A Letter from Berlin
You might say that Ithaca College began with a letter from Berlin. William Grant Egbert--Will to his friends--was a young homesick violinist from Ithaca, New York, studying in Europe when it occurred to him that the best way to live at home and still make a living would be to do what he did best. He could play his violin, and do it in Ithaca, if he taught music on a grander scale. So he wrote a letter to an Ithaca friend, instructing him to sell $50 shares in a new conservatory of music. There weren't many takers.
Nonetheless, on September 19, 1892, the first students trooped into four rented rooms in a house on East Seneca Street to begin their lessons. On that first evening, the faculty of the Ithaca Conservatory of Music gave a free concert in the Unitarian Church, the beginning of a tradition of public performances. Conservatory officers busily set about finding boarding--"places carefully selected among Christian families"--for their new students, who studied everything from solfeggio and composition to guitar, mandolin, and even china painting.
For years the fledgling Ithaca Conservatory of Music rented space in the old Wilgus Opera House above Rothschild's Department Store, where Center Ithaca stands today. But by 1910 the management of the school longed for permanent quarters. On November 1, 1910, the directors authorized taking out a mortgage of $11,400 to purchase Judge Douglass Boardman's handsome Italianate townhouse at 120 East Buffalo Street, adjoining DeWitt Park.
More than Music
The Ithaca Conservatory of Music quickly became more than just a music school. By 1897 George C. Williams had arrived to inaugurate courses in elocution and rhetoric. Williams was an irrepressible character who turned his aspirations for the pulpit into a love of the stage, and here was born the College's long-standing theater arts program, with Williams in the leading roles in everything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan.
As Williams succeeded Egbert to the presidency, and throughout the 1920s, new schools began to cluster around the conservatory. Other schools included
- Williams's School of Expression and Dramatic Art, 1897
- Institute of Public School Music, 1910
- The Ithaca School of Physical Education, 1917
- Frederick Martin's Institute of Speech Correction, 1921
- Patrick Conway's Military Band School, 1922
- Edward Amherst Ott's School of Chautauqua and Lyceum Arts, 1922 (just in time to be made obsolete by the moving-picture craze)
- Andreas Dippel's School of Grand and Light, 1925
- Westminster Choir School, 1929-1932
We acted our hearts out, made music in the park, filled the church choirs with wonderful voices, and generally added life to the culture in Ithaca.
Through the Depression
Some of these independent institutes moved on, some died of larger cultural changes, and some were incorporated into Ithaca College when George Williams's tireless promotional efforts resulted in a 1931 college charter. But though we were now a college, our troubles were just beginning. With the Great Depression looming, Leonard Job, the new president, discovered some sizable bills outstanding with local banks and merchants--bills for mortgages, for coal and groceries, laundry and plumbing services. And that, he realized, is how you spell bankrupt.
But Leonard Job was born on an Indiana farm and didn't know how to give up. So he called a meeting with the merchants and put his case simply: There's nothing you can collect--even the saltshakers are mortgaged. But if you forgive the College's debts, we'll all survive to do business together in the years ahead. The local merchants agreed to cancel old debts, and in 1937 the College was granted a new lease on life.
After the War
With the increased enrollment in the postwar years, renovated houses, old theaters, and the spaces above storefronts on State Street became classrooms and lecture halls. The demand for physical therapy gave impetus to our own fledgling program, now one of our established curricular strengths.
Now Leonard Job cast his eyes up South Hill and saw land--wide space for playing fields and physical education facilities. In 1949 he laid out the present South Hill playing fields, returning each day to supervise the bulldozers. By that time, Freeman, Yavits, and Hill were already household names in Ithaca sports talk.
Frugal by nature, President Leonard Job refused to pay the $15,000 in surveyor's and engineer's fees on the Dworsky-Campbell homestead on South Hill. Instead he purchased a used surveyor's transit for $100 and gave himself a crash course in surveying. Ithacans coming and going on Danby Road would see President Job, morning and afternoon, out on South Hill laying out the athletic fields.
Meanwhile, Ithaca was producing musicians, music teachers, physical education teachers, physical therapists, and actors. In 1948 an army-surplus Quonset was set down at Court and Cayuga Streets and fitted out with a slightly-less-than-mighty 10-watt transmitter. Ithaca College radio was on the air. By 1958 the new television and radio facilities on Buffalo Street were in operation. Ithaca College television offered everything from game and talk shows to college classes and tax advice--on cable. The whole town was watching.
