About Marlboro College Through the Years
Walter Hendricks established Marlboro College in 1946, on the site of three neighboring hill farms in scenic southern Vermont. Students and faculty worked together, pounding nails and sawing lumber to turn barns into classrooms, a farmhouse into a dorm and the blacksmith shop into a library. The camaraderie and sense of shared purpose engendered in those early years remains a hallmark of Marlboro today.
The pioneering spirit of Marlboro’s founding community laid the groundwork for many important developments over the years, including Town Meetings, the Plan of Concentration, the Clear Writing Program, the World Studies Program, and the Outdoor Program. While the college remains small by design, additional buildings such as the Total Health Center and Serkin Center for Performing Arts have enriched the student experience. The founding of the Marlboro College Graduate School has taken the principles of Marlboro’s pedagogy of self-directed learning in a supportive community to a new level, offering master’s degree, certificate programs and continuing education opportunities in areas of teaching, sustainable business management, nonprofit management, health care administration and information technology.
Today, Marlboro College still offers an intellectually profound learning community where students are empowered to explore and cultivate their minds. Click on the photo thumbnails in the below timeline to explore some of the benchmarks that are part of Marlboro’s remarkable history.
Seed of an Idea: Walter Hendricks is appointed head of the English department at Biarritz American University in France, providing educational opportunities for veterans after the war. The mutual respect among teachers and students and emphasis on individuality at Biarritz will become the model for education at Marlboro College. When Hendricks tells Robert Frost, his mentor from Amherst College, that he is going to start a college, the poet reportedly says, “I’ll be durned. I always wanted to, myself.” The Marlboro charter is granted by the State of Vermont, and Frost is the college’s first trustee.
A Board is Born: The first board of trustees is elected: Judge Arthur Whittemore as chairman; Walter Hendricks as president; Henry Z. Persons, president of First Vermont Bank, as treasurer. Other early trustees pictured left to right are W. Arthur Cole, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Whittemore, Hendricks, Persons, Caryl P. Haskins and William Bump. Their prospectus for the college reads, “Marlboro College is being founded at a time when the survival power and value of democracy are challenged. Its first aim, therefore, is to develop citizens who will be effective in the task of making American democracy succeed.”
First Students: The campus comes alive with the first 50 students, 35 of which are World War II veterans. Students bunk in the blacksmith shop, now the Outdoor Program building, and in tents borrowed from the Brattleboro National Guard. Local residents Luke Dalrymple, Noah Daniels, Walter Radcliffe and Lester Whitney begin logging for lumber to renovate the old farm buildings. The first college Town Meeting takes place and The Marlboro Citizen debuts, with John Kohler ’49 as editor.
Small is Noticeable: Year two opens with five full-time faculty and 90 students. Marlboro College is featured in Life magazine for having the country’s smallest commencement: Hugh Mulligan, Marlboro’s first graduate and later renowned Associated Press journalist, is in a class all by himself. His commencement procession includes Governor Ernest Gibson, author Dorothy Canfield Fisher and poet Robert Frost. Meanwhile, biologist Dr. John W. MacArthur joins his physicist son John Jr. on the faculty.
Curriculum Expands: The music program is established when the Moyse Trio, consisting of French flutist Marcel Moyse, his son Louis and daughter-in-law Blanche, joins the faculty. Blanche Honegger Moyse goes on to teach at the college for 30 years and found the Brattleboro Music Center and New England Bach Festival. Six students graduate, including the first female, Mary Rowden. In August, the college hosts the first Marlboro Fiction Writers Conference, attracting 45 writers from more than a dozen states and Canada.
Marlboro Music: Walter Hendricks invites the three Moyses on faculty and three other distinguished musicians, Adolf and Herman Busch and Rudolf Serkin, to use the campus for a summer music program. The next year the famous Marlboro Music School and Festival is officially founded. In 1950 the college library, situated in Dalrymple’s Culbertson Room, contains 12,000 volumes, and Robert Frost receives an honorary doctor of letters from Marlboro (his 22nd honorary degree).
