Dartmouth was founded by Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Columbia, Connecticut, who had sought to establish a school to train Native Americans as Christian missionaries. Wheelock's ostensible inspiration for such an establishment resulted from his relationship with Mohegan Indian Samson Occom. Occom became an ordained minister after studying under Wheelock from 1743 to 1747, and later moved to Long Island to preach to the Montauks.
Wheelock founded Moor's Indian Charity School in 1755. The Charity School proved somewhat successful, but additional funding was necessary to continue school's operations, and Wheelock sought the help of friends to raise money. The first major donation to the school was given by Dr. John Phillips in 1762, who would go on to found Phillips Exeter Academy. Occom, accompanied by the Reverend Nathaniel Whitaker, traveled to England in 1766 to raise money from churches. With these funds, they established a trust to help Wheelock. The head of the trust was a Methodist named William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth.
Although the fund provided Wheelock ample financial support for the Charity School, Wheelock initially had trouble recruiting Indians to the institution, primarily because its location was far from tribal territories. In seeking to expand the school into a college, Wheelock relocated it to Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire. The move from Connecticut followed a lengthy and sometimes frustrating effort to find resources and secure a charter. The Royal Governor of New Hampshire, John Wentworth, provided the land upon which Dartmouth would be built and on December 13, 1769, issued a royal charter in the name of King George III establishing the College. That charter created a college "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land in reading, writing & all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing & christianizing Children of Pagans as well as in all liberal Arts and Sciences and also of English Youth and any others." The reference to educating Native American youth was included to connect Dartmouth to the Charity School and enable use of the Charity School's unspent trust funds. Named for William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth—an important supporter of Eleazar Wheelock's earlier efforts but who, in fact, opposed creation of the College and never donated to it—Dartmouth is the nation's ninth oldest college and the last institution of higher learning established under Colonial rule. The College granted its first degrees in 1771.
Given the limited success of the Charity School, however, Wheelock intended his new college as one primarily for whites. Occom, disappointed with Wheelock's departure from the school's original goal of Indian Christianization, went on to form his own community of New England Indians called Brothertown Indians in New York.
The earliest known image of Dartmouth appeared in the February 1793 issue of Massachusetts Magazine
. The engraving may also be the first visual proof of cricket
being played in the United States.
In 1819, Dartmouth College was the subject of the historic Dartmouth College case, which challenged New Hampshire's 1816 attempt to amend the college' charter to make the school a public university. An institution called Dartmouth University occupied the college buildings and began operating in Hanover in 1817, though the college continued teaching classes in rented rooms nearby. Daniel Webster, an alumnus of the class of 1801, presented the College's case to the Supreme Court, which found the amendment of Dartmouth's charter to be an illegal impairment of a contract by the state and reversed New Hampshire's takeover of the college. Webster concluded his peroration with the famous words: "It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it."
In 1866, the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts was incorporated in Hanover, in connection with Dartmouth College. The institution was officially associated with Dartmouth and was directed by Dartmouth's president. The new college was moved to Durham, New Hampshire, in 1891, and later became known as the University of New Hampshire.
Dartmouth emerged onto the national academic stage at the turn of the 20th century. Prior to this period, the college had clung to traditional methods of instruction and was relatively poorly funded. Under President William Jewett Tucker (1893–1909), Dartmouth underwent a major revitalization of facilities, faculty, and the student body, following large endowments such as the $10,000 given by Dartmouth alumnus and law professor John Ordronaux. 20 new structures replaced antiquated buildings, while the student body and faculty both expanded threefold. Tucker is often credited for having "refounded Dartmouth" and bringing it into national prestige.
Lithograph of the President's House, Thornton Hall, Dartmouth Hall, and Wentworth Hall
Presidents Ernest Fox Nichols (1909–16) and Ernest Martin Hopkins (1916–45) continued Tucker's trend of modernization, further improving campus facilities and introducing selective admissions in the 1920s. In 1945, Hopkins was subject to no small amount of controversy, as he openly admitted to Dartmouth's practice of using racial quotas to deny Jews entry into the university. John Sloan Dickey, serving as president from 1945 until 1970, strongly emphasized the liberal arts, particularly public policy and international relations. During World War II, Dartmouth was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a navy commission.
In 1970, longtime professor of mathematics and computer science John George Kemeny became president of Dartmouth. Kemeny oversaw several major changes at the college. Dartmouth, which had been a men's institution, began admitting women as full-time students and undergraduate degree candidates in 1972 amid much controversy. At about the same time, the college adopted its "Dartmouth Plan" of academic scheduling, permitting the student body to increase in size within the existing facilities. In 1988, Dartmouth's alma mater song's lyrics changed from "Men of Dartmouth" to "Dear old Dartmouth".
During the 1990s, the college saw a major academic overhaul under President James O. Freedman and a controversial (and ultimately unsuccessful) 1999 initiative to encourage the school's single-sex Greek houses to go coed. The first decade of the 21st century saw the commencement of the $1.3 billion Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, the largest capital fundraising campaign in the college's history, which surpassed $1 billion in 2008. The mid- and late first decade of the 21st century have also seen extensive campus construction, with the erection of two new housing complexes, full renovation of two dormitories, and a forthcoming dining hall, life sciences center, and visual arts center. In 2004, Booz Allen Hamilton selected Dartmouth College as a model of institutional endurance "whose record of endurance has had implications and benefits for all American organizations, both academic and commercial," citing Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward and Dartmouth's successful self-reinvention in the late 19th century.
College seal at the Collis Center
Since the election of a number of petition-nominated trustees to the Board of Trustees starting in 2004, the role of alumni in Dartmouth governance has been the subject of ongoing conflict. President James Wright announced his retirement in February 2008 and was replaced by Harvard University professor and physician Jim Yong Kim on July 1, 2009.
In May 2010 Dartmouth joined the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) together with Durham University (UK), Queen's University (Canada), University of Otago (New Zealand), University of Tübingen (Germany), University of Western Australia (Australia) and Uppsala University (Sweden).
Dartmouth's close association and involvement in the development of the downhill skiing industry is featured in the 2010 book Passion for Skiing as well as the 2013 documentary based on the book Passion for Snow.