History & Traditions

Middlebury is a liberal arts college of the first rank, an achievement that is the result of a process of growth and change that began in 1800, when a few men of the town of Middlebury took upon themselves the challenge of building a college in a small New England town, on what was then the American frontier. Over the more than two centuries since it was established, Middlebury has developed from "the town's college" into an institution of international renown.

Middlebury's original purpose was to train young men from Vermont and neighboring states for the ministry and other learned professions of the early 19th century. The College began modestly, with seven students enrolling in November 1800. These first students were expected "to read, translate, and parse Tully, Virgil, and the Greek Testament, and to write true Latin in prose, and shall have also learned the rules of Vulgar Arithmetic." The entire course of study was taught by the College's founding president Jeremiah Atwater, who had come to Middlebury from Yale.

Gamaliel Painter's Gift

Gamaliel Painter, one of the citizens of Middlebury to whom the College charter had been granted, left most of his estate to the College. Mr. Painter's gift was an early example of the philanthropic support for Middlebury College that has enabled the institution to prosper. In recognition of his gift, West College, a new building completed a few years prior to Painter's death in 1819, was renamed Painter Hall. Painter Hall is the oldest college building extant in Vermont.

Vermont was the first state in the United States to abolish slavery in its constitution. In 1823, Alexander Twilight graduated from Middlebury College, the first African American citizen to earn a baccalaureate degree at an American college.

Middlebury College continued to grow during the 19th century. The growth was not steady, however, as the College was not immune to the social and political movements that were affecting northern New England generally. Rocked by evangelical upheaval and religious revival in the 1830s and the Civil War in the 1860s, Middlebury managed to keep its doors open during a period when many small colleges in America were forced to close. In large part, the College was sustained by the support of its many friends, both in the town of Middlebury and in the neighboring region.

An Early Adopter of Coeducation

In 1883, the trustees voted to accept women as students in the College, making Middlebury one of the first formerly all-male liberal arts colleges in New England to become a coeducational institution. In the following years, Middlebury College began to change from an institution primarily oriented toward its community and its state to a college with larger regional aspirations. President Ezra Brainerd (who held that office from 1885 to 1908) prepared the College for this transformation, and spectacular change occurred under the administration of President John Thomas (1908 to 1921). The Language Schools and the Bread Loaf School of English were  established during the Thomas presidency. During the second decade of the 20th century, the College's enrollment more than doubled, and the number of buildings, the size of the faculty, and the value of the endowment tripled. At the same time, the College's curriculum was adapted to the needs of the new century.

During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Middlebury continued its development toward a position of prominence among liberal arts colleges in the United States. Continued growth in the faculty meant the addition of new subjects to the curriculum and an increased academic reputation for the College. New residence halls, academic buildings, and library facilities were added to the physical plant. Middlebury's expansion was coupled with increases in financial resources and the establishment of a tradition of prudent financial administration, including the cultivation of resources for the long term.

A New Level of Excellence

During the next three decades, under the leadership of presidents James Armstrong (1963 to 1975) and Olin Robison (1975 to 1990), Middlebury attained a new level of excellence. The student body grew, not only in numbers but in diversity and in breadth of academic and extracurricular interests. Teacher-scholars of the highest quality joined the ranks of the Middlebury faculty and brought to their classrooms and other contacts with students a sense of intellectual excitement coupled with a concern for the personal development of their students. The introduction of new subjects into the curriculum and the creation of additional Language Schools strengthened the international dimension of Middlebury.

In 1992, John M. McCardell, Jr., was elected by the Board of Trustees as the 15th president of Middlebury College. President McCardell, a professor of history, was the first member of the College's faculty to serve as president since Ezra Brainerd more than a century ago.  During McCardell's term as president (1992 to 2004), the size of the student body and the faculty was expanded, many new buildings were added to the campus-including a new science center, new library, new Commons residential complexes, and new athletic facilities-and special emphasis was placed on developing curricular and co-curricular programs in the areas of international affairs, environmental affairs, literature, language study, and real-world experience beyond the classroom, all resting on a strong base of general excellence in the liberal arts.

