Skip Navigation

History of Carleton College

Carleton College was founded by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches, under the name of Northfield College, on November 14, 1866. Preparatory school classes began in September, 1867, but it was not until 1870 that the Reverend James W. Strong took office as the first president, the first college class was formed, and the first on-campus building was begun. It was agreed at the outset that after one year formal church control should end, but throughout its formative years, the College received significant support and direction from the Congregational churches. Although it is now autonomous and non-sectarian, the College respects these historical ties and gives continuing recognition to them through membership in the Council for Higher Education of the United Church of Christ.

By the fall of 1871, the name of the College had been changed to honor an early benefactor, William Carleton of Charlestown, Massachusetts, who earlier that year had bestowed a gift of $50,000 on the struggling young college. At the time, it was the largest single contribution ever made to a western college, and it was made unconditionally, with no design that the name of the College should be changed. The College currently has an endowment in excess of $500 million.

Carleton has always been a coeducational institution. The original graduating class in 1874 was composed of one man and one woman who followed similar academic programs. Carleton’s current enrollment of 1,958 continues to include nearly equal numbers of men and women.

The Carleton Archives website offers more detailed history of Carleton College.