A History of the Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College

A Brief History  

Dartmouth College, the college on the Hill, owes the inception of its biological science department to, ironically enough, a Harvard graduate. Abiel Chandler bequeathed fifty thousand dollars to Dartmouth in 1851 for the purposes of establishing a scientific department or school at Dartmouth. The trustees of the college used the gift to establish the Chandler School, devoted to scientific study. Though the Chandler School drew its faculty from Dartmouth College, the admissions standards were comparatively lower than those of the College. The reason for the discrepancy was a provision in Abiel Chandler's will stating "no entrance requirement in excess of the subjects taught in the common schools of New England" could be imposed on the school's applicants.

The Chandler School was devoted to the sciences from its beginning, though it did not include the natural sciences. It was not until 1857 that the Chandler School incorporated natural sciences into its curriculum.

The Chandler School became a department of Dartmouth College in 1865, though the change was only nominial. The Chandler Department continued as its own, though intertwined with Dartmouth College.

Butterfield Museum

Silsby Hall

Dartmouth College began offering science courses as part of its curriculum in 1879, to a limited number of students. Students could apply for a Latin Scientific Course if they did not want to study Greek at the college. Through this course students could substitute modern language, science, or math for their Greek requirement.

By 1880, the Trustees of Dartmouth College felt enough time had passed that they could alter the Chandler Department's standard, despite the provisions of Abiel Chandler's will. Once the college was willing to make this change, the caliber of student at the Chandler School rivaled those at the college. The increasing competitiveness of the student body paved the way for the Chandler Department to become fully incorporated into Dartmouth in 1892.

The Chandler Department quickly divided into Zoology, Botany, and Geology. Over time, the name Chandler faded and the science departments moved into their new building, Silsby Hall.

The Zoology and Botany departments remained separate for sixty-nine years. In 1959, the Botany and Zoology departments of the college offered an interdepartmental course, Life Science, which served as the introductory course to both departments. The following year a combined major in biology, offered to the class of 1960, replaced the botany and zoology majors. The Botany and Zoology departments merged into the Department of Biological Sciences, as it remains today. Gilman Hall


Main Page Brief History Biographies Virtual Museum Links Email your comments or suggestions



This page was originally created by Robin Levine. It has been modified and is maintained by Michael Dietrich. Last modified 5/24/01.