Parietal Rules: Town Meeting makes an amendment to the parietal rules, stipulating that “All girls must be escorted while visiting the boys dorm by the boy she is visiting.” Soon-to-be renowned ecologist Robert MacArthur ’51 works on small mammals at the Field Museum of Chicago, setting the standard for internships beyond the college. Walter Hendricks leaves the college, and goes on to found the Vermont Institute of Special Studies in Putney, later Windham College, as well as Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro.
Working Together: The Work Program, which made possible the renovation of a cluster of farm buildings into a campus, becomes voluntary. Students help paint buildings, plant a Christmas tree plantation, collect maple sap and other tasks every Thursday afternoon. The program will later be revised to one afternoon a semester. In this year David Lovejoy is acting president, while Paul Zens returns to Yale to finish his doctorate in sociology.
Seeing the Forest: The curriculum expands again, as forestry is added. Professor Halsey Hick’s classroom is the woods, reports one student, and he is apparently impervious to the cold. Meanwhile, trustee Paul Zens is acting president.
Local Fundraising: A whopping $40,000 is raised from Brattleboro-area residents. President Paul Zens tells the Brattleboro Reformer, “That is enough to have supported the college for two years . . . .” The students crush the faculty in softball, 27 to 17, and fire chief J. Clark Lambert sets a new record, 54 seconds, for getting equipment out to combat a false alarm.
Town Meeting: Marlboro is awarded a George Washington Honor Medal by the Freedoms Foundation for its “town meeting” style of community government. Town Meetings are held twice a month, with students, faculty and staff participating in decisions that guide the course of campus life. Meanwhile, 20,000 Christmas trees are planted in the field east of Mather House.
Boiling Sap: On and around campus, 1,750 sugar maple trees are tapped to supply sap for the sugarhouse. The college sugaring operation reaches its peak in the mid-1950s, and when the sap is running work goes on almost around the clock. Roland Boyden becomes acting president.
Tom Ragle Presides: Although he had initially applied to the position of English professor, Oxford graduate Tom Ragle takes the job of president and will lead the college until 1981. A drop in numbers to 29 enrolled students means a tight budget, however. The 15 current faculty members have to split $15,000 for their annual salaries. (Do the math....)
Campus Growth: Howland House, named for trustee and donor Weston Howland, opens as a dorm for girls. It is the first building built beyond the original farm buildings on campus. Happy Valley, Schrader House and Halfway House are soon to follow. Five students graduate, including the first legacy student: Bridget Gorton, daughter of faculty member Audrey Gorton ’55.
The Plan: Tom Ragle introduces the Plan of Concentration to the Marlboro curriculum. He says, “The mind is not really disciplined that is not trained to concentrate on the fine points.” Enrollment is on the upswing, with 66 students, and Tsuyoshi Amemiya is Marlboro's 100th graduate. The college makes an appearance in TIME magazine, in a feature about 50 good colleges frequently overlooked by the public.
Outside Evaluators: Scholars from other institutions are brought to Marlboro to examine students’ Plan work, starting with the first Plan by Bob “Crutch” Larrivee ’62. Bob works with physics professor John MacArthur in advanced mathematics, quantum mechanics, theoretical physics and atomic and nuclear physics. He spends his second year working in the relatively new field of nuclear magnetic resonance.
Community Court: Although it has existed informally since the founding of Marlboro, community court is formalized to include a three-member court and a jury chosen from the full membership of the community. Meanwhile, the Monday evening lecture series commences, funded with a $6,000 grant from the Old Dominion Foundation.
Classic Fellows: Nicholas Barber is Marlboro’s first classics fellow fresh out of Oxford University, starting a long tradition that continues to this day. A stunning 17 students signed up for his Greek Civilization course, representing 17 percent of the student body. The board of trustees adopts a faculty tenure policy for the first time.
