Historical Markers
Washington and Jefferson College Historical Marker
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Washington and Jefferson College

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
At main building, opposite 27 College Ave., and Beau St. between College and Lincoln, Washington

Dedication Date:
February 2, 1954

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders image of McMillan.
Rev. John McMillan, D.D., circa 1820.
At the time of the American Revolution, Washington County was Pennsylvania's western-most district, a remote region on the edge of the frontier. As delegates gathered in Philadelphia to debate reforming the marker Articles of Confederation, what became the federal Constitution, Presbyterian ministers were riding the circuit among the growing number of settlements across western Pennsylvania. In addition to promoting Christianity, these frontier evangelists helped to create denominational academies and colleges, including Beaver (later Arcadia), Waynesburg, and Westminster Colleges.

Reverends Thaddeus Dod, Joseph Smith, and marker John McMillan founded and encouraged church-related institutions across western Pennsylvania, and in Washington County in particular. McMillan helped found a Presbyterian academy in the county seat, chartered in 1787, and opened two years later as Washington Academy. As befit the small frontier community, school conditions were spartan in the early years.
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Washington College, Washington, Pa, circa 1842.

In his memoir, McMillan recalled possessing "neither bedstead, nor table, nor chair, nor stool, nor pail, nor bucket," and a good road did not exist. Within several years a rival institution opened in nearby Canonsburg. After its directors renamed it Jefferson College in 1802, the trustees of Washington Academy sought a college charter for their own school, which the state legislature granted in 1806.

By 1865, with each of the regional Presbyterian synods encouraging cooperation, trustees overcame their differences and merged the two schools into Washington and Jefferson College. As a bow to the practical, four years later all college departments were consolidated to the Washington campus. A similar process occurred with the merger between Franklin and Marshall Colleges, and the consolidation of programs to a Lancaster campus in 1853.
 Print showing view of main buildings of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
The University at Lewisburg, (now Bucknell University), Lewisburg, PA, Lithograph...

Throughout the nineteenth century, and thereafter, Washington and Jefferson continued a legacy of educational quality. Its list of distinguished alumni included James G. Blaine, erstwhile Congressman, Secretary of State, and 1884 candidate for President; Senator and Republican Party boss Matthew Quay Senator Ephraim King Wilson II of Maryland; and Congressman John Murtha, who enrolled in the early 1950s but left during the Korean War to enter the Marines.

In many respects, Washington and Jefferson College was representative of the kind small and exclusively male frontier educational outpost dedicated to classical learning and training students for clerical and civil leadership. The "Presbyterian persuasion" was ever-present and ingrained in the institution's governance structure, but trustees did not discriminate in admission or faculty hiring.

The Washington and Jefferson College varsity football squad photograph
The Washington and Jefferson College varsity football squad, 1922.
Students pursued a degree program that took four years to complete. The curriculum fit the classical model steeped in what today would be called the liberal arts. A core curriculum included Greek, Latin, and the "genius" of the English language. Rhetoric, grammar, and the natural sciences and history rounded out the course offerings, with annual examinations in all subjects. When the normal education movement took hold in the late 1850s, trustees flirted with the notion of an expanded teacher preparation program. At one point it appeared the state legislature was prepared to designate Washington College as the first state normal school, but effective lobbying from Lancaster County prevented that outcome.

Surprisingly for a school so small, the college football team excelled in the interwar years. Celebrated coach Earle "Greasy" Neale led the team to the 1922 Rose Bowl, where standpoint quarterback Charles "Pruner" West led a spirited offensive squad. John Heisman, whose name adorns the award for the best college football player, also coached at the college. In more recent years Washington and Jefferson has remained competitive at the small college (Division III) level. The college first accepted women students in 1970.
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