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Economics at Yale

Shield of Yale University

[Note: Part of the HET Website.  This page is not related to or endorsed by Yale University or any other organization. See the official Yale University website]

Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the Úlite "Ivy League" colleges of the United States.  It was set up in 1701 as a Congregationalist college and named in 1718 after Elihu Yale, an East India Company officer who had donated his substantial fortune to the fledgling college. 

Like its ancient rival, Harvard, Yale followed the "Anglo-Saxon" model.  For much of its early history, it was little more than a finishing school for the upper crust of American society.  Students at Yale College were given little room for specialization - everyone having to go through the same curriculum, with an option of only two electives in the entire four years.  Young faculty, no more than students, were given few options - Yale College hiring only tutors for Greek, Latin and Mathematics.

In the mid-19th Century, Yale was placed under external pressure to "modernize" its curriculum and introduce a modicum of specialization and graduate studies. Theodore Dwight Woolsey, a disciple of Lieber, rose to become Yale president in 1846.  After stiff resistance, the Yale powers compromised by creating, in 1847, the Department of Philosophy and the Arts to provide graduate instruction in traditional subjects (Latin, Greek, etc.) plus some modern ones (chemistry, metallurgy, agricultural science, engineering, philology).   From 1860, the Department was authorized to grant the first Ph.D.s in the United States.  The scientist J. Willard Gibbs was among the first to receive one.

However, pressure remained to expose undergraduates to modern subjects.  Again, Yale compromised in 1854 by creating a distinct undergraduate "scientific school" covering the experimental sciences, English literature, history, philosophy and modern languages.  It was re-baptized in 1861 as the Sheffield Scientific School.  From the outset, the Scientific School was kept distinct from Yale College and different undergraduate degrees were awarded (B.Phil. vs. B.A.).   Unlike Yale College, the Scientific School was starved of financial resources and depended heavily on its own student fees and donations from well-wishers in the American scientific community.  Paid lectures given to the wider public brought in some much-needed funds.

Courses in economics was introduced into the "Select Course" of the Sheffield Scientific School in the 1860s by Daniel Coit Gilman, a Yale graduate recently returned from a tour of Germany.  During his stay, Gilman had sowed the seeds of a movement to reform Yale College itself.  Gilman was very much a proponent of the "German model" of education (which he would later set up at Johns Hopkins) and the younger faculty of Yale College were thrilled by the innovations introduced at Harvard around this time.  However, the powers-that-be at Yale College, under president Noah Porter since 1871, would have none of it.  Frustrated, Gilman departed for Berkeley in 1872. He was replaced by Francis Amasa Walker, the first to hold the title of Professor of Political Economy at Sheffield Scientific School. However, Gilman left enough of a momentum to convince Yale College to hire its own rival economist that very same year, William Graham Sumner.

The simultaneous appointment of Francis A. Walker and William Graham Sumner in 1872 was intended to maintain the separation between Sheffield Scientific School and Yale College.  As Professor of Greek and Ancient History, Sumner was expected to teach the classical Yale curriculum, adding only a dab of social science at the very end to satisfy the restless Yale students.  "Real" social science was still confined to Walker's ghetto at the Sheffield Scientific School.  But Sumner was no pushover nor did he have any intention of fulfilling President Porter's bidding.  Instead, he took the leadership of the movement to modernize the Yale College curriculum. Sumner loosened the "classical" requirements and introduced modern social science at Yale College.  Much to the horror of the clerical administration at Yale, Sumner did not balk from having his students read "enlightened heretics" like John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer,  

Although Walker and Sumner seemed to have the same objective of furthering social science at Yale, the personal antagonism  between the two men ensured that they would never cooperate on anything.  This rivalry was enhanced by their opposite stances on the hot political topics of the day.  Sumner was an unabashed and strident apologist; Walker had a soft spot for some of the progressive causes, such as bimetallism.  Furthermore, Sumner (being a Yale B.A. and "religiously correct") had the ear of the Yale establishment, while Walker, very much the outsider, remained confined to the lonely and silent fringes of the community.  The rise of Johns Hopkins in the 1870s had deprived the Sheffield School of its most promising graduate students. Feeling he was wasting his time at Yale, Walker was tempted to join Hopkins on a permanent basis (he served as a visiting professor there).  In 1881, Walker had enough and decamped to take up the presidency of M.I.T.   

