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Historic Gifts: How Yale Got Its Name

December 15, 2015

Historic Gifts: How Yale Got Its Name

Our third and final installation of historical gifts is close to home for the Tuckerman & Co. family.

In 1716, the trustees of The Collegiate School in Saybrook, Connecticut had finally reached an agreement to move the school to New Haven. But as the trustees reviewed finances in light of the moving costs, their dire financial situation was compounded by the state of their library - students were reading texts that were upwards of 100 years old.

In response, The Collegiate School commissioned Jeremiah Dummer to solicit gifts of books and money. Dummer was a colonial agent for Connecticut, a position that enabled him to meet potential benefactors from England. As The Collegiate School started to feel the financial crunch, Dummer set his focus on courting a donation from the rich merchant Elihu Yale.

Elihu Yale had amassed a fortune working for the East India Company. Although he was raised in England Yale had been born in Boston and moved to England at the age of four when his family returned. Yale’s grandmother, father, and uncle had helped to settle the colony of New Haven and the trustees hoped that Yale would be interested in donating to the school now that it was relocating there.

Dummer heard about Yale several years earlier when he received word that, “Yale intended to bestow a charity upon some College in Oxford, but he might rather do it to your college, seeing he is a New England man.”

In 1717, the trustees won Yale over. Yale donated nine bales of goods, 417 books, and a portrait and arms of King George I to the school - a tremendously generous gift at the time. The trustees wrote a letter of thanks for Dummer, “The Affair of our School hath been in a Condition of Pregnancy...But Divine Providence... mercifully brought the Babe into the World and behold, a Man-child is born.” The weight of that gift was clear as the trustees decided to commemorate the gift by renaming the school to Yale College.

Of course, Yale’s providential gifts live on at the University today. Ironically, the texts from Yale are now more than 200 years old, older than the texts his books were meant to replace, but the University proudly maintains them in the glass tower of the Beinecke Library as part of what is known as the Yale Library of 1742.

Images from Yale University archives

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