Hamilton College had its beginnings in a plan of education drawn up by Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Oneida Indians in the late 18th century. The heart of the plan was a school for the children of the Oneidas and of the settlers who were then streaming into central New York from New England in search of new lands in the wake of the American Revolution. The product of Kirkland's plan, the Hamilton-Oneida Academy, was chartered in 1793.
The Academy remained in existence for nearly 20 years. It faltered, almost failed, and yet remained the missionary's one enduring accomplishment when, a few years after his death, it was transformed into Hamilton College. The new institution of higher learning was named after the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who had been a trustee of the old academy. Chartered in 1812, it was the third college to be established in New York State and is today among the oldest in the nation.
During the first century of its existence, Hamilton offered a classical education in the liberal arts and sciences to the sons of upstate farmers, merchants, schoolteachers and clergymen. Many of them entered the professions and became prominent citizens in their home communities. Others participated in the westward expansion and emerged as leaders in the newer states of the Union, from Ohio to California.
Beginning with the era of World War I, the College gradually broadened its curriculum to encompass the social sciences as well as modern languages and literature. Under the leadership of Chairman of the Board Elihu Root and President Frederick Carlos Ferry, Hamilton's reputation as an institution of high academic quality was established. In the aftermath of World War II, further broadening of the curriculum and expansion of the College took place. Greater emphasis was placed on the arts, along with such disciplines as economics, government and psychology.
One of the most important changes in its history occurred when Hamilton established a sister institution, Kirkland College, in 1968. Even though Hamilton remained a men's school while Kirkland enrolled women only, students cross-registered for courses and they shared certain facilities. In addition, Kirkland offered numerous areas of study, such as comparative literature, dance, and sociology, that were not then available at Hamilton. When the two colleges were combined in 1978, so were the curricula, and Hamilton became fully coeducational.
Today, the College offers its students a solid liberal arts education that increasingly reflects contemporary needs in such areas as comparative studies and computer science. With growing national recognition, Hamilton now draws half its student body from beyond New York's borders and even from abroad. It has become a highly selective institution as the numbers of applicants for admission annually increase. In addition, its alumni/ae have carved out careers throughout the nation, and many of them have achieved notable success in virtually every walk of public and private life.