Winter Fun: David Bolles ’65 wins the first Wendell-Judd Cup cross-country ski race, named for math teacher Ted Wendell, who later serves as dean of admissions and longtime trustee, and history professor Dick Judd. The five-mile loop reaches across south pond and ends at Dick’s house for hot soup and cocoa. Also, the Howard and Amy Rice Library opens, and Marlboro is accredited on its first try by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Long Story: Don Eaton ’68 initiates a continuous reading of The Iliad in the cellar of Mather House. It lasts 18 hours and 35 minutes. Two more dorms, All-the-Way and Random North, are completed to meet rising enrollment. A potential donor offers $1 million if the college changes its name to the donor’s name. The offer is refused.
Growing Numbers: Marlboro opens with an all-time high of 167 students. Their growing numbers are helped by the establishment of work-study scholarships and other federally supported financial aid. “That is probably the grizzliest piece of administrative work I ever had to do here,” says admissions director Tim Little, who later joins the faculty as history professor.
Political Opinion: Despite rising concerns about the state of politics and the world off-campus, Town Meeting passes something called the Spore Amendment. Proposed by Stuart Spore ’69, it says, in part, that Town Meeting shall not legislate a collective external political opinion.
All the World’s a Stage: Theater professor Geoffry Brown establishes the Marlboro Players and begins putting on plays in the barn behind Marlboro House, now the Colonel Williams Inn. Shortly after a politically charged production of Marat/Sade, a group calling themselves the “Anonymous 20” makes several “non-negotiable demands,” leading to a series of constructive discussions about Marlboro’s stake in national issues. The first issue of Potash Hill is published.
Pedestrian Power: Town Meeting bans cars on campus, and an Associated Press report reaches cities across the country. The ban lasts about two weeks, during which time cars are only allowed on campus if preceded by a flag-bearing pedestrian. Also, Danny Fuller ’73 and other vegetarian “Grazers” take over the geodesic-dome coffee shop and bookstore. Geoff Brown stages a memorable outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the forest and fields, and playwright David Mamet writes Sexual Perversity in Chicago while a visiting faculty member.
More Plan, Less Concentration: After a thorough review, the Plan of Concentration is revised so that all students take two years to complete their culminating project. Meanwhile, fictional, ideal student Lynn Goldfarb arrives; she is named to various Town Meeting offices, and her poetry is published. Audiences rock and roll to student singing groups The Deltones and Roger and the Counts.
Thinking Outside: Peter Zorn ’75, Buzz Nothnagle ’73, Tom Davies ’75 and faculty members Edmund Brelsford and Alan Kantrow establish what will become known as the Outdoor Program. The program will go on to organize experiential learning expeditions near and far and promote local outdoor recreation, from snowshoeing to whitewater kayaking. Student enrollment hits all-time high of 225, and eminent ecologist Robert MacArthur ’51 receives a posthumous honorary Doctor of Letters.
A Student in Winter: Marlboro initiates a four-week winter term, called Winterim, in which faculty and students devote themselves to studying a single theme. Meanwhile, 35 alumni gather for the first Alumni Weekend.
Field Science: The first of many science trips led by biology professor Bob Engel and chemistry professor John Hayes sets off to northeastern Mexico during Winterim. One of the three private cars involved breaks down at the Marlboro post office, but overall the trip is successful. Murphy’s Law (Steve Murphy ’76), which would have amended the college constitution to give Town Meeting veto power over faculty meeting, is shot down...by the faculty.
New Theater: The college’s theater program performs in the brand new Whittemore Theater for the first time. The arena-shaped theater, named for founding trustee Arthur Whittemore, features a thrust stage and seats 270. The college celebrates its 30th anniversary, Lindsay Beane becomes the 500th graduate and the college graduates its largest senior class to date: 57. Morris dancers are spotted on campus for the first time.
