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UD History







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UD's main campus is in Newark ("New Ark"), which offers the charm of a small college town, with easy access to major metropolitan areas. UD also has campuses in Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown, and Lewes, Del.






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Image copyright University of Delaware.
Visitors gather for Farmers Day, June 1909, at the University's 212-acre Delaware Agricultural Experiment Station in Newark. Early research there focused on better ways to grow sugar beets. Photo courtesy of UD Archives
Image copyright University of Delaware.
University of Delaware football team, 1901. Photo courtesy of UD Archives

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UD invented study abroad. The first foreign study group traveled to Paris in 1923. Photo courtesy of UD Archives

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Engineering students hard at work in Mechanical Hall. Engineering has long been a strength at UD. Photo courtesy of UD Archives
Image copyright University of Delaware.
Motoring through northern Delaware on June 9, 1923, President Warren Harding stopped at the University of Delaware to greet students and guests assembled for commencement. Photo courtesy of UD Archives
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Memorial Hall, Delaware's memorial of World War I, was UD's library from 1924-63 and today houses the English Department. It is one of 16 UD buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of UD Archives
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Students in their beanies take exams. Photo courtesy of UD Archives


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A Tradition of Excellence

One of the oldest universities in the U.S., the University of Delaware traces its roots to 1743 when a petition by the Presbytery of Lewes, Del., expressing the need for an educated clergy, led the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison to open a school in New London, Pa.

On Nov. 24, 1743, Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette carried this notice:

We are informed that there is a Free-School opened at the House of Mr. Alison in Chester County, for the Promotion of Learning, where all Persons may be instructed in the Languages and some other Parts of Polite Literature, without any Expences for their Education.

Alison's first class was "possibly the most distinguished in terms of the later achievements of its members, taken as a whole, of any class in any school in America," wrote historian John Munroe in The University of Delaware: A History.

The students would go on to become statesmen, doctors, merchants and scholars. Of special note, Thomas McKean, George Read and James Smith would sign the Declaration of Independence; Read also would sign the U.S. Constitution.

By 1765, Alison's school had relocated to Newark, Delaware, where it received a charter as the Academy of Newark from Thomas and Richard Penn in 1769.

NewArk College opened as a degree-granting institution in 1834 and was renamed Delaware College in 1843. A Women's College opened in 1914 with 58 students, and in 1921, the two coordinate colleges became the University of Delaware.

Since 1950, UD has quadrupled its enrollment and greatly expanded its faculty and academics, its physical plant, and its influence in the world. In fact, UD invented study abroad, with the first group traveling to Paris in 1923. Today, UD offers programs on all seven continents, and nearly 40 percent of our students study overseas. UD has received the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education from the Institute for International Education.

In 2009, the University purchased a 272-acre parcel of land adjacent to campus that previously had been an auto assembly plant. The site will be the future home of a science and technology campus that will allow for expansion of UD's educational and research opportunities and that will offer UD a wealth of options as it moves forward on its Path to Prominence.

Our School Colors of Blue and Gold

The faculty of Delaware College chose blue and gold as the college colors in 1889. The development of team sports may have advanced the decision; the first football season was that fall. The colors selected were those of the state of Delaware. The state flag, officially adopted in 1913, repesents the colors of General George Washington's uniform--colonial blue with the coat of arms in a buff-colored diamond. Blue and gold are also the colors of Sweden, from which Delaware's first permanent colonists came.

History of the Fightin' Blue Hens
blue hen

University of Delaware teams have one of the most unusual nicknames in all of college athletics. The name "Fightin' Blue Hens" has its origins in the Revolutionary War and has been used by University teams since 1911.

On December 9, 1775, the Continental Congress resolved that a military battalion be raised from the lower three counties along the Delaware River. Thus, the Delaware regiment was born--a group of eight companies representing New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

The second company was from Kent County and commanded by Capt. John Caldwell, an owner of gamecocks. The troops often amused themselves by staging cockfights with a breed known as the Kent County Blue Hen, recognizable for its blue plumage.

The renown of these chickens spread rapidly during this time when cockfighting was a popular form of amusement, and the "Blue Hens' Chickens" developed quite a reputation for ferocity and fighting success.

Capt. Caldwell's company likewise acquired a considerable reputation for fighting prowess in engagements with the British at Long Island, White Plains, Trenton and Princeton, and soon was nicknamed "Caldwell's Gamecocks." The company was part of Col. John Haslet's first Delaware regiment, which reported for duty near the outset of the Revolutionary War in Jan. 1776. In Aug. 1781, remnants of the regiment were still battling at Eutaw Springs, S.C.

Although often referred to as "The Fighting Delawares," Haslet's regiment also won the nickname "The Blue Hens' Chickens." It was formally adopted by the Delaware General Assembly in 1939 when the Blue Hen Chicken was named the official state bird.

UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources maintains a breeding group of Blue Hen Chickens on the campus farm.