Founding and 19th century
From its founding, Bowdoin was known to educate the sons of the politically elite and "catered very largely to the wealthy conservative from the state of Maine."
The establishment of Bates College
in nearby Lewiston
, began a century-long academic and athletic rivalry between the two colleges ultimately creating a complex and enduring relationship
During the first half of the 19th century, Bowdoin required of its students a certificate of "good moral character" as well as knowledge of Latin
and Ancient Greek
, geography, algebra and the major works of Cicero
View of the campus from Coles Tower
Harriet Beecher Stowe
started writing her influential anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin
, in Brunswick while her husband was teaching at the college, and Brigadier General
(and BrevetMajor General
) Joshua Chamberlain
, a Bowdoin alumnus and professor, was present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
at Appomattox Court House
in 1865. Chamberlain, a Medal of Honor
recipient who later served as governor of Maine
, adjutant-general of Maine, and president of Bowdoin, fought at Gettysburg
, where he was in command of the 20th Maine
in defense of Little Round Top
. Major General Oliver Otis Howard
, class of 1850, led the Freedmen's Bureau
after the war and later founded Howard University
; Massachusetts Governor John Andrew
, class of 1837, was responsible for the formation of the 54th Massachusetts
; and William P. Fessenden
(1823) and Hugh McCulloch
(1827) both served as Secretary of the Treasury during the Lincoln Administration
. However, the college's involvement in the Civil War was mixed as Bowdoin had many ties to slave labor
and the Confederacy
With strained slave-relations
between political parties, President Franklin Pierce appointed Jefferson Davis
as his Secretary of War
, and the college awarded the soon-to-be President of the Confederacy
an honorary degree
. The Jefferson Davis Award was given to a student who excelled in legal studies after a donation was given to the college by the United Daughters of the Confederacy
. The award, however, was discontinued in 2015, with the current college president citing it as inappropriate due to the fact it was named after someone "whose mission was to preserve and institutionalize slavery."
President Ulysses S. Grant
, too, was given an honorary degree from the college in 1865. Seventeen Bowdoin alumni attained the rank of brigadier general during the Civil War, including James Deering Fessenden
and Francis Fessenden
; Ellis Spear
, class of 1858, who served as Chamberlain's second-in-command at Gettysburg; and Charles Hamlin, class of 1857, son of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin
Bowdoin was also the Medical School of Maine from 1821 to 1921
The college went on to educate and eventually graduate Arctic explorers Robert E. Peary
, class of 1877, and Donald B. MacMillan
, class of 1898. Robert Peary named Bowdoin Fjord
and Bowdoin Glacier
after his alma mater.
Peary led the first successful expedition to the North Pole
in 1908, and MacMillan, a member of Peary's crew, explored Greenland
, Baffin Island
in the schooner Bowdoin
between 1908 and 1954. Bowdoin's Peary–MacMillan Arctic Museum
honors the two explorers, and the college's mascot, the polar bear
, was chosen in 1913 to honor MacMillan, who donated a statue of a polar bear to his alma mater in 1917.
Wallace H. White, Jr.
, class of 1899, served as Senate Minority Leader from 1944–1947 and Senate Majority Leader from 1947–1949; George J. Mitchell
, class of 1954, served as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995 before assuming an active role in the Northern Ireland peace process;
and William Cohen
, class of 1962, spent twenty-five years in the House and Senate before being appointed Secretary of Defense
in the Clinton
In 1970, it became one of a very limited number of liberal arts college to make the SAT
optional in the admissions process, and in 1971, after nearly 180 years as a small men's college, Bowdoin admitted its first class of women. Bowdoin also phased out fraternities
in 1997, replacing them with a system of college-owned social houses.
