The History of Education: The American Educational System, Early National Period (Dartmouth College/Yale Report of 1828)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 27th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

During the Early National Period of American history, there were two landmark cases relating to higher education. The first was the Dartmouth College case.

Dartmouth College started with More’s (later Moor’s) Indian Charity School, established in 1754 in Lebanon, Connecticut, by Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock, a graduate of Yale. He had difficulties both in finding Native Americans for the school or a charter in Connecticut. That led him to relocate the mission to New Hampshire, where land offers and expressions of civic interest had been secured from the provincial authorities.

Wheelock obtained a royal charter through Governor John Wentworth on December 13, 1769, establishing a college “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing, and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and Christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal arts and sciences and also of English Youth and any others.”[1]

The following year, the Reverend Wheelock settled in Hanover and erected a log hut as the home of the new school. The governor named it for his friend William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, who was an important benefactor of the college and a trustee of its original endowment.

In 1771, the first class of four students received baccalaureate degrees during the initial commencement exercises, and there has been a graduating class at Dartmouth every year since.

Dartmouth was hardly up and running before jurisdictional disputes escalated between John Wheelock, Eleazar’s son and the second president, and the institution’s board of trustees. Persuaded by President Wheelock, New Hampshire Governor Plumer and the state legislature enacted measures to “pack” the board of trustees and to rename the institution “Dartmouth University.” The name change was not a trivial affair, as it spoke to the charter’s intent.

The former board of trustees refused to be intimidated and continued to operate Dartmouth College side-by-side with Dartmouth University until the controversy was finally settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, with the College, being represented by Daniel Webster, winning the case in a decision handed down by Chief Justice Marshall in February 1819.

A close look into the case reveals the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision. The New Hampshire legislature believed since most of the funds to run the college came from the public sector, said college was actually a university, the latter being a public institution. The Supreme Court, though, in a landmark decision for education, decided to honor the original charter. This illustrates that even though the money for an institution may come from public funds, it’s not necessarily a public institution. The controlling factor lies with who controls the institution, not where the funds come from.

The decision freed the College from interference by the state, establishing educational freedom not just for Dartmouth, but also for other private institutions from that point forward.

The second case was based around curriculum and was codified in the Yale Report of 1828. Specifically, it dealt with the classical curriculum versus the principle of election. Up to this point, the rigid classical curriculum found in higher education had resisted change, and the strength of the conservative view was centered at Yale University. The Yale Report of 1828 was drafted to rebuke challengers to the classical curriculum.

The specific question was ‘What should the student study?’, and there were two opposing views.

Challengers to the status quo felt curricula in higher education needed to address the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the growing agricultural sector in the early 19th century. Advocates believed that college/university should prepare a man for living, whether that be banking, farming, or industry, and the curriculum, therefore, should offer vocational education. Under this move for educational reform, students could pursue a specific plan of study to learn a trade and become a positive contributor to the community.

Traditionalists, headed up by faculty of Yale University, believed the tried-and-true way was the best way, and they wrote the Yale Report of 1828 to support their claim. Education, they felt, should be composed of four disciplines to create the truly educated man. First, education would serve as a form of parental control, enabling the educated man to act in an appropriate manner in the absence of supervision.

Second, education should provide a man with mental discipline to help him make it through difficult times. Third, education should vigorously exercise a man’s mental faculties, allowing him to contemplate not just the “why” of the problem, but also the “how.” And last, a classical education would form a proper character, making a man a “gentleman.”

The Yale Report also emphasized teaching the classics through Latin and Greek, stating “Only the classical languages could provide the necessary disciplines and furniture of the mind.”[2]

The Yale Report of 1828 was a major event in the discussion of curriculum, a discussion that continues to this date. But despite the strength of the educators at Yale University, and despite the resistance to change of many New England states, curriculum reform began to change by the end of the 19th century to better meet the general public’s needs.


Next week: Common School, Horace Mann


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.

To read part 22, Early National Period, Benjamin Franklin, click here.

To read part 23, Early National Period, Benjamin Rush, click here.

To read part 24, Early National Period, Thomas Jefferson, click here.

To read part 25, Early National Period, Noah Webster, click here.

To read part 26, Early National Period, Educational Ordinances, click here.



[1] DeLuca, Christopher. (June 15, 2004). “The Dartmouth College Case.” History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from

[2] Kern, Julie. (June 15, 2004). “The Yale Report of 1828.” History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from


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