A Brief History

Bates campus in 1906.

Bates College is a coeducational, nonsectarian, residential college with special commitments to academic rigor and to assuring in all of its efforts the dignity of each individual and access to its programs and opportunities by qualified learners. Bates prizes both the inherent values of a demanding education and the profound usefulness of learning, teaching, and understanding.

Bates was founded in 1855, over 150 years ago, by people who believed strongly in freedom, civil rights, and the importance of a higher education for all who could benefit from it. Bates is devoted to undergraduate education in the arts and science, and commitment to teaching excellence is central to the college’s mission. The college is recognized for its inclusive social character; there are no fraternities or sororities, and student organizations are open to all.

When founded in 1855, Bates was the first coeducational college in New England, admitting students without regard to race, religion, national origin, or sex. In the mid-19th Century, Oren B. Cheney, a Dartmouth graduate and minister of the Freewill Baptist denomination, conceived the idea of founding the Maine State Seminary in Lewiston. Within a few years the seminary became a college, and it was Cheney who obtained financial support from Benjamin E. Bates, the Boston manufacturer for whom the College was named.

Oren B. Cheney is now honored as the founder and first president of the College. He was followed in 1894 by George Colby Chase, who led the young institution through a period of growth in building, endowment, and academic recognition – a growth that continued from 1920 to 1944 under President Clifton Daggett Gray, and through 1966 under President Charles Franklin Phillips. Thomas Hedley Reynolds, the college’s fifth president, brought Bates national attention by developing a superior faculty and innovative academic programs. Donald West Harward retired in June 2002 after 13 years as president. On July 1, 2002, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, formerly provost at Haverford College, assumed office as the seventh president of Bates College.

Bates has limited its admissions and grown slowly, yet it also has pursued an ambitious program of building and equipment acquisition to support teaching. Dedicated in 1999, the 90,000-square-foot Pettengill Hall provides innovative teaching spaces, faculty office, laboratories, and other facilities for eleven social science departments and interdisciplinary programs.

In 2005, Bates College celebrated its Sesquicentennial, 150-years of history, excellence, and quality. A biography of each of Bates’ Presidents is available online, as well.