Bowdoin began competing in the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin Consortium
, with Bates and Colby in 1970. The consortium became an athletic rivalry, and academic exchange program. The three schools produce numerous contentions in athletics, most notably a football championship game and the Chase Regatta
In 2001, Barry Mills
, class of 1972, was appointed as the fifth alumnus president of the college. On January 18, 2008, Bowdoin announced that it would be eliminating loans for all new and current students receiving financial aid, replacing those loans with grants beginning with the 2008–2009 academic year.
President Mills stated, "Some see a calling in such vital but often low paying fields such as teaching or social work. With significant debt at graduation, some students will undoubtedly be forced to make career or education choices not on the basis of their talents, interests, and promise in a particular field, but rather on their capacity to repay student loans. As an institution devoted to the common good, Bowdoin must consider the fairness of such a result."
In February 2009, following a $10 million donation by Subway Sandwiches
co-founder and alumnus Peter Buck
, class of 1952, the college completed a $250-million capital campaign. Additionally, the college has also recently completed major construction projects on the campus, including a renovation of the college's art museum and a new fitness center named after Peter Buck.
Bowdoin Chapel during the winter semester
Course distribution requirements were abolished in the 1970s, but were reinstated by a faculty majority vote in 1981, as a result of an initiative by oral communication and film professor Barbara Kaster. She insisted that distribution requirements would ensure students a more well-rounded education in a diversity of fields and therefore present them with more career possibilities. The requirements of at least two courses in each of the categories of Natural Sciences
, Social and Behavioral Sciences
, and Foreign Studies (including languages) took effect for the Class of 1987 and have been gradually amended since then. Current requirements require one course each in: Natural Sciences, Quantitative Reasoning, Visual and Performing Arts, International Perspectives and Exploring Social Differences. A small writing-intensive course, called a First Year Seminar, is also required.
In 1990, the Bowdoin faculty voted to change the four-level grading system to the traditional A, B, C, D and F system.
The previous system, consisting of high honors, honors, pass and fail, was devised primarily to de-emphasize the importance of grades and to reduce competition.
In 2002, the faculty decided to change the grading system so that it incorporated plus and minus grades. In 2006, Bowdoin was named a "Top Producer of Fulbright Awards
for American Students" by the Institute of International Education.
Other notable Bowdoin faculty include (or have included): Edville Gerhardt Abbott
, Charles Beitz
, John Bisbee
, Paul Chadbourne
, Thomas Cornell
, Kristen R. Ghodsee
, Eddie Glaude
, Joseph E. Johnson
, Richard Morgan
, Elliott Schwartz
, Kenneth Chenault
and Scott Sehon
In the 2021 edition of the U.S. News & World Report
rankings, Bowdoin was ranked tied for 6th best overall among liberal arts colleges in the United States, tied at 11th for "Best Undergraduate Teaching", 12th in "Best Value Schools", and tied at 29th for "Most Innovative".
In the 2019 Forbes
college rankings, Bowdoin was ranked 26th overall among 650 universities, liberal arts colleges, and service academies, and 6th among private liberal arts colleges.
Bowdoin was ranked first among 1,204 small colleges in the U.S. by Niche in 2017.
Based on students' SAT scores, Bowdoin is tied with Williams
for 5th in Business Insider's smartest liberal arts colleges with an average score of 1435 for math and critical reading combined.
Among all colleges, it is tied with Brown
, Carnegie Mellon
, and Williams
The college was ranked 5th in the country by Washington Monthly
in 2019 based on its contribution to the public good, as measured by social mobility, research, and promoting public service.
In 2006 Newsweek
described Bowdoin as a "New Ivy
", one of a number of liberal arts colleges and universities outside of the Ivy League
, and it has also been dubbed a "Hidden Ivy
The acceptance rate for the Class of 2023 was 8.9 percent. The applicant pool consisted of 9,332 candidates, up from 9,081 for the Class of 2022.
Fall admission statistics
U.S. News and World Report
classifies Bowdoin as "most selective".
Of enrolling students, 89% are in the top 10% of their high school graduating class.
