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Founded by Father John J. Shipherd in 1844, Olivet College's guiding principle was to provide students with the means of intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement, and to teach them the Divine art and science of doing good to others. From its beginning, the college's founders and leaders believed an education should be available to anyone regardless of gender, race or ability to pay.

Olivet's commitment to educating women and minorities cost the college dearly at the time. In 1845, the college was prevented from receiving a state charter because of its abolitionist beliefs. Nevertheless, the college and the community persevered. In spite of illness and the unexpected death of Father Shipherd, the settlers began offering classes as the Olivet Institute. Finally, in 1859, a state charter was granted and in 1863 the college granted degrees to its first class of college graduates: Sara Benedict, Mary N. Barber and Sophia A. Keyes.

During the 1930s and 40s, the college developed a national reputation for adopting the "Oxford model," a tutorial system used in European universities that relied heavily on seminars and interaction between faculty and students. It was during this period that the college also sponsored a series of writers' conferences that brought some of the world's leading literary talents to Olivet. Participants included Katherine Anne Porter, Sherwood Anderson and Ford Maddox Ford.

In the early 1990s, Olivet College redefined its direction and produced a new academic vision titled Education for Individual and Social Responsibility. This vision statement echoes the language of the original catalog: "Olivet College is dedicated today, as it was in 1844, to the principle that the future of humanity rests in the hands, hearts and minds of those who will accept responsibility for themselves and others in an increasingly diverse society."

The transformation of the institution that proceeded from the development of the new vision statement has been far-reaching and profound. It has forced the college to redesign curricula and to challenge traditional assumptions about the purposes and assessment strategies for a college education. The critical change in this new educational delivery system, now known as The Olivet Plan, is the focus on student learning as documented by students' growing competence in groups of learning outcomes rather than on simply delivering courses, credits and grades.

Moving into the next phase of our work, we face maturation level challenges to the college's comprehensive institutional transformation. These challenges continue to resonate with the three critical issues facing Olivet College and, indeed, all of American higher education: institutional accountability for student learning, building civil and inclusive communities that model democracy at its best, and ensuring equity of access to higher education by controlling costs.

Timeline for the History of Olivet College

1836 – “Father” John Jay Shipherd secures subscriptions from the New England states for sufficient funds to build a college at Grand River City, better known as Delta Mills in Eaton County. A poor economy prevents collection of the money and the project is temporarily abandoned.

1843 –Shipherd travels to Michigan and then returns to Oberlin, Ohio. He names Olivet after the Mount of Olives and the nearby creek the Kedron – both from the Bible. Shipherd felt that God was calling him to Olivet.

1844 –Shipherd leaves Oberlin with 39 missionaries and arrives at Olivet in February; Shipherd dies in September from malaria. Many of the remaining missionaries leave or die. Olivet is founded as a manual labor school.

1844 – Legal transactions for the purchase of the land for the institution are complete – 40 acres for $100.

1844 – First church services are held in Father Shipherd’s house.

1844 – First class taught in December 1844 in log cabin by Rev. Oramel Hosford.

1844 – President Rev. Reuben Hatch to 1846; he applies for charter. Oramel Hosford arrives from Oberlin to resurrect Olivet College.

1844 – Reuben Hatch and Oramel Hosford apply for charter.

1845 – Colonial Hall is built (only building constructed in the College Square), but burns down before it can be used.

1845 – Church is organized in March at the unfinished home of George Andrews.

1845 – First commencement is held in June.

1845 – Classes begin as the Olivet Institute, a two-year college. Reuben Hatch is turned down for charter.

1846 – President Rev. Enoch N. Bartlett to 1849

1846 – First school building built; the first chapel was the upper room of the school building.

1846 – First college catalog is printed in June.

1846 – 69 students are enrolled

1847 – Phi Alpha Pi is founded – was known as the Olivet Lyceum and later, the Philalethian Society. Societies were molded after secret societies at Yale. Three original societies were founded before the Greek letters were established.

1847 – Ladies Literary Society is founded Oct. 14 – later known as Erodelphian and then Soronian – it is believed to be the first women’s literary society in the United States. 

1847 – 72 students are enrolled, of which 39 are ladies and 33 are gentlemen.

1847 – Emily Bartlett is named principal of female department; visual arts program begins and Bartlett serves as the first art professor.

1847 – Abby Hosford is named assistant principal of female department.

1848 – Charter is granted for Olivet Institute Feb. 22.

1849 – Hosford House is built by Oramel Hosford. It remains the oldest structure on campus today.

1850s – Chapel is built.

