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Published: May 19, 2011

Timothy Dwight (1752–1817)

American educator, author, religious leader, founder of coeducational schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and, from 1795 to 1817, the president of YALE COLLEGE. Born in Northampton, Massachusetts, Dwight was the grandson of New England theologian-educator Jonathan Edwards. He graduated from Yale in 1769 and remained there as a tutor until 1777, when he resigned to become a chaplain in the Revolutionary Army. In 1779, he returned to Northampton, where he combined preaching in several churches with the founding and operation of a coeducational academy. In 1783, he became pastor of the Congregational Church of Greenfield Hill, Connecticut, where he remained 12 years and founded another coeducational academy. In 1795, he replaced EZRA STILES as president of Yale, where he spent the rest of his life, expanding the college from a relatively small theological institute into the nation’s preeminent institution of higher learning. Under his leadership, Yale became the new standard for colleges founded elsewhere in the United States.
To attract more mature scholars, Dwight abolished outmoded forms of discipline and modernized the curriculum by establishing a professorship in chemistry, which he invited Benjamin Silliman to fill. Silliman, who fathered and nurtured American science education, collaborated with Dwight in founding the Yale Medical Institution (later the Yale Medical School) in 1813. Dwight was an active teacher at Yale, conducting classes in rhetoric and metaphysics for seniors. A conservative Congregationalist, he frequently preached at Yale, where he was known as “Pope Dwight.” In 1808, he helped found the ANDOVER (Massachusetts) THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY to train traditionalist Congregational ministers. Dwight’s grandson, also named Timothy Dwight, later became president of Yale as well.
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