On March 4th, 1840, the Virginia Legislature granted a charter for “a Seminary of learning for the instruction of youth in the various branches of science and literature, the useful arts and the learned and foreign languages, which shall be called and known by the name of Richmond College.” This “Seminary of learning” grew out of an actual seminary; The Virginia Baptist Seminary was founded in 1832, and the Virginia Baptist Education Society had been formed two years earlier. The seminary began admitting students who had not had a calling to the ministry, and in due time it made sense to expand the mission of the institution.
The first campus was located on the grounds of an old mansion once owned by the Haxall family, who at the time owned the largest milling operation in Virginia. The mansion was named “Columbia” and stands to this day at the corner of Grace and Lombardy Streets.
In the early days, Columbia was Richmond College. The basement of the building housed a dining hall, a chapel, two classrooms, and a study room. The first floor held the president’s office, a classroom, a society hall, and a library. The second floor was a dormitory and also held apartments for two bachelor faculty members. 68 students were enrolled in the early years, and the first bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 1849 to Poindexter Smith Henson and Josiah Ryland.
The College increased its student body and endowment in its first twenty years. 161 students were enrolled in 1861, and there were 68 alumni. The College ceased operations during the Civil War as most of the students and faculty went to fight for the Confederacy. When the war was over, one fifth of the alumni and many members of the student body had been killed, the campus was a camp for the Union Army, the endowment was worthless, and the equipment and books of the College were stolen as spoils of war.
Through the generosity of alumni and the Virginia Baptist Society, funds were raised to reopen the College in the fall of 1866. Individuals who literally kept the College alive during the Reconstruction Period – such as Thomas, Ryland, Puryear, and Jeter – have been honored with buildings on the West End campus named for them. Over the next 50 years a beautiful campus thrived within the borders of Ryland, Broad, Lombardy, and Franklin Streets, near the current campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
In 1895 Frederic Boatwright was appointed president of Richmond College. During this time, Richmond College had 200 students and 11 faculty members. Although there were no entrance requirements for the College, the courses were of such quality that students without preparation could not make passing grades. Roughly two-thirds of the matriculates failed to earn a degree.
Although women had been enrolled in Richmond College toward the end of the 19th century, the prevailing wisdom at the time was that higher education was the dominion of men. In the early 1900’s, President Boatwright and the Board of Trustees set in motion the series of events that ultimately moved the campus to its current location on the West End in 1914 and established Westhampton College as a coordinate college, “of equal grade, and having similar courses of instruction.” Westhampton College existed on one side of the lake, and Richmond College on the other. To this day, we refer to the Westhampton and Richmond “sides” of the campus. In 1920, the name of the institution was changed to the University of Richmond, but the coordinate colleges remained as separate entities well into the later part of the 20th century.
Dr. John C. Metcalf was appointed the first Dean of Richmond College, a position he held through 1917. In 1915, student self-governance was established for the College with the creation of the Richmond College Student Council, which later became the Richmond College Student Government Association, or RCSGA. Tuition and fees for the 1914 – 1915 academic year were $20 matriculation, $70 tuition, $5 contingent, and $5 laboratory – a total of $100 (not including room and board).
During World War I the Federal Government took over the new campus, using it as a hospital for wounded soldiers. The Colleges moved to the old Richmond College campus during 1917-18.
Dr. Raymond Pinchbeck began his 26-year tenure as the Dean of Richmond College with the 1931-32 academic year. Dean Pinchbeck started the first orientation program and first career services office on campus and advocated with the student leaders to create the Richmond College Council of Honor in 1933.
After World War II, the University grew in its offerings and in stature. The growing student body necessitated the development of a Dean of Students position for Richmond College. Dr. Clarence Gray was named the first Dean of Students in 1947, a position he filled until 1968.
The University was changed forever in 1969 when E. Claiborne Robins gave $50 million as seed money to make the University of Richmond a truly great small University. The academic and student life programs have steadily improved ever since.
During the 1970’s the decision was made to merge the academic missions of Richmond and Westhampton Colleges into what became in 1991 the School of Arts & Sciences. President Morrill and the Board determined that the Coordinate Colleges should remain as the pivot point between the academic and co-curricular lives of the students.
The appointment of Dr. Richard Mateer as Dean of Richmond College in 1976 began the “modern era” of Richmond College as a coordinate college. During his 26 years as dean, many of the traditions that are emblematic of the Richmond College experience were established, including the class photo, class flag, Investiture, and the Senior Banquet. Residence Life and Orientation programs were created and expanded upon, and the development of living/learning programs began with Spinning UR Web.
Today, Richmond College holds a unique position as a men’s college within a coeducational University. Richmond College is defined not by bricks and mortar, but as a community of diverse, authentic men who strive to uphold the values of a Positive Image of Masculinity: to act with sound judgment, demonstrate a generosity of self, and to live with confidence. We encourage our students to discover their best selves, and work to help shape society’s perception of men and masculinities.
There are still ties to the original campus that are visible today. The original Richmond College building, Columbia, remains at Grace & Lombardy. The Richmond College gates stand at Grace and Ryland Streets. The bricks of Old Main, which burned in 1910, make up the brick pathway next to Ryland Hall. Finally, the stone steps from Old Main now lead up to the Gottwald Science Building.