The first part of the 19th century was a time of change in America. Different contention points, which a strong constitution was supposed to reconcile, were finally deemed irreconcilable. The idea of United States vs. the idea of United States drew different regions of the country in opposite directions. Evangelical and Millenarian ideas that became prevalent during the 1830s and 1840s fueled the controversy of abolition not only between the states of the north and the states of the south, but also within different northern states. The debate in New England was the forerunner of debates that occurred throughout the nation, and which culminated with the secession of South Carolina in 1860. Different interpretations of religious ideas and notions of states’ rights, of abolition and Colonization, unsettled the region. A microcosm of New England and, due to the relatively large number of students from Southern states, of the United States more broadly, Dartmouth College (and the Town of Hanover) was a harbinger of the changes that perturbed the country before, during, and after the Civil War. The college’s student body, with its growing tendency to challenge the faculty and its conventions were the locomotive that drove these local changes.
Of all classes that graduate during the decade of the 1820s, the Class of 1827 was worth particular examination. Its members rebelled against the status quo on at least two occasions. On one occasion, which was exceptionally violent, believing that one of their fellow classmates has been maltreated by the faculty, the class members embarked upon a three-day rampage, in which they stoned members of the faculty, burned the president in effigy, and burned down a barn. On a second occasion, upon hearing that Edward Mitchell, an emancipated slave from the south who passed the entrance exams, was denied admission, the students submitted a petition denouncing the faculty’s decision and demanding the immediate admission of Mitchell. This petition is a unique document and the language used in it is immensely progressive, especially when taking into consideration the time and place in which it was written.
During the 1840s several student publications began to appear. The most famous of these publications, of course, was The Dartmouth, which was most representing of the time and place in which it was written. The Dartmouth ridiculed various minorities, from French Canadians to Native Americans, and sometimes explicitly portrayed slavery in a positive light. Nevertheless, some articles were quite unique, particularly the one defending Shakespeare’s Shylock.
Around the same time other publications began to appear. These newspapers were satirical in nature, and sometimes very crude. The target of their mockery was almost always members of the faculty, most notably the College President – and champion of slavery – Nathan Lord.
Most of the research presented here revolves around one major student-ran publication, the OEstrus, which was published in four volumes between 1854 and 1857. Unlike other satirical publications, the writing published in the OEstrus seemed rather refined and humor was – at times – quite witty. Moreover, and the ideas mentioned in this publication frequently seem uncharacteristic of what is expected from an early 19th century New England college. I made every attempt to contextualize this publication by providing information about the names and events mentioned in the four volumes of The OEstrus.
Another contemporary satirical publication was The Waif. Based on the writing used in The Waif, it was probably written by the same writers as the OEstrus, most of whom were members of the Class of 1856. The Waif is also discussed here.
The goal of this website is to present a picture of the winds of change that blew through Dartmouth College during the first part of the 19th century. By examining student dissidence, I intended to illuminate a part of Dartmouth history that less known, but that – I believe – transcends its time in different respects.