Ayer Cottage in Pomona, California
Claremont, California, map from 1888
Laying the Piedmont Cornerstone in Pomona
Drawing for Piedmont Building, the original planned home for Pomona College
Edwin Norton, first Dean of the College at Pomona College
Laying the cornerstone for Pomona College on Piedmont Mesa on September 26, 1888
All members of the Board of Trustees of the new college that opened its doors in Pomona that fall were Congregationalists, and nine were ordained ministers.
Leadership during the first two years after incorporation was provided by the Education Committee of the Association of Congregational Churches in Southern California, which named the College’s first 15 trustees, and, most notably, by Charles Sumner. Newly appointed pastor of the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Pomona, he was persuaded to abandon his post in 1888 to become the fledgling college’s “financial agent with supervisory authority”—meaning that he was arguably the College's first president in all but official title. Sumner was to play a crucial role in the early survival of the College, including the development of its campus and the hiring of its first real president. It was Sumner who persuaded Trustee and Board President Henry A. Palmer and two other donors to give the College a total of 120 acres in Piedmont on Scanlon Mesa (later referred to as Piedmont Mesa) and arranged for instruction in begin in September 1888 in a five-room house in Pomona called Ayer Cottage. Though he opposed the Board’s decision to make Claremont the College’s permanent home, he remained dedicated to the institution he had helped to found. A few years later, he would even have the house he had built near Piedmont moved to Claremont, where today it is known as Sumner House and serves as the College's guest house. He remained a dedicated trustee until his retirement from the Board in 1924.
A graduate of Amherst College and Yale University, Edwin Clarence Norton came to Pomona in 1888 as principal of the Preparatory Department and professor of Greek and went on to become the first Dean of the College Department in 1893. Shortly after arriving, he wrote a bit of verse concerning the new college:
“We have no precedents,
We have no history,
We have no ‘Abraham to our Father,’
We have no record,
We have no rich friends,
We have no alumni,
But if we lack these advantages of old age,
We lack also its infirmities. …”
First Classes in Ayer Cottage
Lacking a permanent home, Pomona College first opened its doors to students on Sept. 12, 1888, in a five-room house known as Ayer Cottage at the corner of Fifth Street (now Mission) and White Avenue in Pomona. Pomona President E. Wilson Lyon described the cottage as “a pleasant building set in spacious grounds, with lawns, flowers and ornamental trees.” The College’s first printed piece of literature described “Pomona College of Pomona, California, an unsectarian Christian College for the education for both sexes,” and announced the new college’s opening for the academic year 1888-89 with three 12-week terms. Courses were listed in Greek, Latin, mathematics, science, English, German, drawing and painting, piano, harmony and music theory. The curriculum was divided between a Preparatory Department, offering an “English course” of study and a “Classical and Literary course” of high school classes; a Collegiate Department, which began by offering only a freshman year; and a Music School. Still, the founders’ ambition was obvious in the first catalog, printed that year, listing three degrees to be offered by the Collegiate Department: a Bachelor of Arts (emphasizing Greek and Latin), a Bachelor of Literature (with no requirement for the Classics), and a Bachelor of Science. Tuition for the year was set at $45 in the Preparatory Department and $60 in the Collegiate Department, and would stay at that level for a number of years, though a number of additional fees would be added over time, including laboratory fees, room and board, and an extra $5 charge for a diploma.
Professor Frank Brackett
Professor Frank Brackett, one of Pomona’s original faculty members, was hired in 1888 to teach mathematics and Latin.
Campus Planning in Piedmont
In January 1888, the Executive Committee of the Board invited Clinton Day, a San Francisco architect, to visit the proposed site of the campus on Piedmont Mesa and to confer with the committee about plans for the first College building. In April, the Board approved Day’s preliminary plans for a new brick structure, expected to cost about $45,000. The Board expressed its desire to move forward with construction as quickly as possible, adding that “the names of prominent New England institutions of learning” were to be given to the new streets in the area, a convention that would be followed later on in the development of the town of Claremont. As the economy turned from boom to bust, few gifts for the project were forthcoming, but in an act of faith, the cornerstone for the new building was laid on Piedmont Mesa before an assemblage of about 500 people, mostly Congregationalists. However, on the same afternoon, the Board was first made aware of very tempting offer—an unoccupied hotel building in the nearby proposed town of Claremont.
The Move to Claremont
When the Southern California real estate boom burst in 1888, the Claremont Hotel, suddenly rendered superfluous by lack of interest, was offered to the College along with 260 already-recorded lots that, it was understood, would eventually be sold, with a portion of the proceeds going to the donors. The increasingly dire economic situation presented a serious threat to the very survival of the newborn institution and made its original plans for rapid development of a campus on Piedmont Mesa untenable, so the founders gratefully accepted what many believed would be a temporary home for the College in Claremont. The building was signed over to the College on October 21 of that year and occupied in December, with the actual move from Pomona being carried out during the Christmas holidays.
The Pomona Choral Union was formed, with 60 members. Also formed was the Pomona College Literary Society, committed to “the improvement of its members in general literary work.”
FROM THE CATALOG
“Students must observe study-hours, regularly attend devotional services in the chapel, and divine worship on the Sabbath. Each one may elect the church one will attend, but it must not change without permission of the Faculty. … The students are forbidden the use of intoxicating drinks, tobacco or profane language during term time.”
- The Jack the Ripper murders occurred in London between the months of August and November.
- The Washington Monument officially opened to the general public.
- President Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote to Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison.