The Tufts College Divinity School was established in 1869, and in 1906 changed its name to the Crane Theological School.
The Divinity School opened in 1869 with four students and two teachers. While the founders of Tufts College were thoroughly grounded in the Universalist faith, they had, in the interests of avoiding sectarianism in the college, resisted establishing a divinity school. The death of Sylvanus Packard, a trustee of the college, indirectly brought about the founding of the school. In his will Packard left approximately $300,000 to Tufts, of which a portion was to be used to establish a professorship of Christian theology. The trustees decided, in order to keep religious sectarianism out of the college, to establish a quasi-independent school of divinity associated with the college.
The course of study offered by the divinity school was initially a three year course of study leading to a bachelor of divinity degree. Students were encouraged to have completed the full course of study toward a B.A. prior to entering the school. Such preparation was not required, however, and the poor performance of some students both before and after graduation dogged the school's reputation for many years.
T.J. Sawyer was appointed the first Packard Professor in 1869. The Reverend Charles H. Leonard of Chelsea, grandfather of Leonard Carmichael, future president of Tufts, was the second faculty member, and succeeded Sawyer as dean in 1892.
The Divinity School was initially housed in Ballou Hall, in a room on the second floor. With the construction of West Hall in 1872, divinity students were offered accommodation there. 1891 saw the building of separate quarters for the school with the construction of Miner and Paige halls. Miner Hall was built to provide classroom and office space for the school while Paige Hall served as a dormitory and chapel. The Divinity School at this time reached one of its peaks with forty-four students enrolled for the 1892-93 academic year.
The spacious new facilities added to the school were not long utilized to their full capacity, however, as enrollments showed a steady decline over subsequent years. After holding steady at approximately twenty students per year, enrollment dropped to a low of only nine students in 1906 with only one new student entering that year. Explanations for the lack of interest were sought and laid on the increasing secularization of American society, the waning of organized religion, and the call of other related vocations such as teaching and social work. Ongoing attempts to spur interest in the program by offering innovative courses in wide-ranging topics including psychology in ministry and molecular physics.
In 1906 the school received a much-needed gift of $100,000 from Albert Crane, A1863, in memory of his father, Thomas Crane, a trustee from 1852 until his death in 1875. The school was subsequently renamed the Crane Theological School.
Over the course of its ninety-nine year history, the Crane Theological School granted a total of 485 degrees.