1850 – Co-principals Enoch N. Bartlett (resigned 1858) and Oramel Hosford, April to 1853.

1850 – Olivet Lyceum becomes Philalethian Society – now Phi Alpha Pi.

1851 – First school building burns down. Chapel is moved to Colonial Hall or South Hall.

1852 – South Hall lower floor is used as a church room.

1852 – 200 students are enrolled.

1853 – President Rev. Oramel Hosford to 1860.

1856 – 143 students are enrolled.

1857 – 120 students are enrolled.

1859 - Transformation from institute to college – charter is granted. The college’s motto, “Pro Christo et Humanitate,” is assumed – only one year before the Civil War did the state of Michigan grant the charter.

1859 – Ladies’ Hall is built at a cost of $18,000.

1859 – President Rev. Minor W. Fairfield to 1860.

1860 – President Rev. Nathan J. Morrison to 1872. Morrison is sent to establish Drury College in Missouri.

1860 – Two-story frame addition to Ladies’ Hall for laundry and a gymnasium.

1861 – Philalethian Society is reorganized and assumes the name of Phi Alpha Pi, March 20.

1861 – YMCA is organized on campus.

1862 – Adelphic Literary Society is founded; they are known as the Clever Fellows and are the first to build their own society house.

1863 – First four-year degrees are granted. The recipients are three women – Sophia A. Keyes, Mary N. Barber and Sara A. Benedict; the first four graduating classes are made up of women only, due to the Civil War.

1865 – Olivet is incorporated as a village.

1865 – Chapel or South Hall (where Dole Hall is today) is completed and raised to three stories.

1865 – Adelphic Alpha Pi takes its name.

1865 – Soronian takes its name.

1865 – Preparatory Department is distinguished from the college proper. Hamilton King, United States ambassador to Siam from 1898 to 1912 and an 1878 Olivet graduate, would eventually serve as principal of the department and instructor of Greek. 

1866 – South Hall cornerstone is laid. The building is used as church until 1894.

1866 – Parsons Hall cornerstone is laid by Philo Parsons, Esq., on commencement day.

1867 – First men receive four-year degrees.

1870s – First international students attend Olivet; the church pays their tuition.

1871 – Parsons Hall is completed at a cost of $40,000 (with $15,000 from Mr. & Mrs. Parsons).

1872 – President Nathan J. Morrison resigns to establish Drury College in Springfield, Mo.

1872 – Acting President John W. Hewitt, A.M., to 1875

1874 – Olivet College Conservatory of Music is organized and a legal charter is secured.

1875 – President Horatio Q. Butterfield, D.D., to 1893

1875 – President Butterfield’s house is built; Morrison Hall (where the Upton Conservatory is today) is used as music conservatory until it is torn down in 1971.

1876 – YWCA is organized on campus

1879 – James Fairman arrives as one of the first prominent artists to teach at Olivet.

1880s – Stand-Up is started. It remains the college’s oldest continuous tradition.

1880s – Rake Day is started.

1882 – Ladies’ Hall burns April 11

1882 – Shipherd Hall (formerly South Hall) is rebuilt (where the Kirk Center is today); burns in 1959.

1885 – Mather Hall is built and completed at a cost of $30,000. It is named for Roland Mather from Hartford, Conn., who had given Olivet $16,000. The hall, which served as the science building, featured an exceptional museum.

1888 – Colonial Hall is moved from the College Square to a new location (where MacKay Gymnasium currently stands) and becomes a gymnasium. Students did all of the work to move the building.

1888 – Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) is founded March 24. Delegates from Michigan State, Albion, Hillsdale and Olivet drew up the first MIAA constitution.

1888 – First MIAA men’s tennis championship; also 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1929 and 1930

1889 – Adelphic Alpha Pi house groundbreaking. Students worked during the summer for local farmers so they could use their equipment to quarry the fieldstone and build the foundation for the house.

1889 – Burrage Library cornerstone is laid at commencement.

1889 – Olivet College is among the first schools to offer football.

1890 – Adelphic house is dedicated June 18 on commencement day. It is the first literary society to build a house of its own. Attendees then proceeded to Phi Alpha Pi for its groundbreaking.

1891 – Phi Alpha Pi house is dedicated June 17.

1892 – First MIAA baseball championship; also 1911, 1915, 1965 and 1981 (shared with Albion and Alma).

1893 – Congregational Church cornerstone is laid; opens 1894.

1893 – President Rev. William G. Sperry to 1904.

1893 – Oramel Hosford dies Dec. 9.

1893 – First MIAA men’s track and field championship; also 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912.