Clear Writing: Although efforts to include effective communication skills in the curriculum stretch back to the opening of the college, the current writing program has by now developed a formal structure and standard practice. Poetry and fiction professor T. Hunter Wilson coins the phrase “clear writing” to describe the goal toward which all students are expected to strive.
Community Photo: The first community photo since the early years of the college records all of the students, faculty and staff who make Marlboro such a unique place, or at least all of those who could be herded together at one time. The tradition takes place for another 30 years, usually occurring on Work Day.
Barn Raising: The new campus center is raised in a two-day, community-wide effort. The post-and-beam building features large south-facing windows, a coffee shop, bookstore and game room. Barney Brooks ’52 donates the first computer to the college, and after 23 years and 700 graduates, Tom Ragle steps down as Marlboro’s president.
Gander Years: Marlboro’s new president, Rod Gander, is sworn in and almost immediately starts planning the college’s first capital campaign. The population of college-aged kids declines nationwide, and Marlboro enrollment slides along with hundreds of other small colleges.
Beyond Art Dome: The classic 50-foot geodesic dome built by students in the 1960s, and used for art classes, collapses under a heavy snowfall. It had recently been abandoned, as art professor Frank Stout foresaw this conclusion. Theater professor Paul Nelsen directs King Lear, with Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Ted Valentine in the lead, which sells out six performances in Persons Auditorium.
Television Premier: Thirty Minutes from Marlboro, a cable TV show starring Rod Gander, Marlboro president, and a gallery of guests, airs in Brattleboro. It’s a hit in Brattleboro but not in Marlboro—because Marlboro doesn’t have cable. The first AppleFest is held, later to be called Apple Days, and the game of hacky sack is reputedly more popular at Marlboro than anyplace else on earth.
Global Reach: Marlboro and the School for International Training (SIT) collaborate to form the World Studies Program (WSP). This innovative program provides students with the opportunity to combine global perspective with hands-on learning through working internships overseas. Meanwhile, the Tri-Mu “fraternity” is established, sponsoring events like throwing unaware diners into the fire pond.
Good Eats: Richard Caplin is head cook and stuns the community with an endless procession of fine meals.
Bring on Broomball: The first broomball tournament takes to the iced-over fire pond. Anyone can play broomball, but to play well requires a rare combination of sure-footedness, sweeping skills and fearlessness of looking foolish. Also, Heidi Elizabeth Smith ’88 receives the first World Studies degree and Jerry Clifford ’59 receives the first Alumni Service Award.
Live Action: Christian Brown ’92 helps usher in the era of live action role-playing, or LARPing, at Marlboro. His LARP games become so popular that the Outdoor Program creates a work-study job for him so he can orchestrate games on a regular basis. Meanwhile, fencing is fast becoming the sport of choice at Marlboro.
Real Men: The legendary “Men of Marlboro” calendar, depicting scantily clad community members in their natural habitat, helps raise $3,000 for the Brattleboro AIDS Project.
Wired: A $1.7-million-dollar federal grant helps fund a language lab, video lab, Marlboro’s first website, Internet access, computers, laser printers and the tech staff to help people use it all. Meanwhile, the Dante’s Inferno Halloween party, held in Dalrymple, sets the standard for all future Halloween parties.
Renaissance Woman: As a part of her Plan project, Jodi Clark ’95 puts on Marlboro’s first Renaissance faire on Zimmerman Field. The fair combined interactive living history, theater, music, games, food and crafts to replicate a slice of Elizabethan England. Also, Dan Doolittle and Pippa Arend arrive at commencement via parachute.
LeBlanc Leads On: Rod Gander retires, and Paul LeBlanc arrives on Potash Hill as Marlboro’s new president. Drury Gallery is built to showcase student and visiting art exhibits, and Kermit Woods ’00 builds an aviary adjacent to the science building and stocks it with exotic pheasants and peacocks.
