AUGUSTA – The history and vision of Bates College – the first college in New England to admit women – were celebrated Monday as the 150th anniversary of the college’s charter was observed at the State House.

Lewiston-Auburn legislators and a handful of legislators who graduated from Bates joined college President Elaine Hansen as Gov. John Baldacci read a proclamation honoring Bates and its contributions to Maine.

Bates was chartered in 1855 after the Legislature and governor approved a bill allowing the college to exist. “Sometimes what seems like a modest bill can have a wonderful, long-term effect in Maine. The 1855 charter authorization is an example,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci lauded Bates for the outstanding graduates it has produced, including some who went on to become business leaders, judges, scientists, artists, scholars and educators, including Milt Lindholm, Class of ’37, who was Bates’ dean of admissions for more than 30 years. Politicians who graduated from Bates include several state legislators, and Edmund Muskie, Class of 1936, who was governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state, and author of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, which historians would cite as among “the best activism bills passed in the last century,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci praised Bates for its reputation as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country and for its generosity to Maine students. Out of a student population of 1,700, there are likely to be 200 Maine students attending Bates, Baldacci said.

Hansen pointed out how the charter bill was signed by lawmakers in 1855, and how without that, plus some seed money from the state, Bates would not have existed. Out of three possible locations, Lewiston was chosen as the new college’s home after leading Lewiston citizen and legislator Alonzo Garcelon lobbied for his city.

“We treasure our location in Lewiston-Auburn. I am proud to be one of the world-class institutions for which Maine is renowned,” Hansen said. As was the case in 1855, she said she’s pleased that Bates has “friends in Augusta.”

The college started out as the Maine State Seminary. It was renamed Bates College in 1864, the year it began teaching its first class of 22 students, Hansen said. In that year, Bates became the first college in New England and only the second in the nation to offer admission to both women and men.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, read a joint resolution passed by the House and Senate, which praised Bates as being ahead of its time with its belief in “a woman’s God-given freedom to do anything for which she has the ability.” Rotundo recalled how the first female graduate in 1869, Mary Wheelwright Mitchell of Dover-Foxcroft, worked in the mills to pay for her education after politely turning down a scholarship, asking that it go to someone more needy than herself.

After the speeches, a birthday cake was served.

Bates will observe this sesquicentennial during the next two academic years at every major college event, as well as through lectures and an illustrated publication of the college’s history, Hansen said.

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