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Penn History

Selected Class Histories College Class of 1811 Curriculum and Organization, 1781-1811

This exhibit was researched and prepared by Mary D. McConaghy, November 2010.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century, the University of Pennsylvania was made up of the same parts that had existed at the beginning of the American Revolution. The Charity School and the Academy (including the English, Mathematical and Latin Schools) had existed since 1749, the College since 1755, and the Medical Department since 1765. The organizational framework for these components as well as the curriculum had gone through some shifts over the years, most recently with the creation of the University of Pennsylvania by the 1791 union of the College, Academy and Charity School with the University of the State of Pennsylvania. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, low enrollments and the resulting financial pressure led to easing of academic requirements and a shrinking faculty – at least for the College.


According to the curriculum and organization established after the 1791 creation of the University of Pennsylvania, the trustees hired five professors as the core of the Academy and College (also known as the Philosophical School) curriculum. The professor of natural philosophy (sciences, in modern terminology) and the professor of moral philosophy (including ethics, logic, politics, economics, history) were the only two who were to teach full-time in the College; these two professors also served as the College administration at this time, being elected by the trustees as provost and vice-provost. Each of the other three professors served as head of one of the schools in the Academy as well as taught in the College; thus the professor of Latin and Greek was also head of the Latin (or Grammar) School; the professor of mathematics served as the head of the Mathematics School; and the professor of belles lettres also functioned as head of the English School.

The only other professors, of law and of German, did not work full-time. The five professors on the full-time faculty were assisted in their classrooms by tutors and assistants, and their courses were supplemented by instructors in drawing, writing and modern languages. This small faculty and the doubling up of duties was due to the small size of the College compared to the Academy, Charity School and Medical Department. There simply were not enough college students to merit a larger faculty.

Enrollment Realities

n the spring of 1808, just before the year the Class of 1811 entered the Philosophical School (College), student enrollment figures make it very clear how small the college was compared to the other divisions of the University of Pennsylvania; the college enrolled a total of only 31 students compared to 165 students in the Academy, 108 in the Charity Schools and well over a hundred in the Medical School.

  • Philosophical School (College) had a total of 31 students in that school. Keeping enrollment and tuition income high enough to support the faculty was a challenge.

    Over the first 55 years of college commencements, the average graduating college class had been only 8 or 9 students; in fact, for four of the years since 1792, the College had had no graduates at all. The College Class of 1811 had 21 graduates, the largest number of graduates in the history of the college, except for 1792 (37) and 1793 (23) when the graduation combined students who had begun their college education in the old College and the University of the State of Pennsylvania, now merged into the Philosophical School of the University of Pennsylvania. The first years of the nineteenth century were a struggle. There would be no graduates in 1801, 1806 and 1809. Five graduated in 1800, in 1802, and in1803; eight graduated in 1804, four in 1805, eight in 1807, 18 in 1808, and 14 in 1810. By 1811, managing to graduate 21 from the College was somewhat of a success.

    In an effort to keep up enrollments in the College at its new home on the Ninth Street campus during these tough years, the trustees and faculty were concerned enough to sometimes declare an entire class in the Latin School to be advanced enough to be allowed to skip their last year in the Latin School to move into the Philosophical School a year early.

  • The Academy enrolled a total of 165 students distributed as follows:

  • Mathematical School: 14 full-time students

  • English School: 54 full-time students (8 in the fourth and highest class, 18 in the third class, 17 in the second class and 11 in the first class)

  • Latin School: 67 full-time students in seven classes (ranging from 8 to 14 students in each class with the largest enrollment in the lowest classes in the school – the first and second classes)

  • Mathematical and English Schools combined: 14 students

  • Mathematical and Latin Schools combined: 16 students

  • Charity Schools included 108 students, 71 boys and 37 girls, taught separately by a master and a mistress in basic reading, writing and arithmetic, plus some vocational skills.

  • The Medical Department would also have 150 or more students taking courses at any one time during this period. Exact enrollment figures are not available, but since students had to attend at least two years of classes at the University to get their degree, and the number of graduates from1808 to1811 ranged from 60 to 66, and there were always students enrolled who did not take a degree, enrollment in the Medical Department would have been about 150 students per year.

Curriculum and Organization, 1810 Revisions

On October of 1810, the trustees revised the organization of the University of Pennsylvania into these three parts: Charity Schools, Academy (including the Math, English and Grammar Schools) and the College (including the Medical, Law and Collegiate departments). The College (including Law) and Medical Department were housed on the Ninth Street campus while the Academy and Charity School were on the original Fourth Street campus.

The biggest changes came in the Collegiate department (as the College, formerly the Philosophical School, was to be called). There were now only three classes: freshmen, juniors and seniors. To be admitted, a student was tested by the faculty to determine his ability to translate Caesar’s commentaries and Virgil (or its equivalent), to translate into grammatical Latin, to translate the gospels from the Greek, and to do common arithmetic and decimal and common fractions.

The Collegiate faculty was reduced to just three professors:

  • Professor of Moral Philosophy to include the subjects of logic, moral philosophy, metaphysics, natural theology, and philosophy of the human mind
  • Professor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics (higher branches)
  • Professor of Languages to include instruction in Latin and Greek classics, Greek and Roman antiquities, rhetoric, ancient and modern geography, chronology and history

During the years the Class of 1811 was in college, these young men had just six professors, with the only personnel change coming when John Andrews retired in 1810 to be replaced by Robert Patterson.