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Robert College records, 1858-2018 

Creator: 
Robert College (Istanbul, Turkey),.
Phys. Desc: 
110 linear feet (208 boxes, 2 map case drawers)
Call Number: 
MS#1445
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Robert College, the first American-sponsored college founded outside the United States, opened its doors in Bebek, Turkey, in 1863 with four students. The following year the American trustees obtained papers of incorporation in the State of New York allowing the! institution to raise funds in support of the experiment. The college was an outgrowth of American missionary efforts within the Ottoman Empire, but had no formal connection with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Under the leadership of the Reverend Cyrus Hamlin, a Congregational minister, who had spent many years in Turkey, and with the support of Christopher R. Robert, a prosperous New York merchant, the college gradually became recognized as an important institution for educating the Christian minorities within the Ottoman Empire. Cyrus Hamlin's desire to establish a permanent campus increasingly diverted his energies from administrative duties. After protracted I negotiations and considerable resistance from the Turkish authorities, he secured a site above the fortress of Rumeli Hisar overlooking the Bosphorus and began personally to oversee I construction of the new building. In the process he became increasingly alienated from his colleagues and as a consequence the trustees shifted responsibility for administering the college to George Washburn, a long time resident of Turkey who had served as I treasurer for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions before joining the Robert College faculty. In 1871 the college moved to its new campus and while the number of students grew so did the tension between Hamlin and the faculty. In 1877 the trustees officially named Washburn president though in fact he had been acting as such for some years. During his long tenure Washburn gradually assembled a faculty of distinguished scholars who firmly established the college's academic reputation. These professors were augmented by tutors from the United States and by local academics. With the death of Christopher Robert in 1878, the college lost one of its leaders and its chief benefactor. However, his generous bequest laid the basis for an endowment. That same year the college's first catalog was published showing that since 1863, 912 students of many nationalities had attended and 76 had graduated. The number of students grew markedly during the l880s but in the process the physical plant and equipment gradually became outmoded. I Faculty morale declined. In the United States a new group of trustees was recruited, and men such as John S. Kennedy, Cleveland H. Dodge and William Sloane inspired an ambitious building program II that both expanded and revitalized the college. In 1903 Dr. Caleb Gates succeeded George Washburn as president. During his twenty-nine year administration the student body underwent a dramatic transformation as the Young Turk movement led to an Ii unprecedented demand for education along western lines. "Concurrently, government relaxation of barriers against attending foreign schools encouraged the enrollment of Turkish youngsters in t1 existing institutions such as Robert College In 1912 the School of Engineering was established, a major step in harmony with the needs of a Turkey determined to modernize itself and provide technical education to its young generation. With the coming of World War I, Robert College faced a host of ;I pressures and experienced severe shortages of supplies. II Nevertheless, the college continued to fulfill its educational mission. Even after the United States entered the war and severed diplomatic relations with Turkey, Robert College never was obliged to close its doors. A significant indication of the relationship I between the two countries is the fact that there was no declaration of hostilities despite the fact that Turkey was allied with the Central Powers. At the end of the war the rising spirit of Turkish nationalism left the fate of an American institution precarious. However, by the I 1920s Robert College had been in existence for over half a century and had won the respect of Turkish leaders who recognized the i crucial role of education to the process of modernization. Moreover, the United States government had never over the years EJ become associated in the public's mind with efforts to dismember the Ottoman Empire. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson's emphasis on self-determination of nations was in accord with Turkish desires for independence in the wake of World War I. During the 1920s a militantly nationalist Turkish government sought fl to exercise increased control over all schools through its Ministry II of Education. While this thrust was not in accord with American traditions of institutional autonomy, both the government and then college maintained a degree of flexibility over the years that made it possible for generations of Turkish students to become educated in the Western liberal tradition and thereby contribute to the development of modern Turkey. This can be attributed, in some measure, to a respect for the secular traditions of the West on the part of Kemal Ataturk. The retirement of President Caleb Gates in 1932 closed a twenty-nine year chapter in the history of the college. By that time the impact of the worldwide economic depression had severely strained the institution's finances. The trustees appointed Dr. Paul Monroe of Teachers College, Columbia University, to consolidate the college in the face of its reduced income. One of his first moves was the merger of Robert College with the American College for Girls (ACG) under a single president, though the two institutions continued for I many years to maintain their separate Boards of Trustees and their separate endowments. Prior to the appointment of Paul Monroe in 1932 as the president of both Robert College and the Amerlcan College for Girls, the two institutions had begun sharing instructors for certain elective classes. The stringencies imposed by the depression led to further consolidation. When ill health compelled the retirement of Dr. Monroe in 1935, he was succeeded as head of the two institutions by Dr. Walter II Livingston Wright, Jr., an Ottoman scholar whose extensive knowledge of the Near East served the colleges well during an era of profound change in Turkey. President Wright faced the continuous task of maintaining academic standards in the face of financial stringency. The curriculum underwent revision as the college strove to adapt to I the needs of a nation undergoing modernization. As Europe's crises of the late 1930s brought war in 1939, it became increasingly difficult to attract qualified teachers. Moreover, when the U.S. became involved in 1941, President Wright was called to Washington to serve as an advisor on Near Eastern affairs. Dean Harold L. Scott, who had served Robert College in several capacities since 1911, guided the institutions through most of the war years acting as president. In 1944 Floyd Henson Black was appointed president of the college. His first teaching position had been as a tutor at Robert College in 1911. In 1914 he had returned to the United States and after completing his doctorate at Harvard he it returned in 1919 to teach Latin. In 1926 he was appointed president of the American College in Sofia where he served for the next eighteen years. By 1944, however, the war forced the closing of the college in Sofia and Floyd Black returned, this time to a combined Robert College and American College for Girls, to lead it into the postwar years. By the war's end the college was highly respected in Turkey and there was no difficulty attracting students. The problems centered on a shortage of faculty and the college's aging physical facilities. Financial constraints and an overburdened faculty threatened an erosion of academic standards, even while extracurricular activities, drama, and athletics flourished. The college found itself at a crossroads and with the impending retirement of Dr. Black in 1955, the faculty sought to re-evaluate the academic needs of the institution while the trustees undertook to seek new sources of funding. In 1955 Dr. Duncan Ballantine, President of Reed College, was appointed by a joint presidential search committee composed of RC and ACG trustees. His mandate was to revitalize the academic programs at the college. After a year-long study sweeping changes were made. The orta, which trained eleven to fourteen-year-old youngsters, was phased out. The four-year lise was made comparable to the three-year Turkish lise and designated Robert Academy. The collegiate division was granted permission by the Turkish Government to award Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees as well as Masters degrees in both fields. The college program was reorganized into three departments, the Engineering School, the School of Business Administration, and the School of Science and Foreign Languages. All three departments were to be coeducational. In 1958 a comparable change was made at the level of the trustees, when both Boards of Trustees and both endowments were merged under the corporate name of The Trustees of Robert College of Istanbul. This merger was ratified in 1959 by an amendment to the charter granted by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. In 1961, Dr. Ballantine resigned and was succeeded in 1962 by Dr. In Patrick Murphy Malin, who had taught Economics at Swarthmore College Jj and later served as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. Dr. Malin presided over the centennial celebrations of the college held in 1963. During its first century the college had fulfilled the vision of its chief founders, Christopher Robert, Cyrus Hamlin and Mary Mills Patrick, by educating successive generations of young people, beginning with the Ottoman Empire and continuing under the Turkish Republic. Timeline: 1863 - Robert College founded by Hamlin and Robert. 1871 - American College for Girls (originally known as The Home School) founded in Gedikpasa. 1874 - American College for Girls moved to Uskudar. 1912 - Engineering school opened at Robert College (with first civil engineering program in Turkey). 1914 - American College for Girls moved to Arnavutköy campus. 1932 - Administration of RC and ACG united under leadership of a single president. 1958 - Three new schools added to the degree-granting Yuksek (Higher Education) Division of Robert College. Boards of Trustees and endowment funds of both Colleges merged under the name of the Trustees of Robert College of Istanbul. 1971 - Robert College Yüksek transferred to the Turkish Government and now carries on the Robert academic tradition as Bogaziçi University. Robert Academy and ACG combined physically on the Arnavutköy campus as a coeducational six-year preparatory school.

