College History

Witness to America's history

Tensions that threatened to tear America apart were already simmering in 1832, when anti-slavery theologian Samuel Simon Schmucker founded what would become Gettysburg College. Five years later, the Lutheran-affiliated institution—then known as Pennsylvania College—moved into Pennsylvania Hall, built on land provided by abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, whose illustrious career in Congress included authorship of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed full civil rights to citizens of all states.

When the Civil War erupted, the College stood in its midst. Elements of two great armies swept through campus on July 1, 1863, the first day of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. Pennsylvania Hall became a hospital for hundreds of soldiers from both North and South.

Only months later—on Nov. 19, 1863—townspeople, students and faculty marched to hear Abraham Lincoln hallow the National Cemetery with his immortal Gettysburg Address. An 1851 graduate of Gettysburg College, David Wills, invited Lincoln to deliver “a few appropriate remarks.” Each fall first-year students recreate the procession through town to hear an honored guest read the Address and Gettysburg College remains nationally known for Civil War programs.

A half-century later, Dwight D. Eisenhower took command of a tank training camp on the Gettysburg Battlefield. “Ike” rose to become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. Following his presidency, he returned to Gettysburg to live. President Eisenhower served on Gettysburg College’s Board of Trustees. He wrote his memoirs in the College’s Admissions Office, known today as Eisenhower House.

But presidents and war are far from the whole of Gettysburg’s history. The Alumni Association was founded in 1835, among the first such organizations in America. Women students were admitted in 1883. The student newspaper began in 1897. Pennsylvania College became Gettysburg College in 1921. The Honor Code was established thirty-seven years later. In 1991, filmmaker Ken Burns received the College’s first Lincoln Prize for his PBS documentary, The Civil War.

In 2005, the Majestic Theater, restored to its 1925 opulence, became the College and community’s performing arts center. Since its opening in 2009 the 55,000-square-foot John F. Jaeger Center for Athletics, Recreation, and Fitness has provided a fitness center equipped with the latest workout equipment, a student lounge and refreshment bar known as “The Dive,” and an eight-lane natatorium that hosts the Bullets swim teams.

Gettysburg has produced prominent graduates in many fields:

  • Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Michael Bishop ’57
  • Former Texas Congressman and Presidential Candidate Ron Paul ’57
  • 9/11 commissioner and counsel to two U.S. presidents Fred Fielding ’61
  • Former NAACP President Bruce Gordon ’68
  • Oscar-nominated cinematographer Owen Roizman ’58
  • Past UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy ’63
  • Newbery Medalist Maniac Magee author Jerry Spinelli ’63
  • Past Lutheran World Relief President Kathryn Wolford ’79
  • Television personality, actor and designer Carson Kressley ’91