SESQUICENTENNIAL MOMENT: 1886: Tuition at $15 a Term, ‘No Immoral Students Desired’

April 9, 2021

NOTE: Wilmington College’s observance of its sesquicentennial is ongoing through September. The date of April 11 will mark the 150th anniversary of the first day of classes held at the newly opened Wilmington College in 1871.

Long before the days of slick colorful brochures promoting hands-on learning opportunities and other advantages available to those attending Wilmington College, prospective students in 1886 received a single page letter from President James B. Unthank extolling the virtues of the then 16-year-old institution.

PICTURED: This image of freshman chemistry class is from 1912. BELOW is a portrait of President, James Unthank.

Unthank was the College’s fourth and longest serving president at 22 years (1881-1903). Immediately after noting the two preparatory and three college courses of study, the president got down to the bottom line — tuition costs $1 a week! “No school offers better advantages at so small a cost to students,” he said.

Now, of course room and board were extra. Students from out of town had the option of renting rooms in “boarding halls” or even moving in with families in Wilmington, with board costing from $2 to $4 a week.

James UnthankUnthank mentioned how the College was “well supplied” with facilities for teaching and learning: chemical apparatus, maps, charts, books of reference and a geological and mineralogical cabinet. “Much pains taken to assist students in the formation of correct habits of study and conduct,” he wrote.

Speaking of conduct and citing the College’s moral and religious influences as “excellent,” Unthank said, “No immoral students desired” — and none would be retained “who do not manifest a disposition to reform.”

Unthank possessed a great appreciation for the classics and stated that the faculty “take special care in the cultivation of a sound literary taste.” Indeed, the College offered reading circles and literary and debating societies. Also, WC students were especially encouraged to industry and economy.

“This school has been in successful operation for sixteen years,” he said. “It aims at honest, genuine work and not at sham or display.” The fall term opens Sept. 8, 1886.