As one of just two land grant institutions with colonial roots that predates all but two Ivy League schools, Delaware is a historically great American university. The 8th oldest college in America, the University of Delaware traces its beginning to the Newark Academy (est. 1743) founded three years before the College of New Jersey (Princeton), eleven years before Kings College (Columbia University), and twelve years before the charter of the Academy of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania). During the First Great Awakening when congregations pushed for emerging beliefs in science, democracy, and the free press; the Presbyterian Synod appointed Francis Alison as master of the Newark Academy, a school he founded in 1743 in New London, Pennsylvania. Nine years later, Benjamin Franklin recruited Reverend Alison to be rector and later vice provost of the Academy of Philadelphia, a school that became the University of Pennsylvania. In the years before the American Revolution, the President of Yale called Alison “the greatest classical scholar in America especially in Greek.”

In 1769, two years after the Academy moved a few miles south to Newark in the three lower counties of Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Governor John Penn of Pennsylvania signed the Newark Academy charter which was later joined with the charter of New Ark College in 1833. Four students of Francis Alison and Newark Academy signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Thomas McKean and George Read from Delaware and Benjamin Rush and James Smith from Pennsylvania. John Maclean, the tenth President of Princeton, wrote that the Newark Academy was a school where the course of work was better than or comparable to the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and equal to the curriculum delivered by Harvard and Yale (Ryden 1935).

The historic British march from Chesapeake Bay through the Newark Academy to the Battle of the Brandywine was memorable to the residents of the “Athens of Delaware.” On September 8, 1777, five days after Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battle at Cooch’s Bridge on the Christina River near Iron Hill, the British broke camp by the “light of a remarkable borealis”. As Edward Cooch (1940) wrote, “at quarter past seven they (the British) passed through Newark … north on Academy Street, east on Main Street at the Newark Academy, north on Chapel Street, crossing the White Clay Creek into Mill Creek Hundred.” Elliott Hall on 26 East Main Street, now a University of Delaware building, is the only remaining structure in Newark that stood in 1777. When the British marched past the Academy Building on Main Street in Newark, cobblers in the shoe factory there fired with no casualties. The Newark Academy Trustees sent their funds to Wilmington but Delaware President Thomas McKean wrote to General Washington that the British seized these assets from a ship anchored in the Delaware River. The mascot of the University of Delaware is the state bird, the “Fightin’ Blue Hen” named after the tenacious Delaware Continental regiments who fought with George Washington against the British at Long Island, Trenton, and Princeton.

New Ark College opened as a degree-granting institution in 1834 and was renamed Delaware College in 1843. Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act on July 2, 1862 which sold 30,000 acres of Federal land per state to create a system of land grant colleges to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts (engineering) to each state’s citizens. Delaware College closed during the Civil War but reopened in 1870 as one of just 36 land grant colleges in the United States. In 1887, Grover Cleveland signed the Hatch Act that provided Federal grant funds to build agricultural experiment stations at land grant colleges like Delaware. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act that dedicated federal funding to cooperative extensions at land-grant schools to translate research and instruction to the citizens through public service. In 2008, Joseph R. Biden was elected as the 47th Vice President of the United States of America. In 2014, the University of Delaware celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 1914 Smith-Lever Act that authorized the Cooperative Extension System. That same years, UD also celebrated the centennial of the Women’s College that opened in 1914 with 58 students and was later joined with the men’s college in 1921 to become the University of Delaware.

Delaware is unique as an elite institution of higher learning. The University of Delaware is thought to be one of just three privately chartered land grant institutions in America, the others are Cornell and MIT. Delaware is often referred to as a “Public Ivy” along with institutions such as Vermont, Penn State, College of William and Mary, and Virginia. In 2014, the University of Delaware was ranked as one of America’s premier research universities by U.S. News and World Report (75th of 201 National Universities), Forbes (126th of 650 Colleges) and Academic Ranking of World Universities (151-200 of 500 Research Universities). A 2015 report by the Council of State Governments and Elsevier publishers house concluded Delaware had the second highest rate of peer reviewed publications in the nation (after Massachusetts) at 11.4 publications per million dollars in R&D funding.

For over two hundred and seventy years since its founding as the Newark Academy, the University of Delaware has evolved as one of the finest and most uniquely historic institutions of higher learning in the nation. By its historic, academic, and economic standing, Delaware has the quality to be considered amidst any intercollegiate conference or association in the land, whether it be the Ivy League, Big Ten, or Atlantic Coast Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association or the Patriot League, or a hypothetical collaboration of the Eastern Eight. Historic Delaware’s fate is to be one of the truly elite universities in America. This is a destiny that began nearly three centuries ago.

Delaware: A Historically Great American University, by Gerald J. Kauffman, November 2016