Knowledge without Boundaries

Ronald D. Liebowitz was elected by the Board of Trustees as the 16th president of Middlebury College, taking office in July 2004. He is also a professor of geography and served as executive vice president and provost prior to becoming president. Under his leadership, the College pursued and finalized an affiliation with the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California that reinforces its position as a leader in global education. In the fall of 2004, President Liebowitz launched a wide-ranging strategic planning process that involved all members of the Middlebury community-students, faculty, staff, and thousands of alumni who answered surveys and sent comments-in the effort to chart a course for the College over the next decade. Using the theme "Knowledge Without Boundaries" to express the College's  innovative, interdisciplinary, and international approach to educating students, the plan emphasizes close interaction between motivated students and committed faculty as the core of a Middlebury education, and makes a number of recommendations designed to preserve and enhance this central aspect of the Middlebury experience.

Don Wyatt

Early and Modern China

John M. McCardell, Jr. Distinguished Professor of History


History of the Farm

The Middlebury College Organic Farm (MCOF) began with the vision and enthusiasm of a few students and community members. It has grown into a dynamic space for exploring the local and global food system. 


  • Bennett Konesni '04.5 and Jean Hamilton '04.5 envision the garden and create the plan for it. The Middlebury College Organic Garden (MCOG) begins


  • First summer garden (1/8 of an acre) run by Bennet, Jean, Chris Howell '04.5 and community volunteer Jay Leshinsky.
  • Garden shed is built, well and solar panel are installed


  • First garden internships (two part time interns) and the first Children's Garden program (started by Erin Jensen '04 and Sophie Esser '04)
  • First honey harvest
  • First classes taught at the garden (Environmental Studies, Geology, Geography, Biology, Dance, Teacher Education and English)
  • Beginning of seed saving project


  • Internship program expands to one full time and two part time students
  • Garden expands to 1/2 acre
  • Beginning of insectary project


  • Garden expands to an acre and Internship program expands to four full time students
  • 8 Middlebury College Organic Garden (MCOG) members represent Middlebury College at the international Slow Food meetings (Terra Madre) in Italy


  • Windbreak and classroom begins
  • Garden expands to 1.5 acres
  • Seed saving research done at garden


  • Construction of new walking and biking path to the garden
  • Classroom building completed


  • Garden expands to 2 acres
  • Pollinator research project begins at garden
  • Student CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program begins: more than 50 students participate.


  • Education becomes a focus of MCOG: Students build gardens at the Aurora School and the Cornwall School;  run a summer program at MCOG through the Aurora School summer camp; and run a fall club at the Cornwall School
  • Students teach a winter term course on Food Justice in Vermont
  • Students start an on campus farmstand and sell to faculty, staff and students
  • Advisor committee forms and first meeting occurs in November
  • Organic certification process begins
  • Hoophouse is built at garden site and used for seed starting and hot-crops


  • Name officially changed to Middlebury College Organic Farm (MCOF)
  • Students run a weekend summit for student farmers at NESCAC schools
  • Students and faculty propose Food Studies minor
  • Students design a barn and planning process begins
  • Students work with the Bronx Academy of Letters in NYC to start a roof top garden and help get the project off the ground


  • EatReal student organization formed
  • First FoodWorks internships create new opportunities for learning about the food system


  • Farm adds 12 egg-laying birds and 40 meat chickens thanks to funding from Environmental Council Grant


  • Students build a pizza oven at the farm for community events

The study of classics at Middlebury provides you both with intellectual skills that are useful in any career, and with the experience of ideas that will enrich your thinking about life and the world around you.

The field of classics covers the languages, literatures, art, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome.  The Classics Department and Classical Studies Program offer courses in ancient languages (Latin and Greek) and a broad range of topics in classical civilization (ancient history, art, law, literature, philosophy, political theory, and religion) for which knowledge of the ancient languages is not necessary. All courses are open to majors and non-majors alike, and many of our students start their language study at Middlebury.


Professor's book focuses on mapping, surveying in Sri Lanka

In 2008, Ian Barrow published a book on Surveying and Mapping in Colonial Sri Lanka (Oxford University Press). It's the first in-depth account and assessment of the colonial survey department during the nineteenth century. My research for the book and developing interest in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) has prompted me to offer a course on Sri Lankan history in Spring 2010. My book will probably be one of the texts.

Professor researches South Asia's 'assassination museums'

Professor Ian Barrow's current research is for a book on 'assassination museums' -- museums in South Asia that are dedicated to recent leaders who have been assassinated. "As a historian, I am particularly interested in the ways the leaders' legacies are displayed and taught through the often macabre exhibits (e.g. bits of flesh or spots of blood or bullet holes are preserved in the museums, which are often the locations of the assassinations)," Barrow says. "But I'm also fascinated by what's left out, and what that means for our understanding of the leaders."