Although Bowdoin does not require the SAT
in admissions, all students must submit a score upon matriculation. The middle 50% SAT range for the verbal and math sections of the SAT
is 660–750 and 660–750, respectively — numbers of only those submitting scores during the admissions process. The middle 50% ACT range is 30–33.
The April 17, 2008, edition of The Economist
noted Bowdoin in an article on university admissions: "So-called 'almost-Ivies' such as Bowdoin and Middlebury also saw record low admission rates this year (18% each). It is now as hard to get into Bowdoin, says the college's admissions director, as it was to get into Princeton in the 1970s."
Many students apply for financial aid, and around 85% of those who apply receive aid. Bowdoin is a need-blind
and a no-loans institution.
While a significant portion of the student body hails from New England
— including nearly 25% from Massachusetts and 10% from Maine — recent classes have drawn from an increasingly national and international pool. The median family income of Bowdoin students is $195,900, with 57% of students coming from the top 10% highest-earning families and 17.5% from the bottom 60%.
Although Bowdoin once had a reputation for homogeneity (both ethnically and socioeconomically), a diversity campaign has increased the percentage of students of color in recent classes to more than 31%.
In fact, admission of minorities goes back at least as far as John Brown Russwurm
1826, Bowdoin's first African-American college graduate, and the third African-American graduate of any American college.
Hubbard Hall, once the college's library
Bowdoin's dining services have been ranked #1 among all universities and colleges nationally by Princeton Review
in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016,
with The New York Times
reporting: "If it weren't for the trays, and for the fact that most diners are under 25, you'd think it was a restaurant."
Bowdoin uses food from its organic garden in its two major dining halls, and every academic year begins with a lobster bake outside Farley Fieldhouse.
Recalling his days at Bowdoin in a recent interview, Professor Richard E. Morgan
(Class of 1959) described student life at the then-all-male school as "monastic," and noted that "the only things to do were either work or drink." (This is corroborated by the Official Preppy Handbook,
which in 1980 ranked Bowdoin the number two drinking school in the country, behind Dartmouth
.) These days, Morgan observed, the college offers a far broader array of recreational opportunities: "If we could have looked forward in time to Bowdoin's standard of living today, we would have been astounded."
Since abolishing Greek fraternities
in the late 1990s, Bowdoin has switched to a system in which entering students are assigned a "college house" affiliation correlating with their first-year dormitory. While six houses were originally established, following the construction of two new dorms, two were added effective in the fall of 2007, bringing the total to eight: Ladd, Baxter, Quinby, MacMillan, Howell, Helmreich, Reed, and Burnett. The college houses are physical buildings around campus which host parties and other events throughout the year. Those students who choose not to live in their affiliated house retain their affiliation and are considered members throughout their Bowdoin career. Before the fraternity system was abolished in the 1990s, all the Bowdoin fraternities were co-educational (except for one unrecognized sorority and two unrecognized all-male fraternities).
The largest student group on campus is the Outing Club, which leads canoeing, kayaking, rafting, camping and backpacking trips throughout Maine.
Bowdoin's Board Game Club currently holds the largest email base of any student group. One of the school's two historic rival literary societies, The Peucinian Society, has recently been revitalized from its previous form. The Peucinian Society was founded in 1805.
This organization counts such people as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
amongst its former members. The other, the now-defunct Athenian Society, included Nathaniel Hawthorne
and Franklin Pierce
as members. These literary and intellectual societies were the dominant groups on campus before they declined in popularity after the rise of Greek fraternities
Bowdoin competes in the Standard Platform League of RoboCup
as the Northern Bites, where teams compete with 5 autonomous Aldebaran Nao
robots. Bowdoin won the world championship in RoboCup 2007, beating Carnegie Mellon University
, and finished 2nd in the 2015 US Open.
Media and publications
Bowdoin's student newspaper, The Bowdoin Orient
, is the oldest continuously published college weekly in the United States.
The Orient was named the second best tabloid-sized college weekly at a Collegiate Associated Press conference in March 2007 and the best college newspaper in New England by the New England Society of News Editors in 2018.
