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Chapter 1 — Section III

The second oldest component of what is now the University of Hartford traces its origins to the year 1879, and springs from the mid-nineteenth century movement called the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Later offshoots of that movement include the YWCA for young women and the counterpart Young Men's Hebrew Association. The YMCA began in England, as part of social reform efforts designed to give boys and young men who had to leave their home towns and go to work in large cities places in which they might safely and economically eat, live, and find wholesome recreation as they made their way alone in the world, far from family and friends. A YMCA in Hartford was established in 1878. The following year, it began to offer continuing education classes in the evenings to young men of the city of Hartford.

It may seem to us in the 1990s that not providing identical opportunities for young women in the nineteenth century was grossly discriminatory, but once again, times and customs change. The norm was for girls to remain at home if possible until they got married, went into service to a wealthy family, or entered occupations such as teaching, nursing, or the newly developing field of clerical office work. However, in contrast with the YMCA, the Hartford Art School and the Hartt College of Music had been quite advanced in their admissions policies, admitting female students along with males from the beginning.

What became Hillyer Institute and then Hillyer College was made co-educational in 1928, still quite early for a private as opposed to a public institution in America.

Fortunately for higher education in Connecticut, a certain General Charles Tudor Hillyer of Hartford, a prominent Civil War figure and a strong believer in education, took an interest in the YMCA classes, which were offered at various locations in the city. In 1888, he bought land and gave it to the YMCA to construct a new building. In 1892, a year after his death, his children Appleton Hillyer and Clara Hillyer gave $50,000 to be used for the establishment, in memory of their father, of "a manual training and trade school to be called the Hillyer Institute." Courses and programs rapidly expanded to include technology of all sorts, including office work and new media of communication, but along with such traditional fields as blacksmithing. The beginnings of today's College of Engineering, one of the nine present-day constituents of the University of Hartford, are discernible in the curriculum as early as 1914: classes for that year included architectural drawing, automobile courses 1-3, and mechanical drawing. A course was also offered in electrical equipment. Early catalogues list faculty members who worked at local engineering and related companies, such as Pratt & Whitney, the maker of aircraft engines, and its predecessor, the small machine tools division spun off as Niles Bemont Pond.

In 1937, the Hillyer Institute of the YMCA became Hillyer Junior College and began offering the associate's degree. The first class graduated in 1939. Initially programs were offered only in the evening, though day classes were added in 1939. The bulk of the student body, almost entirely commuters, were men and women who held day jobs and who wished to further their education in their free time in the evenings.

Business, commercial, technical, and industrial subjects dominated the curriculum, but literature and other subjects were taught as well. Faculty members were often recruited from among prominent business men and women who offered courses in their free moments because of their love of the subject or their belief that young men and women who cared enough about a post-secondary education to devote their leisure time and discretionary spending money to acquiring it deserved all the encouragement they could get.

The experience of World War II from 1941 through 1945 changed the face of this country in many ways. Medicine, science, and technology were greatly advanced, as is the case, ironically, with most wars. Women entered the work force in greater numbers than ever before and were admitted in significant numbers to the armed services, in non-combat roles. With war plants such as Pratt & Whitney Aircraft operating three shifts, round the clock, workers who might previously have been restricted to evening classes could now attend Hillyer during the day with their swing-shift schedules.

In the war year of 1944, Hillyer Junior College reorganized itself into three departments: Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Business Administration. These departments became divisions in 1951, and in 1958, following the creation of the University, they divided into four schools: the School of Business Administration, now the Barney School; the College of Education, now the College of Education, Nursing, and Health Professions; the College of Engineering; and the College of Arts and Sciences.

A milestone in American education was the creation of the G.I. Bill of Rights for veterans of World War II, which provided funds for tuition, books, and supplies at the college level, and, in some cases, modest support for a veteran's family. With the conclusion of the war, Hillyer College chose to specialize in evening programs tailored particularly for the mature returning veteran who still needed to work during the day to augment G.I. educational benefits, but who was determined to pursue his education to the baccalaureate level, if at all possible. Hillyer was the only college in the Hartford area offering such an extensive evening program for those on the G.I. Bill. Those Evening Division alumni of Hillyer (whose degrees were converted to University of Hartford degrees just a few years ago) still fondly recall studying with professors who might have been lawyers or doctors during the day, but who revealed themselves as Shakespeare scholars or American historians in the evening and were willing to work for very little money.

By 1947, Hillyer Junior College was operating in two separate locations in Hartford: the old Chauncey Harris Elementary School on Hudson Street, and a former Hartford Board of Education Building on Niles Street. As returning veterans passed through its two-year program, they badly needed the upper-level training that would take them to the bachelor's degree, and so in that same year the College received a state charter to begin formally offering four-year bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees. It changed its name to Hillyer College, with both a junior and a senior division. As we have seen, the college also established a cross-registration arrangement with the Hartford Art School.

The year 1947 also marked the severing of the last corporate and other ties with the YMCA and the establishment of Hillyer as an educational institution completely on its own footing. In making the move, the college had to give up its small endowment, linked with the YMCA. In 1950, Hillyer received authority to offer a master's degree in education, the forerunner of yet another college of the future University of Hartford. The following year, Hillyer's departments were reorganized into divisions, indicating the growth, breadth, and diversity of the college's programs. In 1952, the previously independent school of Crystal Research Laboratories joined with Hillyer College to become the Ward School of Electronics. Later it was to re-emerge as the Ward College of Technology, one of the nine constituent units of the present-day University.

By 1956, with the establishment of the Center for Engineering Research and Science on Huyshope Avenue in Hartford, Hillyer College was spread all over the city. At no location was there adequate parking for either faculty or students, and none of the buildings had been designed or constructed for collegiate use. One oft-repeated anecdote about the Chauncey Harris School building on Hudson Street (since demolished) was that it had been constructed in 1894 as an award-winning elementary school, with rest room facilities of appropriate size and elevation....

Though by the mid-1950s it was not imperative that Hillyer College vacate any of its three facilities, clearly its mission, as well as its faculty and students, would be better served by a consolidated campus, with room for proper library, dining, athletic, and, possibly, residential facilities. President Alan S. Wilson of Hillyer had prudently saved $150,000 from operating income, but that alone would not be enough to buy property and construct a whole new campus in the area. Fortunately, an idea of consolidation and cooperation was in the wind -- but more of that later.

more> Chapter 1 — Section IV