The First Day of Class

On October 8, 1868 the largest entering class of any American university up to that time, 412 students, took the first steps on a journey that has led us to where Cornell University is today. Some students entered with previous college education and graduated the following year while others entered as true first year students. Their choice to come to this new campus, and the institution’s decision to accept them, showed daring and confidence on the part of each. While the opportunities provided to students during that first semester 150 years ago certainly were different than students today, a number of aspects of the Cornell and first year college experience are remarkably similar.

Life of a Cornell student 1868

These materials, all from the first year of Cornell’s existence, include letters that show striking similarities to correspondence one would see from a modern student. Topics include making a choice about what college to attend, student housing, talking finance with a parent, and other familiar aspects of student life.

Several letters belonged to Royal Taft member of the Class of 1871. The letters include a note from University secretary Francis Finch acknowledging a summer 1868 inquiry by Taft about attending Cornell, a letter from a friend asks Taft if he has made his decision to attend Cornell, and a letter from Taft’s father shows that 150 years ago students and parents discussed the costs of attending the University.

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