Yale University is an Ivy League University based in Connecticut with a rich history spanning over 300 years, the third oldest in the USA. This article will outline the important roles Yale Univertsity has played in American History since its establishment in 1701 including the revolutionary, civil and world wars, its archives of pioneering research and where the institution stands today, in the 21st century.

The Founding of Yale University

Yale University was established in 1701, originally as Collegiate School until it was renamed in 1718 after Elihu Yale as recognition of his donation of books and resources to the school. Being founded before the American Revolution, Yale University is one of 9 Colonial Colleges in the US.

Key Figures in the Establishment

The key figures in the establishment of Yale University are widely recognised to be a group of ten congregational ministers referred to as ‘The Founders’ who, led by the Reverend James Pierpont of New Haven agreed to found a college with each minister presenting a donation of books. While initially residing in Saybrook, the institution was moved to New Haven, Connecticut in 1716.

Early Vision and Mission

Being founded by the Congregational church, Yale Universites’ original purpose was to educate congregational ministers and teaching was restricted to the study of theology and sacred languages. Yale’s early commitment was to offer “the essentials of proper learning: the light of liberal education and the truth of an old New England religious tradition” which is the origins of Yale University’s current motto ‘Lux et veritas’ which is ‘Light and Truth’ in Latin.

Yale University in the Colonial and Revolutionary Eras

Yale University emerged during the period of Englightenment that came with the revolutionary era in which there were great developments in the arts, philosophy and politics.

Academic and Political Influences

Under the guidance of Yale’s president Timothy Dwight (1795-1817), the university started to integrate humanities and science subjects into their curriculum. Furthermore, during the earlier years of Yale’s history, the university was highly influential in the spreading of Christianity through serving missionaries around the world.

Yale University’s Contribution to American Revolution

In the 1970s, during the American Revolution, students and alumni of Yale University were well known supporters of the American revolutionary cause. In 1779 when the British troops approached New Haven, students of the university helped to defend the town and one Yale alumni, Edmund Fanning, was able to persuade the British to leave without burning the town, preserving this historic campus.

Yale University in the 19th Century

In the 19th Century, Yale experienced a rapid expansion of the campus and areas of scientific research in which key schools such as Yale Medical School and Yale Law School were established.

Curriculum Reform and Expansion

Benjamin Silliman was Yale’s first science professor, appointed in 1802 and throughout his career strived to develop the study of both arts and sciences at the college. Silliman successfully established Yale’s Medical School in 1810, worked to bring fine arts to the institution and founded a graduate school and scientific school in 1847.

Additionally, America’s first ever PhD was awarded by Yale University in 1861 and in 1876 the first African American to be awarded a PhD from an American university received his Doctor of Philosophy from Yale.

In 1892, women were admitted for the first time to Yale’s graduate school which helped pave the way for future women to be enrolled in the medical and law schools in 1916 and 1919 respectively.

Yale University’s Role in the American Civil War

During the 1850s, Yale University held a substantial population of both northern and southern students and as such conflict often arose and the politics of slavery and abolition were a complex matter on campus.

Towards the end of the Civil War, 97% of students were northern and held pro-lincoln and anti-slavery beliefs. As a result, nearly 700 Yale students gave their lives to oppose the Confederacy and a memorial was constructed on campus to commemorate them called ‘Peace, Devotion, Memory, and Courage’ .

Yale University in the 20th Century

The 20th Century brought further construction of libraries, dormitories and a new campus which, by the 1930s helped economically mitigate the effects of the Great Depresson in New Haven. Additionally, Yale experienced a boom in its sporting developments, with the completion of the 80,000 seat Yale Bowl, the invention of the Frisbee and the success of the Yale Bulldogs football team.

Pioneering Research and Technological Advancements

Yale’s School of Medicine was particularly influential in the 20th Century, making many firsts in the fields of research and technology. A few highlights include the first chemotherapy used for cancer in the US, the discovery of melatonin, the first antiviral drug developed and the world’s first newborn intensive care unit.

In 2024, Yale University is ranked 30th in the world and 15th in the US for its research quality by QS and is at the forefront of Biological sciences research.

Yale University During World War I & II

Yale Medical School made significant contributions in WWI through its Mobile Hospital, Unit 39. The unit employed 40 doctors and nurses and arrived in France in 1917 in which around 170 patients could be operated on per day. Many innovations in trauma surgery were made by this unit and eventually, it laid the foundation for USA’s subsequent mobile hospitals.

While the university continued its curriculum for civilian students during the second world war, it also operated a program in which nearly 22,000 men and women were trained for various sectors of the armed forces.

Yale University’s Influence in the 21st Century

Many changes and developments have been made since 2000 at Yale University including a new partnership with the National University of Singapore and pioneering research in transnational medicine with University College London.

The Integration of Technology

In 2007, Yale added the West Campus to its facilities which brought 400,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research equipment and laboratory space to help further the Universities ambitions in science and engineering.

Throughout the 21st Century, Yale University has strived for world class teaching which has led to large investments in technology and softwares to make learning more efficient for students. Additionally, since the COVID-19 pandemic, many technological adjustments have become a permanent part of their teaching, such as lecture capturing.

The Future of Yale University

Yale’s mission is to “improve the world today and for generations to come through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice”. While some challenges remain, Yale is committed to provide world class education and initiatives to make a meaningful contribution to our world’s development.

Current Challenges

Due to Yale’s long history, the university has recently had to face some controversies regarding historial figues it has been associated with. For example, a building named after a slave owner and white supremisist was renamed in 2017 after decades of petition. Similar calls have been made regarding Yale’s namesake Elihu Yale since the 2020 George Floyd protests as Yale was involved in the Indian Ocean slave trade, however this is still a topic of debate. 

In 2020 the Justice Department sued Yale for alleged discrimination against Asian and white candidates, however this case was dropped under the new Biden administration.

Additionally, the costs of studying at Yale University can be extremely high, estimated to cost $90,975 in 2024-2025 without financial aid. However, to support equality in education and access, Yale has a huge variety of scholarships and financial aid which reduces costs significantly.

Forward-Thinking Initiatives

Yale has made new commitments in recent years to mitigate climate change through research and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Yale has also pledged to address the continued effects of slavery in society today, recognising the university’s historical associations with slavery.

Looking to Study at Yale University?

At Dukes, we provide support for applications to various universities across the world, including Yale University. Our programs offer personalised guidance, and strategic advice to strengthen your Yale application. 

We can support you to identify and showcase Yale University’s values, and effectively communicate your accomplishments and potential contributions to the admissions committee. 

For more information on how Dukes can assist with your Yale application, please visit our private US admissions consulting page. Alternatively, you can contact us here, and we can help you submit a winning application.