High on the Hill

Dixon, Linda J.


HIGH ON THE HILL:Tufts Then and Now

HIGH ON THE HILL:Tufts Then and Now


We are going to take you on an accelerated tour of this campus. In the next hour, we will condense 125 years of Tufts history — its founding, its buildings, its notable sons and daughters — to introduce you to your university.

Standing here in front of Ballou Hall, we are in the center of our country's remarkable beginnings. Fifty miles to the south is Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. Fifteen miles in the same direction is the city of Quincy, where two of our presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, grew to manhood and are buried. Ten miles to the west are Lexington and Concord, where armed resistance to British authority first took place. And just five miles southeast is the city of Boston, with memories of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution.

When Tufts College was founded in Medford in 1852, there was no Radcliffe, Wellesley, Simmons or Regis, no MIT, Boston University or Boston College, no Northeastern or Brandeis. For in the Greater Boston area only Harvard College is older than Tufts.

The hill on which we are standing was called Walnut Hill. In the seventeenth century, it was a heavily wooded upland pasture used by the residents of Charlestown. During the American Revolution, Hessian soldiers stationed in this area cut down many of the trees for firewood. The remaining wood was cut by Medford residents, perhaps for their flourishing shipbuilding industry, and by the time Tufts was founded, the Hill was treeless.

Tufts College was chartered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1852, and the first students were admitted in 1854. Its name came from Charles Tufts, a wealthy merchant and landowner who gave Walnut Hill to the college. When friends asked him what he intended to do with the land, he replied, "I will set a light upon the Hill." The 100-year history of Tufts College from 1852 to 1952, written by Professor Russell E. Miller, is called . It has been used extensively in the compilation of this guide.