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University of Delaware


FAMILIAR RELATIONS
THE DU PONTS AND THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE
CONTENTS Introduction Laying the Foundation The Loyal Alumnus and the Focused Philanthropist
Gifts Timeline Program Enrichment Personal Interest Connections
Board Connections A Laboratory and a Legacy Ongoing Relations
LAYING THE FOUNDATION PICTURE LAYING THE FOUNDATION HEADER

When Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and his family reached American shores on January 1, 1800, the institution that has become the University of Delaware had been educating young men from Delaware and nearby states for over half a century. Its founder, Francis Alison, was a classically educated Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland. The school that he created, later called the Newark Academy, offered the best education available in Colonial Delaware.

During the early decades of the nineteenth century, while Eleuthère Irénée du Pont was struggling to develop his black powder manufactory along the Brandywine River, a number of Delawareans were pressing the parsimonious State legislature to create a college in the First State.

Their efforts finally succeeded in 1833, when the legislature chartered a College and provided funds from a State lottery for its building to be located in Newark. The notion that the needs of an entire liberal arts college could be accommodated under one roof was commonplace at the time.

The building that came to be known as Delaware College was typical of collegiate structures of that era in both its design and function. Constructed mainly of brick in the then-popular style associated with classical Greece, the College building featured a grand exterior stairway that led upward to a central portico supported by Doric columns. Here, aspiring young men would be educated in the ideals of a free society.

The first member of the du Pont family to enter Delaware College was Victor (1828-1888), a grandson and namesake of Victor Marie, Pierre Samuel’s elder son. Young Victor du Pont’s father was Charles I. du Pont, a Brandywine textile manufacturer, farm owner, and bank director, who served on the Delaware College Board of Trustees from 1838 until his death in 1869. Victor’s mother was Dorcas Van Dyke du Pont, the daughter of a Delaware governor from the Revolutionary War era. General Lafayette had attended Victor’s parents’ marriage in the Van Dyke home in New Castle. Victor du Pont was only fourteen years old when he entered the College in 1842, an age that was two to three years younger than most of his classmates. Pleased with his new status, he addressed himself to his father as "Victor du Pont, collegian, Newark."[3] Victor graduated from Delaware College in 1845 and promptly registered as a senior at Harvard College, where, in less than a year, he completed the requirements for an A.B. degree. He then went on to law school before returning to Wilmington to become one of the city’s leading attorneys, A gentle, upright man, he was admired as a good friend and father and a conscientious citizen.

Victor’s younger brother, Charles I. du Pont, Jr., (1830-1873), also entered Delaware College at fourteen. Charles I., Jr., followed his father into manufacturing, and, in 1875, received a patent for an improved rotary pump. Another younger contemporary, Charles I. du Pont Breck (1840-1906), son of Victor Marie’s daughter, Amelia Elizabeth, graduated from the College in 1858. The College that these young men knew was one of many aspiring institutions of higher learning in the ante-bellum United States that ceaselessly struggled to cobble together enough money from state legislatures, churches, private donors, and tuition payers to keep their doors open. By the late 1850s, the struggle was not going well in Newark. Perhaps because Delaware was so small and was governed by a legislature dominated by impecunious farmers, the State refused to augment its initial support, and in 1859, the Trustees closed the College for lack of funds.

No more College students were admitted until 1870, when Delaware’s portion of federal funds from the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862 were assigned to Delaware College. Under the terms of the act, the income from the sale of federal land was distributed proportionately to each state to support a college to teach the useful subjects of agriculture, engineering, and military science.

With the modest income that came to Delaware under the Morrill Act, bolstered by occasional State support, Delaware College expanded its range to embrace agriculture and engineering. A few modest structures were constructed adjacent to the original College building and an experiment in co-education was briefly tried and abandoned. The College eked out its existence with a student body that never exceeded much beyond one hundred. Its presidents devoted more of their time to teaching than to administration.

Elsewhere in the late nineteenth century, a new spirit and fresh capital were transforming American higher education. In nearby Baltimore, industrialist Johns Hopkins created America’s first university based on the German model of research and graduate study, and in other states, captains of industry were inaugurating new colleges and universities or transforming old ones to suit the scientifically minded spirit of the age. Among the most prominent were John D. Rockefeller, who created the University of Chicago; Cornelius Vanderbilt, who financed Vanderbilt University; and Andrew Carnegie, who founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology. This dynamism of progress in industry and higher education however, seemed to pass by the little Men’s College in Newark.

 

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