History of Hampshire College

Though the college opened to students in 1970, its history dates to the immediate aftermath of World War II. The first The New College Plan was drafted in 1958 by the presidents of the then-Four Colleges; it was revised several times as the serious planning for the College began in the 1960s. Many original ideas for non-traditional ways of arranging the College’s curriculum, campus, and life were discarded along the way, but many new ideas generated during the planning process were not described in the original documents.

For several years in the early 1970s, directly after its founding, Hampshire College was among the most selective undergraduate programs in the



United States (Making of a College 307-310). Its selectivity declined thereafter, but the school’s applications increased in the late 1990s, making admissions more difficult. The College’s selectivity in admissions is now comparable to that of many other small liberal arts colleges.

The school has struggled with financial difficulties since its founding, and ceasing operations or folding into the University of Massachusetts Amherst were seriously considered at various points. Today the school is on more solid financial footing (though still without a sizable endowment), a condition often credited to the fundraising efforts of its most recent past presidents, Adele Simmons and Gregory S. Prince, Jr. The College has also distinguished itself recently with plans for the future including a “sustainable campus plan” and a “cultural village” through which organizations not directly affiliated with the school are located on its campus. Currently this “cultural village” includes the National Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

On April 1, 2004, Prince announced his retirement, effective at the end of 2004-05 academic year. On April 5, 2005, the Board of Trustees named Ralph Hexter, formerly a dean at University of California, Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science, as the college’s next president, effective August 1, 2005. President Hexter was officially inaugurated in a ceremony on October 15, 2005. This appointment made Hampshire one of a small number of colleges and universities in the United States to have an openly gay president.

Some of the most important founding documents of Hampshire College are collected in the book The Making of a College [1].



In recent years, the school has taken several steps in an effort to expand the school and attract more academically conventional students. The most significant change was a revision of the Division I program for first year students. Before the fall of 2002, Division I traditionally consisted of four major exams, one in each of the academic departments and/or quantitative analysis. These exams took one of three forms: a “two-course option”, where a student could take two sequential courses; a “one-plus-one”, where a Hampshire course supplements an outside course (AP score of a four or five, or a summer college class); or a project, which usually consists of a primary or significant secondary research paper, or an art production (a short film, a sculpture, etc.), and which stems from previous coursework. Students were required to complete at least two project-based exams, while transfer students were usually waived one project requirement. In fall of 2002, the new first-year program was started in response to high numbers of second and third year students who had not completed Division I. The new program mandates eight courses in the first year, at least one in each of the five schools. This reduces the required work for passing Division I significantly, as up to 10 courses could be required under the older system. This program was again revised in 2004, when the present system was put into place.


What Was Hampshire?

A variety of fascinating documents have tried to define Hampshire or envision its ideal form. Here is a selection of documents that do so:

  • The Making of a College, 1966, by Franklin Patterson
  • A (student) Proposal for Hampshire College (1966)
  • The First Hampshire College Catalog, 1970
  • The First Commencement Address, by Franklin Patterson

Hampshire Timeline

I find it difficult to figure out how to best organize Hampshire’s history from a detailed chronological standpoint, especially since we operate on a schedule that begins in August and ends in May. In order to begin the process, I have based the following on A History of Student Activities and Achievements at Hampshire College and A Documentary History of Hampshire College. I would envision this as a year-by-year listing of major events of interest that occurred at Hampshire, all properly cited. You are encouraged to add to the lists, as long as you can cite it. Perhaps each year could begin with a short summary of the events and changes of greatest interest.

This should be seen as a purely factual and chronological account of Hampshire history; more holistic/analytical approaches are encouraged, but not within the Timeline.

Before 1970

Hampshire didn’t pop out of nowhere in 1970. Learn more about how Hampshire came into existence Before 1970.