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Mon, 09.17.1849

New York Central College Begins Classes

New York Central College

*On this date in 1849, we celebrate the opening of New York Central College.  This college was the first in the United States founded on the principle that all qualified students were welcome.

It was an abolitionist institution called New York Central College, McGrawville, and Central College. It was founded by Cyrus Pitt Grosvenor and other anti-slavery Baptists in McGraw, New York (at the time called McGrawville. The sponsoring organization was the American Baptist Home Mission Society. New York State chartered it in April 1848, laid the cornerstone of its main building on July 4, and opened in September 1849.

Its "prominent features" were "Radical Anti-Slavery and Equality of the Sexes."  The college lasted about ten years.  An author of a modern study wrote, "A little town tried to create a place without any prejudice, and it did make a difference. It created humanitarians and heroes in a time where nothing else existed like this."

While Oberlin and Oneida had accepted black students and Oberlin female students, New York Central College was the first institution in the country founded to accept all students, which it did from its very first day. Central was the first college to hire black faculty. Three qualified black professors successively occupied the same position: Charles L. ReasonWilliam G. Allen, and George Boyer Vashon. As was common in the Antebellum period, with no public secondary schools in America, Central had a large preparatory, or high school, division. Students at the college level were never more than a small minority of the student body.

At the first commencement in 1855, there were five graduates, with a student body of well over 100. There were some students at the primary level. Yet there was no question that Central was a college, whatever the ratio of students, and not an academy whose studies ended at the high school level (typically including Latin and Greek). It has been called a predecessor of Cornell University. The school lost funding from the New York State Legislature, was bankrupt by 1858, and closed in 1860. Former students include Edmonia Lewis and Benjamin Bosman.

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