100 years ago, Conn College came to a grateful New London

The opening-day ceremony under way at the new Connecticut College in New London on Oct. 9, 1915.
The opening-day ceremony under way at the new Connecticut College in New London on Oct. 9, 1915. Courtesy Linda Lear Center, Connecticut College

It was New London's party of the century.

Thousands marched to the Armory amid a blare of trumpets and the sputtering of firecrackers, red fire and torches. More than 3,500 people jammed into the building, prompting police to bar the entrances for safety.

To the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," they sang "Glory, glory to New London/the bigger, better, beautiful New London ..."

Tuesday marks 100 years since that celebration shook the city — the end of a $100,000 fundraising campaign that brought a new women's college to New London.

Connecticut College, which is celebrating its centennial throughout the year, will honor its host city Tuesday.

The college has been "a big asset in terms of the resources the school brings to the community," said New London Mayor Martin Olsen, a 1995 Conn graduate who will speak at Tuesday's event.

Students from the college tutor New London students, while Conn makes events and speakers available to the community, Olsen said.

"Just having a high-caliber school in and of itself in the community is an asset ... students are exposed to New London and what it has to offer," he said.

Despite the numerous connections to New London, Olsen said, the college can seem physically removed from the city, which he attributed to the construction of the second span of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and its various connecting roads. The Coast Guard Academy is similarly separated, he said.

"There's always room for improvement," Olsen said, "but I think there are good resources on both sides, and we're working to bring them together all the time."

The idea for the college grew after Wesleyan University announced in 1909 that it would no longer admit women, leaving the state with no collegiate institutions open to females, according to the book "A History of Connecticut College" by Gertrude E. Noyes. Massachusetts, by comparison, had four.

In 1910, there were only 10,761 college alumnae in the country, but a growing number of women were seeking admission, and each year more Connecticut women were forced to go out of state or be denied the opportunity for higher education, according to Noyes.

A group of women and others interested in starting a women's college formed a committee as towns and individuals began offering sites with supporting funds.

New London entered the competition for a new college when a leading citizen, Percy Coe Eggleston, invited the site committee to view the Arthur E. Eggleston farm on a hill at the northern limits of the city. Adjacent landowners gradually added parcels to the proposed site for a total 280 acres, while the city added $50,000 toward acquiring the site.

At a meeting in New Haven on Jan. 14, 1911, the site committee unanimously chose the location, but acceptance was conditional on the city raising at least $100,000 to ensure the college wouldn't founder on inadequate finances.

Meanwhile, another 20 towns were besieging the committee, including Groton, which offered a site at the current Shennecossett Golf Course; Waterford, which had 130 acres overlooking the Niantic River; and the Riverview Farm, now the site of Red Top, the quarters of the Harvard crew at Gales Ferry.

The fundraising campaign was ambitious, but Noyes wrote that the city was buoyed by a feeling of growth and promise, both from the potential benefits of hosting a college and the impending development of the multimillion-dollar State Pier, which would attract cargo ships from around the world.

The campaign, which began on Feb. 20, was launched with the slogan "Get it by March First!" Volunteers rang doorbells, children raided piggy banks and clergy preached the gospel of education, according to Noyes.

Fundraising was tracked on a huge clock in front of The Day building with midnight marking $100,000, and on a 53-foot thermometer at the First Church Green on State Street.

Every afternoon at 2, business came to a standstill as the fire alarm blasted the number of thousands of dollars that had been collected in the previous 24 hours.

In the end, almost 6,000 of the city's 19,500 residents contributed, surpassing the goal with a last-minute boost from millionaire Morton F. Plant, for a total of $134,824.41.

The next day, The Day published a Souvenir College Fund Edition with the banner headline: "New London rejoices over her splendid victory."

"Rising out of the dust of years New London stands today a newborn giant," The Day wrote. "The shackles of despondency are cast aside, and imbued with the spirit of progress and achievement, the city by the sea is now illumined by a new sun — the sun of possibility."

Today, Connecticut College, which started admitting men in 1969, is the third-largest employer in New London. More than 600 students intern, work, study and volunteer in local schools, agencies and other nonprofits each year.

The college offers the Jane Bredeson Scholarship, in honor of a longtime secretary of the college and New London resident, which funds up to half the cost of tuition for New London residents who are full-time students. The New London Scholars program, established by the trustees in 1986 on the college's 75th anniversary, allows two outstanding local high school students to take a course at the college at no cost.

k.warchut@theday.com

Connecticut College graduates embrace on their way back to their seats after receiving their degrees during school’s 92nd Commencement in 2010.
Connecticut College graduates embrace on their way back to their seats after receiving their degrees during school’s 92nd Commencement in 2010. Sean D. Elliot /Day file photo

If you go

What: Conn College's Honor New London event

When: 4:30–6:30 p.m.

Where: Harris Building Atrium, 165 State St.

Featuring live entertainment, hors d'oeuvres and remarks by college President Leo I. Higdon Jr. and New London Mayor Martin Olsen, Class of 1995. The event is free and open to the public. It will also mark the end of a photo exhibit on the college at the Provenance Center next door.

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