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History of Yale Graduate School

Leadership in Graduate Education since 1847

Established by an act of the Yale Corporation in August 1847, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was originally called the “Department of Philosophy and the Arts” and enrolled eleven students who had completed four-year undergraduate degrees. The program offered seminars in chemistry and metallurgy, agricultural science, Greek and Latin literature, mathematics, philology, and Arabic. The faculty consisted of two full-time science professors, Benjamin Silliman Jr. and John P. Norton, and five Yale College faculty members who offered advanced courses in their subject areas. This was the first program at Yale to focus on research and scholarship. Professional training was already being offered in medicine (1810), theology (1822), and law (1824).

The birthplace of doctoral education in the United States - 1861 First PhD

Image of the first Ph.D. Diploma awarded in the US, Yale, 1861 (text in Latin)At Commencement in 1861, Yale University awarded the first three Ph.D. degrees, not only at Yale, but in the United States. The University of Pennsylvania followed in 1870; Harvard, in 1872; and Princeton, in 1879. The Yale graduate programs continued to grow, although they would not be named a separate graduate school until 1892.

Leadership in graduate diversity - Yale awards first Ph.D. in US to an African American (1876) and Yale women receive Ph.D.s (1894)

In 1876 Edward Alexander Bouchet (Yale College Class of 1874) was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the United States. His degree was the sixth doctorate in physics ever awarded in that field.

In 1892, women were admitted into the Graduate School as students in full standing, and in 1894, Elizabeth Deering Hanscom and six others were the first seven women to earn a Yale Ph.D. Deering and her fellow women PhD graduates that year went on to long and distinguished careers. Deering was professor of English and American literature at Smith College. Women were not admitted into Yale College until 1969.

The Graduate School is officially created - 1892

In 1892, the Department of Philosophy was officially renamed the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Arthur Twining Hadley was appointed dean. Hadley later became Yale's 13th president. In 1920, the Graduate School was assigned its own governing board, and under Dean Wilbur Lucius Cross (1916-1930), it attracted a large and distinguished faculty.

A home for the Graduate School at HGS - 1932 - 2015

The Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) was built between 1930 and 1932. Designed by James Gamble Rogers, the building is in the scholastic gothic style, with whimsical and emblematic decorative details, stained glass windows, and ornamented ceilings. Dean Cross, who long argued for building a home for the graduate school in the center of the Yale campus, noted that building a Hall of Graduate Studies would make the “Invisible Graduate School … visible to all.” From 1932-2018 HGS housed graduate student dormitory residents, and faculty and department offices. In 2015, the Graduate School Dean's and administrative offices moved to Warner House (1 Hillhouse Avenue). The McDougal Graduate Student Center moved to new quarters at 135 Prospect in Fall 2017. HGS closed for renovations 2018-2020 to construct a new Humanities Hub for 15+ departments and programs. A modern suite-style graduate dormitory at 272 Elm Street opened in 2018.

Growth and innovation continue to today

In 1996, the McDougal Graduate Student Center was established in the Hall of Graduate Studies, thanks to the generosity and vision of Alfred McDougal '53 and his wife Nancy Lauter. Through this new Center, the Graduate School enhanced its student services, adding professional staff and student fellows in McDougal offices of Graduate Teaching, Graduate Career Services, and Graduate Student Life. A Graduate Writing Center and a cooperating Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity (now OGSDD) were added in later years to serve student needs. 

The Graduate Student Assembly, the official student government representing all GSAS students, was established in 1997. With advice and support from McDougal Graduate Student Life, the number of grad student organizations has grown from 1 in 1996 to over 50 grad student groups today. 

GSAS Doctoral programs became fully funded in 2001, offering admitted Ph.D. students full tuition fellowships, competitive stipends, excellent healthcare coverage, and an increasing range of student services and policies, including parental relief, to assist them in their studies, academic and personal lives and careers. In the  21st century, with outstanding research faculty and degree programs, supportive student services, and the growing attractiveness of New Haven as a place to live, applications for admission to Yale GSAS reached record levels, with over 11,000 applications for approximately 650 student slots each year.

In 2015, the Graduate School Dean's and administrative offices moved from HGS to Warner House at 1 Hillhouse Avenue, to work more closely with the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, also in Warner House, and the Dean of Yale College next door in SSS.  In Fall 2017 the McDougal Graduate Student Center and related GSAS programs and events moved to a new location at 135 Prospect Street - a permanent Center home will be found in future. The former HGS is closed 2018-2020 for renovations to turn the building into a new Humanities center at 320 York Street. A modern graduate dormitory opened in 2018 at 272 Elm Street.

*For more on the history of the Graduate School, see Edgar S. Furniss, 1965. The Graduate School at Yale: A Brief History. New Haven, CT; and Wilbur L. Cross, 1943. A Connecticut Yankee: An Autobiography.