Colby turns 199 years old Monday, Feb. 27. That’s the anniversary of approval of the founding charter for the Maine Literary and Theological Institution, now Colby College. Until 1820, Waterville was located in the District of Maine, then part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So it was the Massachusetts Legislature that approved Colby’s charter Feb. 27, 1813.
Any 199th anniversary is anticlimactic, and it’s particularly so at Colby, where a year-long bicentennial celebration is planned during the 2012-13 academic year.
Colby’s bicentennial celebration will begin on campus Oct. 19, with events scheduled into the summer of 2013 both on campus, in Waterville, and at alumni events around the country. A bicentennial lecture series during the academic year will feature distinguished scholars and intellectuals from various disciplines talking about liberal arts education.
It took six years from the first petition for a Baptist seminary in Maine, in 1806, before approval by the Massachusetts Legislature of what would become Colby, the 33rd college chartered in the young United States of America. Though a key goal of the school was educating pastors for the Baptist churches common in the northern territory, the initial charter insisted that no student be denied admission because of differences in "interpretation of scripture."
Earl Smith's 2006 history of the College notes early obstacles to success: "The Waterville location was remote; travel was slow and awkward; the climate was harsh; the surroundings were rustic; financial support ... was scarce." Yet Colby will celebrate its 200th birthday as one of the leading undergraduate colleges in the nation, with an endowment of more than $600 million, an annual operating budget of $139 million, and more than 25,000 alumni in 50 states and 75 countries.