Posted March 2023
In 1873, a committed group of twenty-two students and four faculty members gathered in a Beacon Hill townhouse to form the inaugural class of the College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Arts & Sciences). The meeting also marked the first year of undergraduate education at Boston University. Now, 150 years and thousands of students later, we look back fondly at the immense impact CAS has had on both its students and on the world. Join us as we celebrate the College of Arts & Science Sesquicentennial by taking a trip down CAS memory lane.
The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) is founded with Reverend John W. Lindsay as its first dean. The new college is housed in two refurbished townhouses across from the State House at 18-20 Beacon Street, one of which is later remodeled as the dignified “Claflin Building,” which still exists today. Twenty-two students (eight women and fourteen men) are the first to enroll at CLA. Their tuition is $60. They hail from lower to middle-class backgrounds across New England, some commuting to campus each day by horse-drawn street cars.
Professor Alexander Graham Bell, a faculty member in the School of Oratory, which shares a building with the College of Liberal Arts, teaches “Culture of the Speaking Voice” at BU. During CLA’s early years, a paid leave for Prof. Bell allows him to perfect a medium for the transmission of speech over wires. The first public transmission is from the CLA building to the Atheneum Reading Room.
In its first class of graduates, thirty-two students earn bachelor’s degrees from CLA. The graduating class consists of teachers, businessmen, judges, doctors, editors, accountants, and farmers. In addition, many go on to graduate school and later enter the Methodist Ministry.
In less than 10 years, enrollment in CLA grows from the original 22 students to 144 students. Having outgrown 20 Beacon Street, the College purchases the vacant First Baptist Church at 12 Somerset Street. The church’s 219-foot spire is removed, and the façade is renovated in the Renaissance style. CLA moves into 12 Somerset Street (renamed Jacob Sleeper Hall) in time for the fall term.
The second person of African descent and the first person born a slave to earn a doctorate in the United States, John Wesley Edward Bowen, graduates from the College of Liberal Arts. He is a student of historical theology, Greek, and Latin.
CLA expands to the Harvard Medical School Building at 688 Boylston Street near the new Boston Public Library in Copley Square. With over 500 Students now enrolled, the new quarters are considerably larger, including more classrooms and more space for a new library and laboratories. The central foyer is paved with marble and features large granite columns that support the floors above, and students refer to the space affectionately as “the Marble” as it became a gathering place for rallies, Christmas songs, and alumni reunions.
Founded in 1874, The School of All Sciences is renamed the Graduate School with William E. Huntington appointed as the dean. The matriculation fee is only $10 for a master’s degree and $25 for a PhD.
During World War I, CLA gets involved in groundwork. The college provides women training to become sickroom assistants, connects students with faculty volunteers to study issues related to the war, opens a course on Red Cross work, and collects books for soldiers. Students also gather to knit sweaters for soldiers, and the CLA student council passes resolutions condemning Germany and showing support for President Wilson.
In honor of Arts & Sciences alumna Harriet E. Richards, the “HER House” initiative is launched to give women an opportunity to attend BU by providing room and board. The HER House still stands today at 191 Bay State Road and offers a safe and affordable space for women and nonbinary students.
As enrollment numbers continue to grow, drafts for a new building are drawn up. In 1945, a BU Alumni Roll Call Dinner is held, marking the start of a campaign to raise $1,000,000 to build a new College of Liberal Arts Building. Three years later on CLA’s 75th anniversary, the new building on the Charles River Campus is dedicated and a stained-glass window on the west end of the building honors Dean William Edward Huntington.
CLA’s African Studies department is founded, offering one of the nation’s first programs for promoting African language and study. In this same year, Howard Thurman is also appointed as the dean of BU’s Marsh Chapel, becoming the first black dean of a chapel at a majority-white university or college in the United States.
BU’s most famed alumnus,Martin Luther King Jr. receives his PhD from the Graduate School. Nearly 10 years later, King would go on receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his leadership in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Elie Wiesel, a professor of humanities, wins his own Nobel Peace Prize. A political activist and Holocaust survivor, Wiesel is the author of Night, a renowned memoir about his experiences during his imprisonment in several concentration camps. In 1975, Weisel accepted a permanent appointment as the Andrew W. Mellow Professor in the Humanities with his base in the University Professors Program and the Department of Religion. 30 years later in 2005, the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies was founded as a department under CAS.
The College of Liberal Arts is renamed to the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS). By this time, CAS has expanded to include graduate programs in creative writing, molecular biology, biochemistry, and more while also introducing new undergraduate programs such as the Latin American Studies department and a new Mathematics and Computational Sciences division.
The CAS Writing Program is founded to help BU undergraduates develop the writing and communication skills essential to both their participation in the classroom and to their future careers. Today, the Writing Program offers more than 350 seminars each semester and hosts tutoring hours for a more personal approach to writing.
The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies is founded within the College of Arts & Sciences. Adil Najam is appointed as the first dean and the new school incorporates the former Department of International Relations alongside many BU area studies programs. Today, around 1,000 graduate and undergraduate students call Pardee their home.
Arts & Sciences celebrated the opening of Boston University’s new Center for Computing & Data Sciences, which became the new home to the departments of Mathematics & Statistics and Computer Science, along with the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.
From its original class of twenty-two students to its current enrollment of over ten thousand, the College of Arts & Science has hit many milestones over the last 150 years. And as CAS continues to grow, there is much to look forward to in the future. Happy Birthday CAS!
Continuing the celebration, CAS is pleased to relaunch the Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards! These awards will honor alumni from the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences whose accomplishments continue to advance and embody the arts and sciences in action. Nominations are due by March 31 and awardees will be announced at this year’s Alumni Weekend as part of the CAS 150th Anniversary Celebration.
Nominate a fellow Terrier who you think exemplifies the excellence of CAS: