John A. Andrew
William Barton Rogers
William Barton Rogers (1804-1882), the founder and first president of MIT, was dedicated and persistent in his efforts in the mid-nineteenth century to establish a polytechnic school in Boston. Educated at William and Mary College, he moved to Charlottesville in 1835 to fill the post of professor of "natural philosophy" (i.e., science) at the University of Virginia. His geological surveys and learned papers came to the attention of the scientific community, including scholars who invited him to Boston to deliver a well-received lecture and extended to him honorary membership in the Boston Society of Natural History. Rogers's interest in the Bay State increased further after his marriage to Bostonian Emma Savage in 1849. He resigned his post at the University of Virginia in 1853 and moved to Boston, where he delivered public lectures while lobbying for a new school to meet the scientific and engineering needs of his adopted state.
In 1860, on behalf of the Associated Institutions of Science and Art, Rogers wrote a proposal to the Massachusetts legislature suggesting that land in Boston's Back Bay (newly created by means of a massive landfill project) should be used as the site for an elaborate complex of educational institutions. The lawmakers rejected this plan as being too grandiose. After this setback, Rogers succeeded in getting the relevant Massachusetts legislative committee to endorse a scaled back plan for a Society of Arts, a Museum of Arts, and a School of Industrial Science. The full legislature did not approve the proposal, but the "Objects and Plan" prepared by Rogers became the basis for the establishment of the school. An amended bill finally passed legislative muster, and Governor John A. Andrew approved the Act to Incorporate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 10, 1861. April 10 is Founders Day at MIT.
On March 9, 1861, Governor Andrew had written to Rogers that a meeting had been scheduled with the State Board of Education to afford an opportunity for proponents of the plan to explain its advantages for education and industry. The letter reproduced here expresses the governor's confidence in Rogers's dynamic personality and powers of persuasion.
MIT's first students did not matriculate until 1865, after the conclusion of the Civil War. The first classes convened in rented quarters in Boston before MIT's original building opened in 1866 near the present site of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The Institute moved to Cambridge in 1916.
The William Barton Rogers Papers (MC 1), and other documents relating to the founding of MIT, are available for research in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.
Andrew image from The Life of John A. Andrew, by Henry Greenleaf Pearson, Boston, New York, 1904.
Rogers image from a collection of MIT class photograph albums in the Institute Archives & Special Collections (AC 319).
Object of the Month: April 2004, 2008, 2010
MIT Institute Archives