Additionally, the school's literary magazine, The Quill
, has been published since 1897. The Bowdoin Globalist
, an international news, culture, and politics magazine affiliated with the Global21 organization of college magazines has been publishing since 2012. The Bowdoin Globalist
transitioned to a digital-only platform in 2015. The college's radio station, WBOR
, has been in operation since 1951. In 1999, The Bowdoin Cable Network
was formed, producing a weekly newscast and several student created shows per semester.
There are six a cappella
groups on campus.
The Meddiebempsters and the Longfellows are all-male, Miscellania is all-female, BOKA and Ursus Verses are co-ed, and Bear Tones's singers are "female and treble voices".
Studzinski Recital Hall
"The Longfellows" are the newer of the two all male groups. Founded in 2004, they trace their roots to the historic class of 1825 at Bowdoin, which graduated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 2011, they won their quarterfinal of the International Collegiate Championship of A Cappella, advancing them to the semifinals, as the only all-male group. The same year, they were in the final round of selection to be on NBC's "The Sing Off." In 2010 and again in 2013, they sang the national anthem at a Boston Celtics game. They have performed all over Maine and the Northeast.
" are the oldest of Bowdoin's six a cappella
groups. Founded in the spring of 1937, the Meddies performed in USO
shows after World War II
is the oldest all-female a cappella
group at Bowdoin College. Miscellania was founded in 1972 as the female counterpart to the Meddiebempsters, shortly after women were admitted to Bowdoin. Since then, Miscellania has grown to be a part of the tradition of a cappella at Bowdoin College. Distinguishable by their black dresses, Miscellania has performed all over Maine and the Northeast, as well as down the East Coast on longer tours, and Aruba.
In the months of November, December, and February in 2015, the college faced a string of alleged
rapes and sexual assaults
. The reports of assault included a local registeredsex offender
breaking and entering into the college's Mayflower Apartments and raping
and a convicted
sex offender photographing female students while showering or undressing.
In response to events, Bowdoin requested that the Brunswick
police increase patrols near the college and issued alerts to students, faculty, and staff.
With a reported 17 rapes occurring in 2014, the college has stated that the increase in number is attributed to "new federal reporting rules and an increased awareness on campus."
The following summer the college would be listed in an article by The Washington Post
analyzing crime statistics entitled "Grade Point: These colleges have the most reports of rape", placing 7th in the country for most reported rapes per 1,000 students.
On June 10, 2014, The New York Times,
published an article on the college's dismissal of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship on the grounds that it was biased against homosexuality
and beliefs on abstinence
; the group has been barred from operating on campus.
On October 22, 2015, Bowdoin's sailing team held a themed party that sparked issues of racism
and cultural appropriation
. The theme was characterized as "gangster
-themed" featuring costumes that were stereotypical of black culture
. This sparked a major debate on campus about racism, cultural stereotypes, and racial discrimination.
On February 20, 2016, Bowdoin students sent an email inviting each other to a "tequila
-themed" party that featured Mexican
as well as students wearing sombreros
, consuming tequila, assuming Mexican accents, and participating in other activities closely linked with Latin American culture
. The email, party, and subsequent aftermath caused extended media coverage and backlash from students,
and their administration citing the incident as "ethnic stereotyping
" and "act of bias
The student government filed articles of impeachment
against student representatives who participated in planning the party's activities,
and the incident was covered by selected national news outlets, including The Washington Post,
which ran three separate pieces regarding the incident.
In April 2013, the college was at the center of National Association of Scholars
's report entitled, "What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students."
The report was later dubbed, "The Bowdoin Project" due to widespread media coverage.
The 359-page report was financed at a cost of $100,000. The assessment criticized and denounced, in thorough detail, the college's academic program, sexual atmosphere, treatment of women and minorities, student and faculty diversity, drug and alcohol issues, student safety, and hazing, among twenty-six other categories. The report was rebutted by the at-the-time President Barry Mills
, who called the assessment, "mean-spirited and personal."
