Off to College, Then and Now

August 20th, 2021

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

We took our son to college this month for his first year. I remembered my first year in 1979, when an AM/ FM radio and a typewriter was all my technology. Being a historian with a blog to write, I thought further back to how Hobart College has changed over time.

Three Story Stone Building With Men In Front

Geneva Hall


The earliest material in our collection is A Catalogue…of Geneva College for the Academical [sic] Year 1838-9. (The college was renamed Hobart in 1852 in honor of founder Bishop John Henry Hobart.) It listed trustees, faculty, and students, and courses of instruction. Modern college catalogues promote their dormitories, sports, and extra-curricular opportunities. The only mention of campus life in 1838 is:



“Tuition, $20 a year. Room rent, use of Library, services of Janitor, fuel for recitation rooms and all other college charges, $25 a year.”

The “rooms for rent” were in Geneva Hall, finished in 1822, and Trinity Hall, completed in 1837. There was no running water, gas lighting, or steam heat until renovations in the 1870s.

The admission process was quite different. Candidates were tested on their knowledge of Latin, Greek, algebra, geography, and English grammar. For Latin and Greek, they needed to know grammar as well as classic texts. In addition, “Applications for admission must be accompanied in all cases, with satisfactory testimonials of good moral character.” These were all subjects and personal traits which would be strengthened when the student arrived at Geneva College.

Cluttered College Student Room In Late 1800s

Student room, late 1800s

Fast forward to the Hobart College Catalogue 1911-1912. Tuition had risen to $100 per year. Room rent was based on the dormitory. Medbery Hall, completed in 1901, cost $50 a year. Students paid $30 a year to live in Geneva Hall, perhaps a discount for being in an old building. Board (meals) was not provided by the College. The catalogue estimated it at $125 to $150 per year; like today, I’m sure some students learned to how to get by on less money.

Admission requirements were arranged by subject area: Classics (Greek and Latin), Modern Languages (German, French, and Spanish), English, History, Mathematics and Drawing, and Natural Sciences. Candidates had to pass Hobart entrance examinations before the beginning of the fall semester. The College also accepted College Entrance Examinations Board scores, or the New York State Regents College Entrance Diploma.

Hobart College celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2022. We will be participating in the bicentennial. Until then, you can read these blogs:

Historic Geneva tells the stories of Geneva, New York.  Discover  these stories online and in person through the Geneva History Museum, Rose Hill Mansion, and Johnston House.

One response to “Off to College, Then and Now”

  1. Donald Woodrow says:

    Sorry, but I cant attend the ‘Cracker Factory’ function.
    The possibility of a move bak to Geneva keeps coming up. Events like this are one of the draws.
    Keep up the Good work.
    Don Woodrow

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