The history of the College is certainly living history. It was founded as Calhoun College in 1933, and renamed Grace Hopper College in 2017. Heightened discussion and debate about whether the College’s name should change and if so, to what, began in the late 1970s and continued, unevenly, through 2017.
The land itself, archeological investigations suggest, was inhabited by indigenous peoples as long as 8000 years ago. The coastal Algonquians who lived in the New Haven area in the 1600s – dubbed Quinnipiac Indians by the English – were already much depleted in numbers by disease introduced via imperial contact. When they treated with the English in 1638, the remaining Quinnipiac relinquished substantial territory, and New Haven was thus founded.
In 1641, John Brockton established a farm on the plot of land that is now the site of Grace Hopper College. After the Revolutionary War, an inn was constructed on the land, and that inn would later become the meeting place for the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
From 1863 to 1874, the land became the site for Yale’s Divinity School. In 1932, with the institution of the college system, the residential building at the corner of College and Elm Streets became Calhoun College, named for John C. Calhoun (1782-1850; B.A. 1804). There was no direct connection between the college and the man (he was neither founder nor patron). The name of the college itself became controversial: John C. Calhoun was an ardent defender of slavery and his works were foundational to the intellectual architecture of secession.
From the late 1970s onward, there were several organized attempts to convince the university to rename the college or hyphenate it to reflect changing sensibilities. The most recent debate over the naming issue culminated in the 2017 decision on the part of Yale’s President and Corporation to rename the college after Grace Murray Hopper. In academic year 2017-18, the College therefore sees in a new era.
At its foundation, the college was a noisy place to live because of its location at the corner of College and Elm Streets, where trolleys used to go screeching around the corner. That changed under Master Charles Schroeder, who once remarked that if the despicable trolley system were ever removed he would purchase a trolley car, put it in the courtyard, and hold a celebration to commemorate the event. The trolley system was indeed removed in 1949, and though a whole car proved unfeasible, Master Schroeder secured a fare collection machine and made good on his promise. Thus was born Trolley Night, a college tradition that has endured in one form or another until the present day.
Like all other residential colleges at their inception, then-Calhoun College had a 24-hour guard service and the gates were never locked. ‘Jacket and tie’ was the attire of choice in the dining hall and all meals were served at table. That has certainly changed as well. Yet the college colors are still black, blue and gold, and the various college regalia – scarves, ties, etc. – continue to display them.
The history of the College’s decades as Calhoun College, and the life of the ‘Hounies’ who lived within its walls, are reflected in the Parlor, a room adjoining Roosevelt L. Thompson Dining Hall. A range of documentary evidence can also be sampled via the links at right (“On the name of Calhoun College”).