A People's History of Middlebury College

a history of Middlebury College centered on marginalized voices, social/political mobilizations, and periods of struggle

A People's History of Middlebury College


50 students petition to fire Prof. Frederick Hall
Nov. 1822

In a petition written to the Board of Trustees, 50 Middlebury students claimed that once-admired math professor Frederick Hall should be fired over “recent occurrences which have transpired in his department, occurences in their nature so aggravated and cruel” that they were keeping students from attending the school. Though the details on these occurrences are as yet unknown, the Board voted to dismiss Hall from his position. This may have been the first student petition to lead to the dismissal of an American college professor (Stameshkin Vol.1; 59-60).


Students transfer in protest of disciplinary action
June 1840

After students were reprimanded for going to Burlington to hear Daniel Webster speak without obtaining permission from the school, several students — “some our best scholars” as James Simmons ’41 put it to David Stameshkin — transferred out of Middlebury in protest.


Student petition to have breakfast before morning prayers

In a small act of collective bargaining, students successfully petitioned for their morning prayers and recitation to be pushed back after breakfast. After 60 years of the “quasi-monastic” routine of waking before the sun to pray, this was no small win for the students (Stameshkin Vol. 1; 171).


Faculty petition the Board for reallocation of funds
August 1870

The faculty in 1870 — Webber, Albee, Parker, Robbins, Seely, Kellogg, and Brainerd — were, in the words of Stameshkin, “an aggressive and demanding faculty who were difficult, at times, for the new president and trustees to handle” (Vol. 1; 158). In just one example of faculty uniting to pressure the Middlebury College power holders (i.e., President Kitchel and the Board) to respect the needs of their employees, the faculty petitioned the board for the employment of a janitor (whose duties they currently had split up amongst them) as well as repairs/improvements to specific college buildings. The Board acquiesced to the changes.


The entire student body goes on strike
November 1879

“Whatever the merits and results of the case, it is certainly giving Middlebury a first-class advertisement. Up to this time many people were unaware that such a college existed” (writer for the Albany Journal; Vol. 1, 165). For the first time Middlebury College made national news. Why? In the fall of 1879 the entire student body went on strike. In a rare moment of collective student action after years of discontent with the demerit system introduced in 1878, students rallied to protest the suspension of the popular sophomore Clarence G. Leavenworth ’82 whose rowdy antics had left him with over 50 demerits. On Thursday, November 13, the entire freshman and sophomore classes decided “to absent themselves from all college duties until justice had been done” and they sent a total of eight students to negotiate with the faculty over Leavenworth’s suspension (Vol. 1; 162). After failed conversations with the administration (who decided to officially suspend the sophomores who did not apologize and return to class), the entire student body — juniors, seniors, and all — officially went on strike. Upon finding the recitation halls empty on Monday morning, the faculty decided to suspend every student in the College. The following day, ex-Governor John W. Stewart ’46 came to mediate between the hostile parties. The students were back in school by Monday, November 24 after a weekend of negotiating a compromise that left Leavenworth’s suspension in effect but let all of the other students off the hook and created the space for students to petition for a decrease in demerits in the future.