With a Little Help from Our Friends
In March 1958 College trustee Roland "Red" Fowler agreed to head "a local committee in Ithaca" to raise funds for the College's expansion. Fowler's group of 100 local "friends" committed to a $100 annual gift to the College and to recruiting other friends. By October Fowler had $6,000 in hand for library books and much-needed scientific equipment.
It wasn't until 1960, after more makeshift downtown classrooms and a temporary expansion into the old hospital site on Quarry Street, that Howard Dillingham, our fourth president, broke ground on South Hill for the first building on the new campus--the Campus Center, known then as Egbert Union. Dillingham had been quick to recognize that the federal government was anxious to fund higher education in the wake of the Soviets' launching of the Sputnik satellite. So Ithaca College in its modern incarnation was born--"the miracle on South Hill," as a regional newspaper described it.
The miracle almost sputtered again: We had erected a union building and a few dormitories, but you're not a college if you don't have a classroom. And the U.S. government decided we weren't quite a college. The money stopped. Luckily, once more the community of Ithaca stepped forward. In 1961 the Friends of Ithaca College raised $250,000 for our first classroom building, named Friends Hall in honor of their generosity and perfect timing.
The View from South Hill
We were nearly ready to leave the old Boardman House, our home for 50 years, behind us for good. When the first classes convened on South Hill in 1961, they met in lounges in Egbert Union, in basement trunk rooms of dormitories--anywhere there was space.
There were virtually three campuses in the early 1960s. Classes were still being held in rented spaces downtown and in the Quarry Street buildings. Students were ferried from one site to another by buses running on frantic but somehow efficient schedules, up and down the hills. Only in 1968 did the College's final academic department move to South Hill--the radio and television department took up its new quarters in the just-completed Dillingham Center. By then the campus was distinctive, with fountains and towers.
Building for the Future
In the course of the 1960s, Ford Hall and Hill Center, Job Hall and Muller Center all followed on schedule. By 1967, the year Jim Butterfield began a football legend on the South Hill turf, Textor Hall had its controversial Disc, the gift of a trustee, mounted on the roof terrace.
With the passing of the turbulent decade, Ithaca came of age as a college under fifth president Ellis Phillips. In the 1970s the campus had reached temporary completion, and the intercollegiate football team did what Bucky Freeman's baseball teams did in the 1950s--put Ithaca on the national map. The team went to its first national championship for Division III athletics in 1974 and lost but went on to win it five years later, again in 1988, and in 1991. Ithaca teams, both men's and women's, have brought home 12 national titles.
Today's Ithaca College
The story isn't over yet. New buildings stand out from one end of the campus to the other like new shoes--three opened in 1999: the James J. Whalen Center for Music, the Center for Health Sciences, and the Fitness Center. The College celebrated its 100th birthday in 1992, a mile or two up the road and a century away from where it began. But not so far away, really, in spirit.
1. William Grant Egbert 1892-1924
2. George C. Williams 1924-1932
3. Leonard Bliss Job 1932-1957
4. Howard I. Dillingham 1957-1970
5. Ellis L. Phillips 1970-1975
6. James J. Whalen 1975-1996
7. Margaret R. Williams 1997-2008
8. Thomas R. Rochon 2008 - 2017
9. Shirley M. Collado 2017 -
To provide a foundation for a lifetime of learning, Ithaca College is dedicated to fostering intellectual growth, aesthetic appreciation, and character development in our students. The Ithaca College community thrives on the principles that knowledge is acquired through discipline, competence is established when knowledge is tempered by experience, and character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others.
A comprehensive college that since its founding has recognized the value of combining theory and performance, Ithaca provides a rigorous education blending liberal arts and professional programs of study. Our teaching and scholarship are motivated by the need to be informed by, and to contribute to, the world's scientific and humanistic enterprises. Learning at Ithaca extends beyond the classroom to encompass a broad range of residential, professional, and extracurricular opportunities. Our undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni all contribute to the learning process.
Ithaca College is committed to creating an inclusive environment and attracting a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff. All members of the College community are encouraged to achieve excellence in their chosen fields and to share the responsibilities of citizenship and service in the global community.
Ithaca College strives to become the standard of excellence for student centered comprehensive colleges, fostering intellect, creativity, and character in an active and inclusive residential learning community.
Last Updated: January 11, 2019