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About Richmond College

On March 4th, 1840, the Virginia Legislature granted a charter for “a Seminary of learning for the instruction of youth in the various branches of science and literature, the useful arts and the learned and foreign languages, which shall be called and known by the name of Richmond College.” The history below was compiled for the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the College.

The Beginnings of the College

This “Seminary of learning” grew out of an actual seminary; The Virginia Baptist Seminary was founded in 1832, and the Virginia Baptist Education Society had been formed two years earlier. The seminary began admitting students who had not had a calling to the ministry, and in due time it made sense to expand the mission of the institution.

The first campus was located on the grounds of an old mansion once owned by the Haxall family, who at the time owned the largest milling operation in Virginia. The mansion was named “Columbia” and stands to this day at the corner of Grace and Lombardy Streets.

In the early days, Columbia was Richmond College. The basement of the building housed a dining hall, a chapel, two classrooms, and a study room. The first floor held the president’s office, a classroom, a society hall, and a library. The second floor was a dormitory and also held apartments for two bachelor faculty members. 68 students were enrolled in the early years, and the first bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 1849 to Poindexter Smith Henson and Josiah Ryland.

The Civil War and Rebuilding the College

The College increased its student body and endowment in its first twenty years. 161 students were enrolled in 1861, and there were 68 alumni. The College ceased operations during the Civil War as most of the students and faculty went to fight for the Confederacy. When the war was over, one fifth of the alumni and many members of the student body had died, the campus was a camp for the Union Army, the endowment was worthless, and the equipment and books of the College were lost.

Through the generosity of alumni and the Virginia Baptist Society, funds were raised to reopen the College in the fall of 1866. Over the next 50 years a beautiful campus thrived within the borders of Ryland, Broad, Lombardy, and Franklin Streets.

President Boatwright and Westhampton College

In 1895 Frederic Boatwright was appointed president of Richmond College. During this time, Richmond College had 200 students and 11 faculty members. Although there were no entrance requirements for the College, the courses were of such quality that students without preparation could not make passing grades. Roughly two-thirds of the matriculates failed to earn a degree.

Although women had been enrolled in Richmond College toward the end of the 19th century, the prevailing wisdom at the time was that higher education was the dominion of men. In the early 1900’s, President Boatwright and the Board of Trustees set in motion the series of events that ultimately moved the campus to its current location in the West End in 1914 and established Westhampton College as a “coordinate” college, “of equal grade, and having similar courses of instruction.” Westhampton College existed on one side of the lake, and Richmond College on the other. To this day, we refer to the Westhampton and Richmond “sides” of the campus. In 1920, the name of the institution was changed to the University of Richmond, but the Colleges remained as separate entities well into the later part of the 20th century.

Deans Metcalf and Pinchbeck

Dr. John C. Metcalf was appointed the first Dean of Richmond College, a position he held through 1917. In 1915, student self-governance was established for the College with the creation of the Richmond College Student Council, which later became the Richmond College Student Government Association, or RCSGA. Tuition and fees for the 1914 – 1915 academic year were $20 matriculation, $70 tuition, $5 contingent and $5 laboratory – a total of $100 (not including room and board).

Dr. Raymond Pinchbeck began his 26-year tenure as the Dean of Richmond College with the 1931-32 academic year. Dean Pinchbeck started the first orientation program and first career services office on campus, and advocated with the student leaders to create the Richmond College Council of Honor in 1933.

After World War II, the University grew in its offerings and in stature. The growing student body necessitated the development of a Dean of Students position for Richmond College. Dr. Clarence Gray was named the first Dean of Students in 1947, a position he filled until 1968.

The Gift and the Mateer Era

The University was changed forever in 1969 when E. Claiborne Robins gave $50 million as seed money to make the University of Richmond a truly great small University. The academic and student life programs have steadily improved ever since.

During the 1970’s the decision was made to merge the academic missions of Richmond and Westhampton Colleges into what became the School of Arts & Sciences in 1991. President Morrill and the Board determined that the Colleges should remain as the pivot point between the academic and co-curricular lives of the students.

The appointment of Dr. Richard Mateer as Dean of Richmond College in 1976 began the “modern era” of Richmond College. During his 26 years as dean, many of the traditions that are emblematic of the Richmond College experience were established, including the class photo, class flag, Investiture, and the Senior Banquet. Residence Life and Orientation programs were created and expanded upon, and the development of living/learning programs began with Spinning UR Web.

Richmond College in the 21st Century

While Richmond and Westhampton Colleges continue to serve as the dean’s offices for undergraduate students, the focus of the College Deans has shifted to the whole-student advising that is present throughout a student’s time at the University. Richmond College is not defined by bricks and mortar, but as a community of students who strive to respect others, discover their best selves, and pursue lives of purpose.

Richmond College is still engaged in and leading the campus discussion of men and masculinities, and encourages students to examine how gender – and specifically masculinity – impacts their identity.

 

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Sources

Alley, J.R. (2010). University of Richmond. Charleston, SC. Arcadia Publishing.

Alley, R.E. (1973). Frederic W. Boatwright. Richmond, VA. The University of Richmond.

Richmond College (1914). The New Richmond College. Promotional Pamphlet. Acquired from Boatwright Library Digital Collection For the Centuries, http://centuries.richmond.edu.

Ryland, G. (1914). The Old Richmond College. Commencement Address, June 9, 1914. Acquired from Boatwright Library Digital Collection For the Centuries, http://centuries.richmond.edu.