THE HISTORY OF ALUMNI ASSOCIATIONS

[From the Website of Riaan van der Walt]

Riaan van der Walt
Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir CHO
Potchefstroom University for CHE
Suid-Afrika, South Africa

Thanks to all the people who contributed to this research.

Here are a summary on the history of Alumni I received. It still looks that only the Alumni societies from the US had a history. I received no responses from other countries.

The "Handbook for Alumni Adminstration" put out by CASE has a chapter on the beginnings of alumni associations and the various models.

The first steps toward alumni organization in the United States were modest at best. In fact, it is difficult to find any reference to alumni activities in any form except in the most recent college histories. It is known that the graduates of some of the older universities made their influence felt in various ways even before the American Revolution, but conscious co-operation did not begin for many years. It is probable that the first effort that survived was the system at Yale college, where the class has always had greater relative importance. Practically every Yale class since 1792 has organzed with what has been called a secretary as the executive officer, and published records, the first of which appeared in 1821, now amount to several hundred volumes, not including small pamphlets and address lists. It was not until as late as 1854, however, that the Yale Alumni began to organize local associations.

The purpose of this organization, in its early days, was probably more or less social, simply an effort on the part of the members of the different classes to keep track of one another, though doubtless there was lso some effort on the part of individuals to keep in touch with university affairs. Similar organizations xisted in a few other early American colleges, but nowhere, apparently, did this system grow as rapidly or as consistently as at Yale. Far more common was the usual form of organization know as the "socieites of alumni" or "alumni associations," which gradually began to appear during the first half of the nineteenth century.

It is interesting to trace the genesis of a sense of responsibility toward the institutions which gradually developed these bodies. In only a few cases, apparently, was it a desire on the part of the graduates to have a voice in directing policies of the college-it was before the day of the universities. Ordinarily it was simply an effort to revive old ties. One of the very earliest of these associations was founded at Williams College in 1821, "that the influence and patronage of those it has educated may be united for its support, protection, and improvement."

In the South, we find that the society of alumni organized at the University of Virginia, in 1838, was less specific and possibly more convival in its aims, for the committee was instructed "to notify the alumni to form a permanent society to offer to graduates an inducement to revisit the seat of their youthful studies and to give new life to disinterested friendships founded in student days."

An alumni association was organized at Princeton in 1826; Harvard's came in 1840; those at Amherst and Brown in 1842. Columbia did not follow until 1854. In the Midwest, the colleges of western Pennsylvania and Ohio were first to develop, and in some of them at least, alumni organization followed closely upon their establishment. As a result, there was an alumni organization as early as 1832 at Miami and in 1839 came associations at Oberlin and Dennison.

The state Universities naturally came later, though Michigan organized an alumni association as early as 1860, only sixteen years after the first class was graduated.

It is fair to conclude that by the beginning of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, essential features of our present system of alumni organization were well established throughout the United States.

The first constructive effort that many of the associations and their officers achieved was to insure to the graduates a share in the determining of university policies. After a long struggle, Harvard's alumni were successful, in 1865, in securing the priviledge of electing the number of the board of overseers; at Princeton, however, the alumni were not represented on the board of trustees until 1900. At Oberlin, as far back as 1870, three alumni sat with the board of trustees, and in 1879 a provision became effective for the election of one-fourth of the trustees by the alumni. These efforts were duplicated at Cornell, Dartmouth, and many other of the endowed institutions.

It was on the weekend of February 21-22, 1913, when 23 individuals working in alumni affairs convened in Columbus, Ohio, at the invitation of Ohio State University Alumni Secretary H.S. Warwick, to exchange ideas and discuss common problems. They formed the Association of Alumni Secretaries.

From that meeting came the institutional advancement era. This organization grew and, in 1927, they became known as the American Alumni Council (AAC), which included alumni magazine editors and, eventually fund raisers. In 1974, AAC merged with the College Public Relations Association to form what we now know as CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This organization includes personnel from alumni, development, publications, public relations, public information and government relations, now commonly referred to as the advancement team of the university.

This is information we received at the CASE Summer Institute last year:

1. 1636 - First college in America - Harvard
2. 1792 - First to organize alumni by class year - Yale University
3. 1821 - First Alumni Association in America - Williams College
4. 1850 - First Alumni Hall built entirely from alumni funds - Williams College
5. 1955 - General Electric started the first matching gift program
6. 1974 - CASE formed. (CPPHSAA footnote: CASE is an international alumni group formed to share ideas. The title means "copy and steal everything")

The early American Universities were modeled after the British system (Cambridge and Oxford). After 1800, a more egalitarian approach took place and more colleges became c hurch-related - charity students became scholarship recipients. Oberlin College was the first co-ed college in America, granting equal access to degrees. After 1865, the German model took hold - research became more important than students, rise in land grant institutions.The 20th century saw the rise of 2-year colleges, the GI bill made college possible for the middle class, and after 1957 Sputnik created a rise of federal funds and grants to colleges for research and other needs.

CASE has a great book, Building Your Alumni Program," 1980. The first article, "Alumni relations: Moving into the mainstream" has a good history of the progression of the alumni profession. I recommend this book for many other reasons, also. There are newer versions, but I am not sure they have this particular article. Contact CASE, or I would be happy to send you a copy.

'alumni'comes from the latin meaning "suckled at the breast of" - by using this definitionn you automatically tie to your association any person who has ever: studied (but not necessarily graduated) at, any staff member who has worked at, or any other person who has developed in any way at, the institution.

The first president of Kent State University formed the alumni association in 1911. One year before any classes were held. He was a man of vision and foresight who saw that Kent Normal School would one day be the large, complex university that it is today.

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