Going Graduate: With Paul LeBlanc’s leadership, Marlboro founds the Marlboro College Graduate Center in downtown Brattleboro. The graduate school builds on Marlboro’s pedagogical strengths and pioneers the use of technology in distance learning. Meanwhile, to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary, religion professor Jet Thomas arranges for his good friend Emmylou Harris to play a concert in Persons Auditorium.
Photo Finish: The central building for visual arts, Woodard now boasts a fully equipped, $70,000 darkroom space—a boon to photography students. Meanwhile, countering a national trend in higher education, President LeBlanc reduces tuition by $1,500 and freezes tuition rates.
Angel Wing: Marlboro receives the largest single contribution ever made to a college in Vermont when an anonymous donor gives $2 million for a new library wing and $10 million for the endowment. The Aron Wing is completed in 2003, doubling the size of the library and including a large computer lab and media lab.
Spring Break: Although students on Spring Break have been involved with community service projects over the years, this spring’s trip to South Carolina is their first experience helping Habitat for Humanity build houses for low-income families. Meanwhile, Asian studies professor Seth Harter and wife Kate Jellema shepherd a giant dragon puppet all the way from Vietnam to the dining hall.
Expert Witness: Paul LeBlanc, president, testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on distance learning and copyright laws, subjects central to the Marlboro College Graduate School. Paul appears in Washington per the invitation of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Also, the graduate center holds its first school-break technology camp for kids.
Asian Studies: The college is awarded $425,635 by the Freeman Foundation to develop curriculum and support student and faculty research in Asian studies. In March, a group of students and faculty head to China, the first of several trips to Asia. Closer to home, a group of students presents a plan to create a farm on campus, and Town Meeting provides $1,000 for seeds and tools. Princeton Review ranks Marlboro the third-best school in the nation in the category “Professors Bring Material to Life.”
Ms. President: Ellen McCulloch-Lovell becomes the college’s eighth president after seven years in the Clinton administration, most recently as an advisor to the first lady on the Millennium Project. She is the first woman president of Marlboro, and the seventh in Vermont. Meanwhile, a whopping $31.4 million is raised in the college’s largest capital campaign—$5 million more than the initial target set in 1999.
Performing Art: The Rudolf and Irene Serkin Center for the Performing Arts opens its doors, with a huge dance studio, rehearsal rooms and the acoustically excellent Ragle Hall. Also, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) ranks Marlboro in the 95th percentile or better among undergraduate liberal arts institutions for academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, supportive campus environment and first-year students’ experience of active and collaborative learning.
Hurricane Relief: In the wake of Katrina, 30 Marlboro students head to a hurricane-ravaged south to pitch in with the relief effort. Students return during winter, spring and summer breaks. The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students names Marlboro one of the 100 best gay-friendly campuses in the country.
Bridges to Community: Generous support from longtime trustee Ted Wendell and his wife Mary helps launch the “Bridges” orientation program for all incoming students. New students bond with each other while they explore new horizons, from spelunking to visiting local museums. Meanwhile, the new Total Health Center provides facilities and space for more comprehensive health services, and the Graduate School launches its MBA in Managing for Sustainability program.
Going Green: The college completes a thermal efficiency analysis, or “energy audit,” of the 37 buildings on campus. The results help to prioritize energy efficiency measures that will save money and reduce the carbon footprint of the campus. Marlboro also launches the Wellness & Health Informed Peers (WHIP) program, training students in health issues from nutrition to stress management.
A Woman’s Place: With the support of Town Meeting, students open a Woman’s Resource Center, a safe place on campus for young women to explore issues of gender, sexism and oppression. Tucked downstairs in the Gander World Studies Center, the Woman’s Resource Center sponsors films, speakers and events to help encourage greater understanding between genders.
Campus Rejuvenation: The center of campus gets a major attitude shift, including replacing the driveway in front of Mather and the dining hall with walking paths and building an addition on the Outdoor Program building out of locally harvested materials. The changes feature improved handicapped parking and accessibility, more green space and a stone wall in front of the dining hall for sitting on while discussing existentialist philosophy.