Scope and Contents

These records contain information related to the formation of Robert College (Bebek, Turkey). They document the founders' attempts to define the mission of a Christian college within the Ottoman Empire, their efforts to obtain permission to purchase land, and their efforts to gain necessary permits to build upon the site. The records of Robert College are organized into fifteen series. Series fifteen of Robert College Records contains a vital documents series, a substantial collection of photographs, and a sizable body of records that relate to both Robert College and the American College for Girls. The collection also contains personal papers of some of the leading figures in the history of each institution, notably Cyrus Hamlin, George Washburn, Christopher Robert, Caleb F. Gates, Mary Mills Patrick and Caroline Borden. Cyrus Hamlin's earliest papers date from the 1830s, while the correspondence of the correspondence Caleb Gates and Mary Patrick extends into their retirement years as they continued to remain in close touch with their colleagues and former students. The earliest records of ACG date from 1890, the year of its founding with a charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The records are not as complete for the early years as for the later ones. Nevertheless, they document the pioneering role of ACG in opening higher education to women in the Near East and thereby enrich our understanding of the dramatic changes in the changes in the status of women during the twentieth century. The collection contains a large proportion of college officials in Istanbul and the Office York. The vital role played by the trustees and material support to both colleges is well documented. Throughout the correspondence that concerns the operations of the colleges there can be found many commentaries on events in Turkey and the outlying regions of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the administrators of both institutions reported on their travels in Europe and the Near East. They wrote about Turkey and conditions during the Russo-Turkish conflict and both World Wars. Finally, they followed with great interest the modernization in Turkey and sought to adapt their own institutions to the far-reaching changes in Turkish society. Thus, while theses records contain the history of two American colleges, they are also significant sources for the study of modern Turkey. Accordingly, extensive descriptions of each record series are provided.