The History of Pomona College
Pomona College was incorporated on October 14, 1887, by a group of Congregationalists who wanted to recreate on the West Coast “a college of the New England type,” one that would represent the very best of what they had experienced as students in the finest colleges of the Eastern and Midwestern United States.
Instruction began on September 12, 1888, in a small, rented house in the city of Pomona. The following January, an unfinished hotel in nearby Claremont, along with adjacent land, was given to the College, which subsequently relocated there. Although this location was originally regarded as temporary, Claremont became the permanent home of the College. The name “Pomona College,” however, had become so closely identified with the institution that it was retained.
Pomona awarded its first diplomas -- seven Bachelor of Arts degrees, two Bachelor of Letters degrees, and one Bachelor of Science degree -- to the Class of 1894. In recognition of the College’s rapidly growing stature, Southern California’s first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established there in 1913. With the freedom characteristic of colleges founded in the Congregationalist tradition, Pomona was soon entrusted with its own governing board. Today it stands as an independent college, with no sectarian affiliation.
Right from the start, Pomona was coeducational and -- reflecting the 19th-century commitment of its Congregationalist founders to equity -- open to students of all races. Pomona’s first African American student graduated in 1904, going on to Harvard Law School.
By the mid-1920s, the growth of the College presented its leaders with a difficult choice: Should the College seek to retain its special character as a small college by limiting its expansion, or should it surrender the advantages of intimate size and allow growth to transform it into a university? Guided by President James A. Blaisdell, Pomona chose a third path.
Using Oxford and Cambridge as a model, Pomona led the way in founding a consortium of institutions unlike any other in America. Over the next 75 years, two graduate schools and four other undergraduate colleges joined Pomona as members of The Claremont Colleges consortium, located on neighboring campuses, allowing cross-registration and sharing important facilities such as libraries.
Pomona became known for academic innovations. Located on what would later be known as the Pacific Rim, Pomona was a leader in Asian Studies as early as the 1930s, long before such programs were common. Pomona also was an early leader among liberal arts colleges in preparing students to excel in the natural sciences. Today, Pomona continues to innovate with a range of interdisciplinary programs that bridge the traditional boundaries between academic fields.
In the mid-1980s, students from outside the state of California outnumbered in-state students for the first time ever. Since then, Pomona has firmly established itself as one of the pre-eminent liberal arts colleges in the nation, with a world-class faculty and a student body drawn from across the nation and around the world.