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History & Traditions

Explore Colgate's rich and rewarding history through a variety of pathways. View archival photos and a typical 19th century schedule in the timeline, listen to your favorite Colgate music, and find out about unique traditions. But first, read brief highlights from Colgate's past:


In 1817, 13 men - six clergy and seven laymen - met in the frontier settlement of Hamilton with "13 dollars, 13 prayers, and 13 articles." (To this day, members of the Colgate community consider the number 13 a good omen.) In that meeting, the men founded the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York, the cornerstone in the foundation of what would become Colgate University.

The state chartered the Baptist Education Society in 1819, choosing Hamilton as the location for its school; one year later, the school opened. In 1823, Baptists in New York City - soapmaker William Colgate among them - consolidated their seminary with the Hamilton school to form the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution. The Colgate family connection was thus established.

The oldest building on the current campus, West Hall, was built four years later in 1827. By 1834, the institution included preparatory, collegiate, and theological departments. In 1839, the first students "not having the ministry in view" were admitted.

The year 1846 witnessed a name change (to Madison University) and, through a state charter, the right to grant degrees. Madison became Colgate in 1890, recognizing nearly 70 years of continuous involvement and service by the Colgate family.

Colgate Academy, the preparatory department, was discontinued in 1912. The theological division merged with the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1928 to become the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and Colgate has been nonsectarian since that time. The university became coeducational in 1970.

Colgate today is a highly selective, independent, coeducational liberal arts college enrolling approximately 2,700 undergraduates in programs that lead to the bachelor of arts.  A small graduate program offers the master of arts and the master of arts in teaching.