By 1783, the trustees of the Carlisle Grammar School had begun to discuss the possibility of expanding the school into a classical academy. Learning of their plans, prominent Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush endeavored, with the help of grammar school trustee John Montgomery, to advance the idea of a college, not a simple academy. Despite reservations held by some of the trustees, Rush's plan was accepted. Garnering support from such prominent men as John Dickinson and James Wilson, already himself a trustee of the grammar school, the trustees successfully petitioned the Pennsylvania State Assembly for the creation of their proposed "Dickinson College." The charter was granted on September 9, 1783.

The charter is entitled "An Act for the Establishment of a College at the Borough of Carlisle, in the County of Cumberland, in the State of Pennsylvania," and it sets forth the guidelines by which the business of the college is to be conducted by the board. The Board of Trustees was to be comprised of forty men, nine of whom were required to be present to form a quorum. No one was permitted to be a member of the Board while as a student, professor, or president of the college. Information regarding impending meetings was to be distributed in sufficient time beforehand.

A copy of the charter in its original language is bound with the first volume of the minutes of the Board of Trustees. However, subsequent amendments have changed the original guidelines of the charter. An amendment of February 13, 1826 established that no more than one-third of the Board should be comprised of clergymen. On April 10, 1834, by order of the Legislature, the president of the College became ex officio (by virtue of his office) the president of the Board of Trustees; this clause would in turn be repealed on February 19, 1912, leaving the president as a member of the Board but not automatically president. The amendment of April 1834 also granted the trustees the power to fill vacancies on the Board caused by absences, and stated that the oath to which trustees had to swear could be taken before any justice of the peace or judge of a higher court in the United States. Prior to this, such oaths could be sworn only before judges or justices from the state of Pennsylvania. In addition, the discipline of the student body was vested in the president and faculty.

The term of office for a trustee was limited to four years by an amendment of May 26, 1879, so that elections would be held every year as one-fourth of the membership turned over (each trustee was eligible for reelection); this clause was repealed on March 18, 1966. The oath sworn before a judge or justice was replaced by a written statement swearing to "accept the office of trustee and to promise to discharge the duties with diligence and fidelity" by amendment on March 7, 1889. A year later the number of trustees was increased from forty to fifty, four of the new members to be elected by the alumni. The vice president of the college was created a trustee ex officio on March 8, 1947, and in September 1955 the clause was changed to include all vice presidents of the college; again, the amendment of March 18, 1966 repealed this clause. March 18, 1966 saw the abrogation of all clauses of the charter dealing with the number of trustees, their terms of membership, meeting schedule, and quorum requirements; these issues had been established in the college bylaws, which had been adopted June 4, 1965 (and would be amended in October 1966). The number of trustees was not to be less than twenty-five and no more than fifty; any trustee over seventy-five years of age would retain his/her status for life and would have all rights pertaining to the office while having no impact upon the overall number of trustees.

(Image courtesy of Dickinson College/Carl Sander Socolow)

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