Emerson’s First Graduating Class

How big was Emerson’s first graduating class and in what year did its members graduate?

Although a straightforward question, there is no straightforward answer. What we now believe “graduation” to mean is not the same as it was in Charles Wesley Emerson’s time. Emerson College was established in 1880 with Dr. Emerson as the sole faculty member and 10 students in one room at 13 Pemberton Square. At the time, the school was not incorporated, nor could it grant degrees under state and federal law. It wasn’t until September 21, 1886, that the Monroe College of Oratory (the name of the school at that time) was incorporated “for the purpose of giving a general education to both sexes such as is obtained in colleges with special reference to the perfection of oratory.” The incorporators were also the Trustees of the College and six out of the eight were also faculty members. Talk about a conflict of interest!

The first degree, an OB (Bachelor of Oratory) was granted to members of the Post Graduate class of 1886–87. On April 27, 1887, the Board of Trustees voted to confer 18 Bachelor of Oratory degrees and 1 Master of Arts degree. Was Emerson legally able to grant that MA degree? Find out more in the next column.

Christina Zamon (Iwasaki Library)

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