Adelphi’s Origin Story
The origins of what would become Adelphi University reach back to the Civil War period when, in 1863, two preparatory school teachers—Aaron Chadwick and Edward S. Bunker—unhappy with the educational approach of the school at which they were teaching—established a small rival school in the northwestern Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene. The brownstone where they began holding classes was located on Adelphi Street, and they chose to adopt the name of the street as the name of their school—Adelphi Academy.
From its modest beginnings as a prep school with fewer than 30 students enrolled at the close of its first year of existence, Adelphi Academy would grow over the course of the second half of the 19th century alongside the rapidly expanding city of Brooklyn.
In 1875, the Academy began offering collegiate-level courses to help prepare students for college. By 1889, Academy students could undertake a two-year program of postsecondary courses through Adelphi’s collegiate division housed in a new purpose built facility on what is now the corner of Lafayette Avenue and St. James Place, setting the foundations for what would become Adelphi College and eventually Adelphi University.
In 1896, Adelphi College received its charter from the Board of Regents and was incorporated as a fully accredited degree-granting institution of higher education (at the time becoming one of only two colleges, and the only coeducational liberal arts college, in Brooklyn).
This exhibition highlights the 65 years of Adelphi history which precedes the 1929 relocation of what was then Adelphi College to Garden City.
Adelphi College Faculty eating popsicles, 1921
John Lockwood and Adelphi Academy
In June of 1863, John Lockwood, a Quaker educator and Columbia College graduate who had volunteered to serve in the Twenty-third Brooklyn Regiment to help repel Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, returned to Brooklyn (after completing his 30 days of required service) where he hoped to start a school. In July of 1863, less than 6 months after they had founded Adelphi Academy, Aaron Chadwick and Edward Bunker sold the furniture and equipment of the Academy to Lockwood, having decided to return to teaching at the Polytechnic they had left the year previous. In September 1863, Lockwood would open the school under new management at the same site and with the original name.
In the years following, despite robust enrollment and a growing reputation, Adelphi Academy would face persistent financial difficulties leading, in 1869, to the establishment of an endowment and a board of trustees for the Academy. This transformation from a private into a publicly endowed and incorporated institution overseen by a board of trustees led to tensions between Lockwood and the board. This conflict continued and escalated over many months until May 1870 when the board fired Lockwood.
Homer B. Sprague
Following the exit of John Lockwood, the fall of 1870 saw the arrival of Homer B. Sprague as Principal of Adelphi Academy. A lawyer, respected school leader, and politician who had served as a Colonel in the Civil War, Sprague had come to Adelphi from Cornell University where he had been a professor of English.
Sprague inherited a school beset by financial problems and a faculty unhappy about the firing of Lockwood. Seeking new revenue sources for the school and keen to enhance the stature and visibility of Adelphi, Sprague set about establishing Adelphi as a cultural center of Brooklyn through a program of public lectures—a popular and vitally important form of public education in nineteenth century America. He inaugurated a weekly series of lectures covering a range of subjects including history, religion and the arts which were given both by well-known public speakers such as the founder of the New York Tribune Horace Greeley and by Adelphi faculty and trustees. While the lectures were free for pupils of the Academy, the public were charged an admission fee. The public lecture program was a great success and the money raised helped to fund the expansion of the building on St. James Place and the establishment of Adelphi’s first library.
Adelphi Academy thrived under Sprague who promoted cultural enrichment through the establishment of literary societies and the hosting of public receptions where students could demonstrate their proficiencies in music, literature and public speaking. Notably, in 1874, Adelphi also graduated its first class which included girls.
The following year saw a record student enrollment at Adelphi of nearly 600 students; but also Sprague’s resignation over a very public disagreement with the president of the board of trustees, Rev. William Ives Buddington. The disagreement concerned a prominent supporter of Adelphi Academy and close friend of Sprague’s, Henry Ward Beecher, who had become embroiled in a scandal regarding accusations of an adulterous affair with one of his parishioners.
Charles Levermore and Timothy Woodruff
By the beginning of the final decade of the nineteenth century Adelphi Academy found itself facing significant challenges. Brooklyn had established a new system of free public high schools which contributed to declining Academy enrollment. A series of Academy principals who, for various reasons, had served only short tenures, and the departure of some prominent board members and faculty, had contributed to a general sense of instability at the school. A lingering national economic depression was also putting significant pressure on Academy finances.
In 1893 the board managed to persuade Charles Levermore, a gifted academic and graduate of Yale and Johns Hopkins to leave MIT, where he was a professor of history, to accept their offer to become principal of Adelphi Academy. Levermore moved quickly to put his stamp on the school. He revised the curriculum, raised academic standards, brought in a number of new faculty members, and acquired an athletic field. He also, importantly, convinced his Yale classmate Timothy Lester Woodruff to join the board of trustees. A successful businessman who was well-connected in the Brooklyn Republican Party, Woodruff was appointed to the board in December 1895 and soon became board president. Levermore and Woodruff’s agenda for the school was clear—to establish Adelphi as an accredited college. In January of 1896, Woodruff headed up to Albany to begin petitioning the Regents toward this end. Adelphi College received its charter from the Board of Regents on June 24, 1896, making Levermore the new college’s first president. He would also continue as principal of Adelphi Academy.
