Student Dissidence at Dartmouth, Antebellum Edition

In the summer of 2010, Ore Koren (’12) conducted research in Dartmouth’s Special Collections on student life in the 1820s-1850s.  The results of his project are now available for viewing on the department’s Exhibits webpages.


Newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and college catalogues of the Jacksonian era show remarkable evidence of strong student opinions on the salient issues.  As Ore comments:

Different interpretations of religious ideas and of states’ rights, of abolition and Colonization, and of personal rights, all unsettled the region. A microcosm of New England and, due to the relatively large number of students from Southern states, of the United States, Dartmouth College (and the Town of Hanover) was a harbinger of the changes that perturbed the country before, during, and after the Civil War. The College’s student body, with its growing tendency to challenge the College’s faculty and its conventions were the locomotive that drove these changes.

Of the classes of the 1820s, the Class of 1827 was worth particular examination. Its members demurred the status quo on at least two occasions. On one occasion, after believing that one of their fellow classmates has been maltreated by the faculty, the class members embarked upon a three-day rampage, in which they stoned members of the faculty, burned the president in effigy, and burned down a barn. On a second occasion, upon hearing that Edward Mitchell, an emancipated slave from the south who passed the entrance exams, was denied admission, the students submitted a petition denouncing the faculty’s decision and demanding the immediate admission of Mitchell. This petition is a unique document and the language used in it is immensely progressive, especially when bearing in mind the time and place in which it was written.

During the 1840s several student publications appeared. The most famous one, of course, was The Dartmouth, which represented the prevalent opinions of the time and place in which it was written. The Dartmouth ridiculed various minorities, from French Canadians to Native Americans, and sometimes explicitly portrayed slavery in a positive light. Nevertheless, other of its articles were unique, particularly the one defending Shakespeare’s Shylock.

At the same time other publications appeared, which were satirical in nature even if very crude. The target of these publications’ mockery was almost always members of the faculty, most notably the College President and champion of slavery Nathan Lord.

The majority of my research revolves around the Dartmouth OEstrus, a satirical publication printed by the students between 1854 and 1857. Unlike other satirical publications, the writers of the OEstrus showed rather refined writing and humor, and the ideas mentioned in this publication appear many times uncharacteristic of what is expected from an early 19th century New England institution of education. I made every attempt to contextualize this publication by providing information about the names and events mentioned in the four volumes of The OEstrus.

Another contemporary satirical publication was The Waif. Based on the writing used in The Waif, it was probably written by the same writers as the OEstrus, who were members of the Class of 1856. I also discuss The Waif in this study.

The goal of this website is to present a picture of the winds of change that blew through Dartmouth College during the first part of the 19th century. By examining student dissidence I intended to illuminate a part of Dartmouth history that is relatively less known, but that is always relevant.