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Growth of Hartford branch goes back
to post-World War II era
February 2, 1998

Soldiers and sailors returning from World War II looking to restart their lives found a new branch of the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

The Hartford campus, then known as the Hartford Extension Center, opened in the spring of 1946 with 30 instructors and an enrollment of 330 students. Courses from business administration to zoology were offered on a schedule that ran from 3 p.m. to 9:35 p.m.

Last year the campus marked its 50th anniversary, but its real beginning was in 1939.

Less than a year after Connecticut State College became the University of Connecticut, a University Extension Center opened in Hartford, offering college-level courses at a location on Bellevue Street. Over the course of its history, the Hartford campus would be housed at six different locations.

The extension center moved to Woodland Street in 1943. Then in 1946, with the influx of war veterans, it became a branch campus, offering classes at the Henry Barnard Junior High School on Main Street. James Clark was named as supervisor. Wilbur Griswold, who was named registrar in 1946 for the campus, became supervisor in 1948, and held the position - retitled as director - until his retirement in 1980.

In 1951, the campus left Barnard Junior High, working out an agreement with the City of Hartford to use nine rooms in the Hartford Public High School on Broad Street. Enrollment was 778 that year.

One member of the faculty at the Hartford campus in those early years was Marion L. Starkey, who previously taught at the Old Fort Trumbull branch in Groton. Starkie, who taught English, was the author of the classic narrative history The Devil in Massachusetts, about the Salem witch trials. She also adapted the story for a 1950 Broadway drama.

While on the UConn/Hartford faculty, Starkey received two prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships: in 1953, to write a study of the social, economic and political aspects of Shay's Rebellion of 1786-87 (the book, A Little Rebellion, was published in 1953); and in 1958 for research on a study of African origins of black Americans. Her other works included Land Where Our Fathers Died, a colonial history, Cherokee Nation, about the persecution and disintegration of a Cherokee community in Georgia, and The Congregational Way, a history of the Congregational Church in America.

Still growing in the post-war years, the campus by 1953 had more than 1,200 full and part-time students, but the faculty had risen by only two. Excluding salaries, the budget for the campus in 1952-53 was $2,600. Also in 1953, the state purchased the Goodwin Estate in Hartford, and nearly a half million dollars in renovations turned it into a new UConn Hartford campus in a three-story, 22 room mansion. There were lush lawns and shrubs, a snack bar, and facilities for extra-curricular activities.

This new campus at 1280 Asylum Street was ready in the fall of 1954.

Freeman Meyer, who taught history at the Hartford campus, remembered the Goodwin Estate in a 1997 interview for an Advance article about the 50th anniversary of the campus.

"It was a grand old building," he said. "We had our own faculty offices for the first time."

The mansion, originally built as a girls' school, had a wing with about a dozen bedrooms. These became the faculty offices. The Goodwin family had lived in the mansion for more than 50 years.

Meyer loved teaching in the ballroom, as it was called. It was beautiful, he said, "with French doors and paneling."

The Hartford campus, which now includes the School of Social Work as well as undergraduate programs, has been sited at six different locations.

Photo by Peter Morenus

Into the 1960s, enrollment continued to increase, and the hopes of students, faculty and staff rose and fell with a proposal for a new campus in West Hartford. Trustees approved the move on October 10, 1962, and one week later ground was broken for the law school building on the new campus. Director Wilbur Griswold, who noted in his annual reports the "slow progress" of design work and planning, beamed with pride over the May 27, 1968, groundbreaking for the new campus building.

Moving day from 1280 Asylum Street to the new campus in West Hartford was on September 7, 1970. Classes began in the new Undergraduate Building one week later, September 14. In 1984 the Law School moved to its present location on Elizabeth Street.

Mark J. Roy

Sources: University Archives, Dodd Research Center