During Levermore’s tenure as president, teacher training became a primary mission of Adelphi College. Teacher training began at Adelphi in the academy’s collegiate division; by 1899 students at the college could earn a bachelor’s degree simultaneously with a teaching certificate—qualifying them to teach in New York State public schools. By 1911, roughly half of Adelphi College alumni were teachers in New York schools.
In 1896, Woodruff would be nominated and run for lieutenant governor of New York on the victorious Republican ticket. Woodruff would go on to serve three terms as lieutenant governor under three different governors: Frank S. Black, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Barker Odell Jr.
Levermore would resign as president of Adelphi College in 1912, leaving Adelphi for a position at the World Peace Foundation—an organization dedicated to advancing the cause of peace through education. A few years earlier, in 1908, Woodruff had resigned as president of the board of trustees. Before leaving, in response to growing concerns about a lack of space and to set the college on a firmer financial footing for the future, Levermore recommended that Adelphi become a women’s college—a proposal which was endorsed by the board, as well as students and faculty.
The Brooklyn Campus
Adelphi Academy had been founded, in 1863, in a brownstone on Adelphi Street in the northwest Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene. After acquiring the school later that year, John Lockwood leased two row houses and a former church (all on Adelphi Street) to accommodate the fast growing Academy. In 1866, with enrollment steadily expanding, Lockwood purchased twelve lots in the nearby neighborhood of Clinton Hill (at what is now the corner of Lafayette Avenue and St. James Place) with plans to erect a new building. Formally opened in February 1868, the Adelphi Academy Building provided much needed space for the school’s college preparatory program and included a spacious gymnasium.
In 1886, Charles Pratt, wealthy businessman, philanthropist and Clinton Hill resident, made a large donation to Adelphi Academy to make it possible to erect a new building for the increasingly overcrowded school. The five-story Pratt Collegiate Building, located adjacent to the old Adelphi Academy Building, was opened in September 1888 and exclusively housed Adelphi’s collegiate division. On the evening of December 18, 1889 the old Academy Building was destroyed by fire. The Pratt Collegiate Building, however, remained unscathed. Money was quickly raised to rebuild the old building and it was reopened a year later.
When, in 1896, Adelphi College was chartered it had the benefit of the Pratt Collegiate Building and a nearby athletic field for its sole use. The college, however, was still compelled to share the other school buildings with the academy. Following World War One, it was becoming clear that the current facilities were inadequate if the college was to thrive. It was determined that a new Brooklyn campus was required and, in 1919, Adelphi purchased from Frederick Pratt (son of Charles Pratt) an empty tract of land on Washington Avenue (opposite the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens) at a considerable discount. A significant fundraising effort was undertaken to raise the money to build a new Adelphi College campus on the site. Prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead & White were hired and plans were produced for a campus that one promotional brochure dubbed “The Versailles of Brooklyn.” The fundraising campaign, however, fell short and the decision was eventually taken by Adelphi’s trustees to begin scouting for a new location. In June 1927, it was announced that property had been purchased on Long Island and that Adelphi College would be relocating entirely from Brooklyn to Garden City.
Adelphi College art class, 1890s
Sketch of Adelphi College Library, 1900
Anna E. Harvey and the Adelphi Normal School
During Charles Levermore’s tenure as president, teacher training became a primary mission of Adelphi College. Teacher training began at Adelphi when requests from local Brooklyn students, who wished to be admitted to the Academy’s kindergarten as “pupil teachers,” raised the possibility, for Levermore, of utilizing the Academy facilities to support a kindergarten training program.
In 1893, a two-year course was created in the academy’s collegiate division. In 1895 the program, by then called the Adelphi Normal School for Kindergartners (with “kindergartners” referring to both teachers and students), was put under the directorship of Anna E. Harvey who had joined Adelphi in 1893 as an assistant kindergarten instructor. When Adelphi College was established in 1896, the normal school became a department of the college and, by 1899, students at the college could earn a bachelor’s degree simultaneously with a teaching certificate—qualifying them to teach in New York State public schools. By 1911, roughly half of Adelphi College alumni were serving as teachers in New York schools
Anne Harvey would go on to become college dean in 1912, a position she would hold for 23 years, until her retirement in 1935. The year before her retirement, Dean Harvey received the first honorary degree issued by Adelphi.
Anna E. Harvey
Frank D. Blodgett and the Move to Garden City
In the wake of Charles Levermore’s resignation as Adelphi president in 1912, Rev. Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, leader of the Central Congregational Church of Brooklyn and Adelphi trustee, served as acting college president while a faculty advisory council managed the day-to-day affairs of the college. After an interim period of 3 years, Frank D. Blodgett, a graduate of Amherst College and professor of Logic at Oneonta State Normal College (now SUNY Oneonta) was hired, becoming the second president of Adelphi College on July 1, 1915. Blodgett would go on to serve 22 years in the position.
Under Blodgett’s leadership Adelphi underwent many significant changes. The final steps were taken to fully transition Adelphi into a women’s college. Blodgett also closed both the Art School and the Normal School for Kindergartners (which had been a signature part of Adelphi’s teacher training program) and, in 1925, Blodgett guided the final formal separation of the college from the academy—to reflect this change the date of the founding was changed from 1869 to 1896 on the official college seal.
And perhaps most consequentially, it was Blodgett that oversaw Adelphi College’s relocation from Brooklyn to Garden City in 1929, establishing Adelphi as the first private four-year college on Long Island.