Bowdoin College signed onto the American College and University President's Climate Commitment in 2007.
The college followed through with a carbon neutrality plan released in 2009, with 2020 as the target year for carbon neutrality. According to the plan, general improvements to Maine's electricity grid will account for 7% of carbon reductions, commuting improvements will account for 1%, and the purchase of renewable energy credits will account for 41%. The college intends to reduce its own carbon emissions 28% by 2020, leaving the remaining 23% for new technologies and more renewable energy credits.
The plan includes the construction of a solar thermal system, part of the "Thorne Solar Hot Water Project"; cogeneration in the central heating plant (for which Bowdoin received $400,000 in federal grants); lighting upgrades to all campus buildings; and modern monitoring systems of energy usage on campus.
In 2017 the College was on track to meet the 28% own source reduction target and efforts have continued in the areas of energy conservation, efficiency upgrades and transitioning to lower carbon fuel sources.
Bowdoin's facilities are heated by an on-campus heating plant which burns natural gas.
In February 2013, the college announced that 1.4% of its endowment is invested in the fossil fuel industry. The disclosure was in response to students' calls to divest these holdings.
Between 2002 and 2008, Bowdoin College decreased its CO2
emissions by 40%. It achieved that reduction by switching from #6 to #2 oil in its heating plant, reducing the campus set heating point from 72 to 68 degrees, and by adhering to its own Green Design Standards in renovations.
In addition, Bowdoin runs a single stream recycling
program, and its dining services department has begun composting food waste
and unbleached paper napkins.
Bowdoin received an overall grade of "B-" for its sustainability efforts on the College Sustainability Report Card 2009 published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.
In 2003, Bowdoin made a commitment to achieve LEED
-certification for all new campus buildings.
The college has since completed construction on Osher and West residency halls, the Peter Buck Center for Health & Fitness, the Sidney J. Watson Arena, 216 Maine Street, and 52 Harpswell all of which have attained LEED, Silver LEED or Gold LEED certification. The new dorms partially use collected rain water as part of an advanced flushing system.
The main Quad of Bowdoin College in the middle of autumn.
Organized athletics at Bowdoin began in 1828
with a gymnastics program established by the "father of athletics in Maine," John Neal
. In the proceeding years, Neal agitated for more programs and himself taught bowling
, and other sports.
Modern Bowdoin has thirty varsity sports teams, and competes in the NCAA Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference
, which also includes Amherst
, Conn College
. The college's rowing club competes in the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin Chase Regatta
annually. Bowdoin's mascot is the polar bear, and the school's official color is white.
The college also has intercollegiate and club teams in men's and women's fencing, men's and women's rowing, men's rugby
, water polo, men's soccer, men's volleyball and men's and women's Ultimate
The Bowdoin field hockey team are four-time NCAA Division III National Champions; winning the title in 2007 (defeating Middlebury College
), 2008 (defeating Tufts University
), 2010 (defeating Messiah College
) and 2013 (defeating Salisbury University
Head coach Nicky Pearson has been NESCAC coach of the year a record 8 times after winning 8 NESCAC championships. She has led the polar bears to 9 NCAA Final Four appearances.
Pearson has been recognized as the NCAA Division III coach of the year four times.
In 2011, two Bowdoin players won the NCAA Men's Double title.
In 2016, Bowdoin's Men's Tennis won the NCAA college Division III Championship after defeating Emory University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
In the spring of 2018, Bowdoin's Men's Tennis won their second-straight NESCAC championship.
The Bowdoin sailing team competes in the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association
. In 2014, the women's sailing team was ranked 2nd in the U.S. in a national poll by Sailing World.
The women's basketball team are 8-time NESCAC champions, holding a record 7-year streak from 2000-01 to 2006-07.
