown over 232 years. Dickinson has become one of the leading schools in environmental studies and activism, through the classes offered and the six L.E.E.D. Gold Certified buildings on the campus. This emphasis has given all students a chance to become well versed in energy efficiency and climate issues and lend their voices to a major topic in our society. Our motto also comes into play with the many student organizations on campus. When not in class students fill their time with clubs and groups like Student Senate, the Red Devil Sports Network, the Outing Club, various Language clubs and many more. Outside of campus students volunteer at foundations in Carlisle, like the Salvation Army, Safe Harbor, and the local YMCA. These groups and volunteer outings often have student leaders, giving the students a chance to gain leadership experience, while also helping to improve the campus and Carlisle community.
Each step you take on Dickinson’s campus can fill you with history. Looking up on the Academic Quad you can spot the famous Mermaid statue that sits on top of Old West (and if you want to see the original go to the library). Each dorm on campus features the name of formers professors, students, and presidents, most notably Buchanan hall, named for James Buchanan, the 15thpresident of the United States and Dickinson class of 1809. In fact Dickinson is the only college to have a President (Buchanan) sworn in by a Supreme Court Justice (Roger Taney) and both be alumni. A trip to the archives can show even the smallest details of the college’s history. A look around the collections and you can find awards that various alumni have won, newspapers and yearbooks since the college was founded, a football from the 1931 Dickinson victory over Penn State (our last game against the Nittany Lions), and so much more. Dickinson and our students us the archives as one of the many ways to connect with our college and we use that history to propel the college into the future.
Trevor is a junior at Dickinson College, studying American History and Italian. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Trevor found a second home in Carlisle, PA. He is a senior broadcaster for the Red Devil Sports Network at Dickinson as well as an Admissions Tour Guide and a brother of Delta Sigma Phi. In his free time you can find him admiring Carlisle’s many historic sites, preparing for his next broadcast in the Waidner-Spahr, or sitting in an Adirondack Chair on Morgan Field discussing the latest Red Devil victory.