Innovation in the 19th Century

Founded just before the Civil War by people who believed strongly in freedom, civil rights, and the importance of a higher education for all who could benefit from it, Bates was, and is, committed to principles of social justice, equality, and freedom.

Although they met with considerable criticism from other regional colleges, the founders held fast to their commitment to admit both men and women: Bates was New England’s first coeducational college.

Great efforts were made in designing the institution to ensure that no qualified student would be turned away because he or she could not afford the cost of a Bates education.

From the beginning, Bates welcomed young men and women from Maine farm and factory towns, former slaves, and immigrants.

Our graduates have always included men and women from a myriad of racial, national, and religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. All organizations on campus are open to everyone — and for this reason, Bates has never had fraternities or sororities.


Oren B. Cheney

Oren Burbank Cheney —founder and first President of Bates College — was born in 1816 in Holderness, N.H., to prominent abolitionist parents. In 1855, Cheney founded the Maine State Seminary, the school that would become Bates College.


Mary W. Mitchell ’1869

Mary Wheelwright Mitchell was the first female graduate of Bates College. She worked in the mills to pay her way through college. She was remembered as stubborn and independent; offered a scholarship by Bates founder Oren Cheney, Mitchell turned it down: “I cannot take that, Mr. Cheney. Give it to the brethren. I can take care of myself.”


Henry Chandler ’1874

Henry Wilkins Chandler was the first African American student to graduate from Bates. While Chandler was born free, six of the first nine African American students at Bates were former slaves, most recruited by Bates founder Oren Cheney from refugee camps around Washington, D.C., during and after the Civil War.


Next: Inclusiveness in the 20th Century