In 2012, the men's indoor track Distance Medley Relay Team won the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field National Championships.
Before a match between Bowdoin and Williams
at Watson Arena, built in 2009
In addition to several outdoor athletic fields (Pickard field & Whittier Field
), the college's athletic facilities include:
- Sidney J. Watson Ice Hockey Arena (2,300 capacity, LEED certification)
- Buck Center for Health and Fitness (LEED certification)
- Hubbard Grandstand and Whittier Field (9,000 capacity)
- A. LeRoy Greason Pool
- Lubin Family Squash Center
- Boathouses for sailing and rowing
Notable Bowdoin alumni include:
- U.S. Secretary of Treasury, U.S. Representative, & U.S. Senator from Maine William Pitt Fessenden (1824)
- U.S. President Franklin Pierce (1824)
- Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1825)
- Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1825)
- Abolitionist and publisher John Brown Russwurm (1826))
- Medical missionary to the Batticotta SeminaryNathan Ward
- Civil War general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1852)
- Civil War general Oliver Otis Howard (1850)
- Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Melville Fuller (1853)
- U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed (1860)
- Civil War general Thomas W. Hyde, medal of honor recipient, author, founder of Bath Iron Works (1861)
- Mayo Clinic co-founder Dr. Augustus Stinchfield (1868)
- Physicist Edwin Hall (1875)
- Freelan Oscar Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer, and builder of the Stanley Hotel (1877)
- Arctic explorer Admiral Robert Peary (1877)
- Cravath, Swaine, and Moore presiding partner Hoyt Augustus Moore (1895)
- Gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Sir Harry Oakes (1896)
- Arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan (1898)
- Business leader and President, Manufacturers Trust Company Harvey Dow Gibson (1902)
- US Senator Paul H. Douglas (1913)
- Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert P.T. Coffin (1915)
- Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (1916)
- Miami-Dade County judge and television arbitrator Karen Mill-Francis
- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hodding Carter (1927)
- Film and television actor Gary Merrill (1937)
- Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Everett P. Pope (1941)
- M*A*S*H creator H. Richard Hornberger (1945)
- Businessman and philanthropist Bernard Osher (1948)
- Businessman and independent financial consultant Raymond S. Troubh (1950)
- Co-founder of the Subway sandwich chain Peter Buck (1952)
- U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas R. Pickering (1953)
- U.S. Senator George Mitchell (1954)
- President and Chairman of the Board of L.L. Bean, Leon Gorman (1956)
- Donald M. Zuckert, chairman and CEO of Ted Bates Worldwide, Inc. (1956)
- U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (1962)
- Award-winning photographer Abelardo Morell (1971)
- Senior judge of the US District Court for the District of Maine John A. Woodcock Jr. (1972)
- American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault (1973)
- Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO Geoffrey Canada (1974)
- Alvin Hall, financial adviser, author, and media personality (1974)
- San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (1974)
- Oaktree Capital Management founder and partner Sheldon M. Stone (1974) 
- Investor Stanley Druckenmiller (1975)
- Economist and former Governor of the Federal Reserve Lawrence B. Lindsey (1975)
- NBC News Senior Legal and Investigative Correspondent Cynthia McFadden (1978)
- Senior Managing Director of The Blackstone Group John Studzinski (1978)
- Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson (1979)
- Barclays CEO Jes Staley (1979)
- Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andrew E. Serwer (1981)
- Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings (1983)
- HBO Academy Award-winning producer Kary Antholis (1984)
- Fashion designer and entrepreneur Ruthie Davis (1984)
- "Prison Break" and "Private Practice" actor Paul Adelstein (1991)
- Composer, writer, and musician DJ Spooky (1992)
- Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr (1995)
- New York Times Justice Department reporter Katie Benner (1999)
- Poet, critic, and performer Claudia La Rocco (2000)
- General Manager, New York Mets Jared Porter (2003)
- Comedian Hari Kondabolu (2004)
- Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson (2007)
- New York State Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani (2014)
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