Skip to Top NavigationSkip to Utility NavigationSkip to Search
Mobile Menu
Pages Within About Libraries

Chapter 2 — Section I

It has been said that failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand parents. Never was the axiom more true than in the case of the founding of the University of Hartford. The University's Archives are full of fascinating transcripts of conversations with civic leaders ranging from journalist Bice Clemow to jeweler Bill Savitt telling of meetings they attended at which detailed schemes were put forward to bring at least the three founding members, if not other local colleges, together into a grand University of Hartford. In fact, the idea of creating the University was the talk of Hartford from the days following the war, when Hillyer College became a four-year institution and other educational establishments in the area grew and expanded. And if these individuals saw themselves as in at the creation, they were right even in a formal sense: Founders were specifically recruited for the enterprise for at least six years, from the middle 1950s to the early 1960s. There are at least three separate lists, with plaques and pictures, of the Founding Members ­­ and they are not all identical. Many who turn up on none of the three also have claims to being present at the birth.

A strong impetus toward merger ­­ in addition to the urgent need for new and larger facilities in the case of Hartt and the Hartford Art School and unified facilities for Hillyer ­­ was a study commissioned in November 1953 by John G. Lee, who chaired the Board of Trustees of Hillyer College and was a prominent local businessman and inventor. The study was intended "to investigate the educational needs of the Hartford area above the high school level and to suggest ways by which these needs might best be fulfilled, considering the traditional part played in the community by the various educational institutions." A memorandum of agreement was entered into on July 21, 1954, between the Board of Trustees of Hillyer College and the Division of Field Studies and Research at Rutgers University. Their final report, of March 1955, urged an institution that would "present unified needs and eliminate wasteful duplication" among its constituent units. The study concluded that there would be a significant increase in college enrollments in the region and growing competition for qualified faculty members, that there was an immediate need for new plant and equipment for Hillyer College, and that the college "must expand its source and size of income beyond the present tuition base."

Other institutions approached about a proposed merger included Trinity College, Hartford College for Women, and the Hartford School of Music, but all three of those colleges chose to keep their independent status and current locations. The three institutions most likely to combine were Hillyer, Hartt, and the Hartford Art School, but they, too, were concerned about preserving their historic missions, and the path to merger was difficult.

The delicate and Byzantine nature of the negotiations that went on behind the scenes is suggested in a short typescript in the University's Archives by Edward C. Lavelle, entitled "The Founding and Early Days of the University of Hartford." The typescript, we are told, was based on "the recollections of John G. Lee, Dr. Moshe Paranov, Stephen Langton, Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman, Mrs. T. Merrill Prentice, Alan S. Wilson, Frederick Houghton, Bice Clemow, Raymond A. Gibson, and Alfred C. Fuller." The earliest documented record of discussions of a merger at the trustee level was found by Mrs. T. Merrill Prentice in the Hartford Art School minutes of December 16, 1948, but serious and continued discussions began in 1955, after the issuance of the Rutgers study, and they intensified with the establishment of a Council of Hartford Community Colleges in February 1956, whose long-range goal, according to Helen M. Loy's account in the University Archives, was a confederation of the five member institutions (Hillyer, Hartford College for Women, Hartt, Hartford School of Music, and the Hartford Art School).

It was about that time that the Gabriel property came on the market. It consisted of some 150 acres on Bloomfield Avenue, along with two buildings, North House (now Bates House, home of the admissions office) and South Cottage. Mrs. Harriet Sage Gabriel, who was only the fourth owner since this was Indian land, lived alone in North House with a large, ferocious dog. Lavelle comments: (see left side column).

At this point, destiny stepped in. Just before Christmas 1955, Bice Clemow, editor of the West Hartford News and an active trustee of Hillyer, boarded a train for New York City, where he ran into Frederick D. Houghton, an equally active trustee of the Hartford Art School. They sat together. As they reached Bridgeport, Mr. Clemow reports, Mr. Houghton turned to him and said, "I think we ought to have a University of Hartford." The two agreed that, when they had done their business in New York, they would take the same afternoon train back to Hartford and continue their conversation. By the time the train pulled into Hartford, a plan had emerged for serious and formal discussion.

Meanwhile, Alfred C. Fuller had been taken to see the Gabriel property, destined to become the University of Hartford campus, and had expressed interest in the idea of merger, "with a thoughtful consideration of his responsibility to conserve the values of Hartt College."

It took most of 1956 for the delicate negotiations to continue, but in July, Hillyer College, now owner of the property, commissioned the firm of Moore and Salsbury, architects, to begin research and studies for a master plan for long-range development of the 150-acre site. John Lee's instructions to the architects were both practical and visionary. He asked for "a sound and flexible campus plan: buildings... functional with a minimum of extravagance; highly flexible building designs with maximum freedom for expansion, and... a long-range building plan."

An Interim Committee for the Projected University of Hartford met on November 11, 1956. It was the feeling of Alan Wilson that the University was born at this meeting, though at that point only Hartt and Hillyer were definitely committed. The decision was made to apply for a charter. Four days later, the press in Hartford and New York broke the news of the projected University of Hartford, and on December 13 of that year the Hartford Art School board voted to take part.

Things moved swiftly from then on. On January 6, 1957, the Interim Committee decided that the boards of trustees of each of the three schools should choose six members of their boards to become Regents of the University of Hartford. From the beginning, it was the intention that all eighteen should serve the interests of the University as a whole and not simply their own constituencies. The University was incorporated by unanimous vote of the Connecticut General Assembly on February 21, 1957, and that same day Governor Abraham A. Ribicoff signed the University Charter. The newly elected Board of Regents took control at a meeting on March 7. With the sounding of the USS Hartford's bell at 11 a.m. on September 16, 1957, unified operations began with the holding of the first University of Hartford Convocation in front of the old Chauncey Harris School, Hillyer College's main building.

The Regents thus owned the Gabriel property, and, in due course, took ownership of the bulk of the properties and assets of the three units, thus giving the board the authority they retain today: financial ownership of, and oversight over, the property and financial affairs of the university, including responsibility for fund-raising.

For the remainder of 1957, an administrative council, consisting of the presidents of Hartt, Hillyer, and the Hartford Art School, administered the affairs of the new institution. But it was clear that to make any of the three, Paranov, Tompkins, or Wilson, president of the overall organization would be to raise once again all the anxieties about preserving individual traditions and values that had delayed the merger for so many years.

more> Chapter 2 — Section II