1894 – MIAA recognizes football as a league sport.

1894 – Congregational Church opens.

1894 – Morrison House becomes Music Conservatory.

1895 – First MIAA football championship; also 1901, 1906, 1907, 1909, 1911 (shared with Adrian), 1913, 1914 (shared with Hillsdale), 1974 and 2007 (shared with Hope).

1905 – President Ellsworth G. Lancaster, Ph.D., LL.D., to 1915.

1907 – Sigma Beta is founded Jan. 18. check date

1909 – Soronian cornerstone is laid (Sperry Hall); opens 1910.

1911 – MIAA recognizes men’s basketball as a league sport.

1911 – Sigma Beta moves into house at 504 Shipherd Street.

1913 – First MIAA men’s basketball championship; also 1932, 1971 (shared with Calvin), 1972, and 1973 (shared with Calvin).

1915 – Acting President Thomas W. Nadal, Ph.D., to 1916.

1916 – President Thomas F. Kane, Ph.D., to 1918.

1918 – Olivet College closes in spring due to low enrollment; campus is used by the military.

1919 – Olivet College reopens in the fall after World War I.

1919 – Pi Kappa Delta – a national honorary forensic fraternity for the purpose of promoting interest in intercollegiate oratory and debate – is recognized at Olivet College.

1920 – President Paul F. Voelker, Ph.D., to 1925.

1921 – Pi Kappa Delta local chapter is chartered.

1922 – MIAA recognizes cross country as a league sport.

1922 – Kappa Sigma Alpha is organized.

1922 – Alpha Lambda Epsilon is founded Jan. 6.

1924 – Kappa Sigma Alpha purchases house on Yale Street.

1926 – President Axel Vestling, Ph.D., to 1930.

1928 – Parsons Hall fire.

1928 – Kappa Sigma Alpha house fire.

1928 – MacKay Gymnasium is built.

1929 – Blair Hall is built.

1930 – President James King, Ph.D., LL.D., to 1934.

1931 – Dole Hall groundbreaking is held June 7; cornerstone is laid Oct. 31.

1932 – Dole Hall opens – complete with furnishings proposed by the building architect.

1934 – President Joseph Brewer, Hon. LL.D., to 1944. Brewer saves Olivet College financially.

1934 – MIAA recognizes men’s golf as a league sport.

1930s – Many artists show exhibitions throughout the years, including Ford Madox Ford’s wife.

1934 – Curriculum follows Oxford-style tutorial system until 1944.

1936 – First MIAA men’s golf championship; also 1937, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008

1936 – MIAA makes first attempt to organize women’s athletic program at Olivet

1937 – George Rickey serves as Olivet College’s first artist-in-residence.

1940s – Many artists, poets and writers visit Olivet, including Carl Sandburg, Katherine Ann Porter, Ford Madox Ford, W.H. Auden, Gertrude Stein and Milton Horn.

1940 – Mott funds Olivet College to “stay afloat.”

1943 – Hosford and Shipherd houses institute newly organized programs; a revival of work for younger students.

1944 – President Malcolm B. Dana, Ph.D., to 1948; came from Piedmont College in Georgia.

1940s – Celebrities went to the Kellogg Sanatorium and to Olivet College.

1947 – Kappa Sigma Alpha is dissolved.

1948 – Conflict arises over academic freedom.

1948 – President Aubrey L. Ashby, Ph.D., to 1950.

1950 – President Raymond B. Blakney, Ph.D., to 1957.

1955 – Blair Hall addition is built.

1956 – Kappa Sigma Alpha is reestablished and purchases the Ely House on Main Street.

1957 – President M. Gorton Riethmiller ’28, Ph.D., to 1970.

1958 – Olivet is incorporated as a city.

1959 – The original Shipherd Hall burns.

1960 – Sigma Beta house groundbreaking is held June 7.

1960 – Lester K. Kirk Center groundbreaking. Kirk was chair of the Olivet College Board of Trustees and CEO of Whirlpool.

1961 – Alpha Lambda Epsilon is reorganized in October.

1961 – Oaks Theatre is acquired by the college.

1963 – Lester K. Kirk Center is dedicated Sept. 15.

1963 – Sigma Beta house is dedicated Oct. 19.

1963 – First MIAA women’s archery championship; also 1965.

1965 – Mather Hall is torn down.

1965 – Charles Stewart Mott Academic Center groundbreaking is held June 5.

1965 – Alpha Lambda Epsilon purchases the Longman house at the corner of Green and Main streets.

