WESTMINSTER College celebrates 150th year

There will be celebrations throughout the country where large numbers of Westminster graduates live.
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- J. Paul Gamble can rattle off the details of what his great-grandfather, William Dickey, was doing exactly 150 years ago.
Dickey, a Presbyterian minister and college professor, was part of a group meeting Jan. 21, 1852, in New Wilmington, working on what eventually became Westminster College.
"At that time, they met originally to consider founding an academy, but during the course of the discussion, they decided they would found a college. They decided it would be a coeducational college," said Gamble, 91, of New Wilmington.
On Monday, Westminster College officials will kick off a yearlong celebration to commemorate the founding of the college, which now attracts students from across the nation.
The college today: There are about 1,480 undergraduates and 190 graduate students attending Westminster, which has recently been ranked in national magazines for its affordability and graduation rates.
College officials boast that the school has a 12-1 student to faculty ratio and that 98 percent of its graduates find jobs.
Hard beginnings: But things weren't always so good, said Gamble, who along with his son, Richard, recently completed a college history, "The Westminster Story, 1852-2002: Glorious, Grand & amp; True," available in the school bookstore.
"It was started on a shoestring financially. The middle of the 1800s was a time when all denominations were founding colleges, and a high percentage did not survive into the 20th century," said Gamble, who is also the college historian.
Gamble's great-grandfather traveled western Pennsylvania by horseback from 1855 to 1859 soliciting money to keep the college viable, he said.
Women: Gamble marvels at the forethought of the founders who opened the college to women at its inception, allowing his own grandmother to be part of the first full graduating class in 1857.
"At that time, most educational experts believed that higher education was not for women. They did not have the ability or the strength to keep up with the men at higher education. How wrong they were. As it turns out. I think we have a legitimate claim to being the oldest coeducational college in the country," he said.
Gamble acknowledges that some other colleges may have admitted women to their courses, but only after fighting to keep them away. Westminster, by comparison, welcomed women from the start, he said.
Women will be a special part of the focus of this year's celebration, said Gloria Cagigas, vice president for institutional advancement and chairwoman of the sesquicentennial committee.
An April 13 program will highlight the lives of some of Westminster's women graduates as an inspiration to the undergraduates, she said.

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