However, the arrival of German-trained "new generation" of American economists in the 1870s had already begun to tilt the balance.  Henry W. Farnam and Arthur T. Hadley (both Yale B.A.s with German graduate training) were appointed to Yale College in 1878 and 1879 -- albeit as tutors in Latin and Greek, respectively.   In 1880, Farnam was suddenly elevated to "Professor of Political Economy" and, in 1881, replaced Walker at Sheffield.  Magnanimously, Farnam used his independent wealth to have the long-suffering Hadley appointed as "Professor of Political Science" in 1886.  Hadley's appointment basically closed to door on Thorstein Veblen aspirations.  Veblen had obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy at Yale in 1884 under Sumner and President Porter and had since been angling for a position there. 

Soon after the departure of President Porter, the new Yale president, Timothy Dwight, decided to strengthen graduate studies.  In 1887 Yale College was officially renamed Yale University. In 1890, a new department was created, the "School of Political Economy".  Placed under William Graham  Sumner's direction, it was supposed to rival Columbia's own successful School of Political Science.   A third German-trained economist, John C. Schwab, joined the faculty directly as "lecturer in political economy" that same year.  

In 1891, the ailing Sumner departed for a two-year absence to recover his health.  The department was left in the hands of Arthur T. Hadley, who was swiftly appointed as Professor of Political Economy.  That same year, he appointed the newly-minted Yale Ph.D. and mathematics tutor, Irving Fisher, to teach a course on the "Mathematical Theory of Prices".  

In 1892, the Department of Philosophy and Arts was formally renamed the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and given a distinctly self-governing status (and for the first time, women graduate students were welcomed).  Arthur T. Hadley was appointed as its first dean.  That same year, Sumner returned, but decided to confine himself to sociology and anthropology.  Farnam used his substantial financial resources to buy the declining New Englander and Yale Review (founded 1843) and re-launched it in 1892 under a new name, The Yale Review.  It was intended to become the house journal of Yale social scientists and was only discontinued after the establishment of the AER.  Schwab and Fisher were both appointed professors of political economy in 1898 and took over the bulk of the teaching (under Hadley's direction).  

In 1899, Hadley became the President of Yale University while Fisher took a three-year leave of absence for medical reasons.  Some of the load was taken up by John Bates Clark (on loan from Columbia).  In 1900, Henry C. Emery, a Columbia, Ph.D. (and the first non-Yale B.A.) was appointed to teach international trade. 

(to be completed)



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Resources on Yale Economics

  • Bibliographies of the Present Officers of Yale University, edited by Irving Fisher, 1893 [bk]
  • Yale University staff at Cowles, 1955-present (list at Cowles)
  • Yale University -- official website
  • Department of Economics, Yale University
  • The Cowles Foundation at Yale University
  • Economic Growth Center at Yale University
  • History of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences [yale]
  • History of the Sheffield Scientific School, 1847-1956. [yale]
  • The New Englander and Yale Review, 1843-1892 [archived at Making of America database, Cornell, moa].
  • "The Influence of the English Universities in the Development of New England" by F.B. Dexter, 1880 [offpr]
  • "Modern Education: Its opportunities, its perils", by Noah Porter, 1879, New Englander (Nov), p.766
  • "Yale College" in Kibble's Cyclopedia of Education, 1883
  • "The Political Science Club of Yale University", by J.C. Schwab, 1887, New Englander and Yale Rev
  • "Yale University" by Arthur T. Hadley, 1894, Harper's
  • Sketch of the History of Yale University, by Franklin B. Dexter, 1887 [bk]
  • Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, with annals of the college history, by F.B. Dexter, 1885-1913, v.1 (1701-1745), v.2 (1745-1763), v.3 (1763-1778), v.4 (1778-1792), v.5 (1792-1805), v.6 (1805-1815), Supp. (Post-1815)
  • "The Founding of Yale College", 1876 (p.59), "Governor Elihu Yale", 1878 (p.84), etc. by Franklin B. Dexter, repr. 1918 in A Selection from the Miscellaneous Historical Papers of Fifty Years  [bk],
  • Documentary History of Yale University, under the original charter of the Collegiate School of Connecticut, 1701-1745, F.B. Dexter, editor, 1916 [bk]
  • "Getting Yale on The Right Track" by Judith Ann Schiff, 1991, Yale Alumni Magazine
  • "Presidential Pronouncements", 2001, Yale Alumni Magazine.
  • "Forecasting the Depression: Harvard versus Yale" by K.M. Dominguez, R.C. Fair and M.D. Shapiro, 1988 AER [pdf]
  • "Yale archives" at Irwin Collier's Economics in the Rear-view Mirror blog.
  • Wiki
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