1966 – Charles Stewart Mott Academic Center cornerstone is laid Feb. 24.

1966 – Shipherd Hall (corner of Cottage and Church streets) is dedicated in June.

1967 – Charles Stewart Mott Academic Center opens Oct. 15.

1969 – First MIAA women’s field hockey championship; also 1974.

1969 – MIAA recognizes wrestling as a league sport.

1970 – President Ray B. Loeschner, Ph.D., to 1977.

1970 – MIAA recognizes soccer as a league sport.

1971 – MIAA recognizes swimming as a league sport.

1972 – Women begin “no hours.”

1972 – First MIAA wrestling championship; also 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 (shared with Kalamazoo) and 1984.

1972 – Margaret Upton Conservatory of Music groundbreaking.

1974 – Margaret Upton Conservatory of Music is dedicated.

1976 – MIAA women’s field hockey – Recognized

1977 – President Donald A. Morris, Ph.D., to 1992.

1978 – Phi Alpha Pi house fire.

1979 – Frederick S. Upton Center groundbreaking is held Aug. 19.

1980 – Frederick S. Upton Center opens.

1980 – First MIAA softball championship (shared with Calvin).

1981 – Frederick S. Upton Center is dedicated April 24.

1981 - Insurance concentration is created for the Business Administration major.

1985 – Joseph E. Brewer Honors House is established at 412 Shipherd Street.

1987 – Adelphic house fire.

1989 – Oaks Theatre is renovated.

1989 – Phi Alpha house second fire.

1992 – Interim President Gretchen von Loewe Kreuter, Ph.D., to 1993.

1992 – Burrage Library addition is dedicated.

1992 – Racial dispute occurs April 2, when a fight breaks out between black and white students on campus.

1993 – President Michael S. Bassis, Ph.D., to 1998. Bassis is responsible for instituting The Olivet Plan, The Olivet College Compact(1997), and the college’s vision of Education for Individual and Social Responsibility. He is named president emeritus in 2010.

1994 – African-American Cultural Center is established at 502 Shipherd Street.

1995 – Global Cultural Center is established at 227 College Street.

1998 – Acting President James A. Halseth, Ph.D., to 1999.

1999 – President Frederico J. “F.J.” Talley, Ph.D., to 2001.

2001 – President Donald L. Tuski ’85, Ph.D., to 2010. Tuski is responsible for increasing enrollment, improving alumni and foundation support, and instituting major building and renovation projects on campus. He is named president emeritus in 2010.

2001 – Head Wrestling Coach Jare Klein retires as the winningest Division III wrestling coach. He finished a 33-year career with 569 wins.

2004 – Cutler Athletic Complex opens. The building is funded by Dave Cutler, a 1965 alumnus.

2006 – First MIAA men’s swimming and diving championship; also 2007.

2006 – First MIAA women’s golf championship; also 2007 and 2008.

2007 – The Cutler Event Center groundbreaking; opens Oct. 4, 2008. The project is funded by Dave Cutler a 1965 alumnus.

2007 – Gillette Student Village groundbreaking; opens Sept. 13, 2008. The project is funded by J. Robert Gillette, a 1963 alumnus.

2007 – Kolassa Track and visitors’ stands are dedicated during Homecoming, Oct. 20. The project is funded by Tom Kolassa, a 1969 alumnus.

2008 – Ruth Rawlings Mott Auditorium is renovated. The project is funded by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

2008 – Engle Chemistry Lab opens. Renovations to the lab are funded by alumni Robert ’57 and Sarah (Engle) ’56 Lawrence.

2008 – College reaches highest fall enrollment in school history with 1,145 students.

2009 –Riethmiller Blackman Art Building groundbreaking is held Oct. 10. Charles ’46 and Peggy Riethmiller Blackman provide a lead gift for the project. Other major donors include the Kresge Foundation and Steve ’82 and Melinda (Strothers) ’82 Roznowski.

2008 – College reaches highest spring enrollment in school history with 1,075 students.

2010 – Olivet closes its Capital Campaign at more than $17 million. It is the largest fundraising effort in school history.

2010 – Eaton County Sheriff’s Office opens satellite station on campus.

2010 – Olivet hosts its first MIAA Track and Field Jamboree at Kolassa Track.

2010 – Lamplighter OC groundbreaking is held near Olivet’s campus, at the corner of Main Street and Butterfield Highway. The project is funded by Tom Kolassa ’69 and business partner Gary Hart.

2010 – Bill Kurtz named acting President May 14, 2010.

2010 – New Olivet College President Steven M. Corey assumes responsibilities Dec. 13, 2010.



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