Vision & History
Widener aspires to be the nation's preeminent metropolitan university recognized for an unparalleled academic environment, innovative approaches to learning, active scholarship, and the preparation of students for responsible citizenship in a global society.
Our vision is inspired by a legacy of leadership, public service, and career preparation started by John Bullock, who established the Bullock School for Boys in 1821 to prepare young men for “entry to college.” In 1846, the name changed to the Alsop School for Boys when Samuel Alsop became headmaster.
Delaware Military Academy: An Honorable Legacy
Another name change took place in 1853 when the school became Hyatt’s Select School for Boys under the direction of Theodore Hyatt, who purchased the school from Alsop. In 1858, Hyatt introduced a military discipline to “develop the muscles, expand the chest, and impart an erect gentlemanly carriage …” when, according to legend, he found his pupils performing drills with broomsticks in the gym. In 1859, the school was incorporated under the charter of the Wilmington Literary Institute as the Delaware Military Academy (DMA).
Henry C. Robinett, a DMA graduate, distinguished himself in the Civil War by leading an Union artillery battery that successfully defended a strategic position at the Battle of Corinth in Mississippi. The current Widener ROTC “Battery Robinett,” which fires a cannon after each touchdown at Widener home football games, was named in Robinett’s honor. Robinett was one of many who would come to serve honorably as part of Widener’s military school legacy.
In 1862, the academy moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania, an abolitionist-friendly state, and the school’s name changed to the Pennsylvania Military Academy (PMA). At that time, Colonel George Patten, a South Carolinian who fought in the Civil War on the Union side, established a civil engineering curriculum, part of a legacy that still continues as Widener celebrates 150 years of engineering in 2012. Now the Widener School of Engineering includes electrical, civil, chemical, biomedical, and mechanical engineering disciplines.
In 1866, after the Civil War, there was another brief move to Upland, Pennsylvania, before the Academy eventually moved to its present location in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1868.
Pennsylvania Military College: The West Point of Pennsylvania
In 1892, now under the direction of General Charles Hyatt, the son of Theodore Hyatt, the Academy applied for and received collegiate status, becoming the Pennsylvania Military College (PMC). An all-male cadet college, modeled after the legendary U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, the PMC cadets came to think of themselves as being from the “West Point of Pennsylvania.”
In 1930, Colonel Frank Hyatt, a member of the third generation of the Hyatt family became president of PMC. During the next several decades, PMC cadets became well-known and acknowledged for their leadership, scholarship, and military service to their country. For example, Lieutenant William John Wolfgram earned the Bronze Star and died in battle in World War II. Widener’s Wolfgram Memorial Library is named after him.
By the mid-1960’s, the lack of public support for the Vietnam War took its toll on enrollment in military schools. PMC was no exception. In 1966, to increase enrollment, women and civilians were admitted for the first time into Penn Morton College, a parallel, coeducational PMC counterpart. The two institutions eventually combined to become PMC Colleges (Penn Morton College and Pennsylvania Military College).
PMC Becomes Widener University: Not for Followers
By 1972, the PMC Corps of Cadets (about 277 members at the time) was disbanded, and PMC Colleges became Widener College, named after the prominent Widener family of Philadelphia. In 1975, Widener College expanded to acquire the Delaware Law School (now known as the Widener School of Law), and one year later incorporated the Wilmington, Delaware campus of Brandywine College.
In 1979, Widener College became Widener University.
During the next two decades, Widener University continued to grow with a groundbreaking for the Harrisburg campus in 1988 (another School of Law campus) and the Exton campus in 2004, which serves our Continuing Studies (formerly University College) students and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In 2006, Metropolitan Hall (a new state-of-the-art student residence) and the Wellness Center were added to the main campus facilities in Chester. In 2011, Widener added Founders Hall, which is now home to the School of Nursing and the Oskin Leadership Institute.
Today, after nearly 200 years, our core values stand as respectful legacy to our past in preparing young men and women to become citizens of character who can become effective leaders in a global society.