Agricultural College of Pennsylvania Campus photo from 1875 showing barns in the foreground with Old Main in the background

Old Main as seen from "downtown" State College, circa 1880.

The Charter

The charter that created The Pennsylvania State University in 1855 also determined the nature and purpose of the institution's Board of Trustees. The University itself was the product of years of planning by the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, which advocated formation of a college that would promote the application of scientific knowledge and methods to agriculture--a novel concept for its era.

The charter established a thirteen-member Board of Trustees to assume responsibility for Penn State's establishment and provide overall governance of the institution. Nine of the original Board members were stipulated by name in the charter. All had participated in the effort to found the new college. The nine were divided into three groups, each group serving one-, two-, and three-year terms, respectively. As each term expired, delegates from the state and county agricultural societies elected Trustees to serve three-year terms.

The four ex officio Trustees consisted of the institution's president, the president of the state agricultural society, and two state officials: the governor, and the secretary of the Commonwealth. Although Penn State was chartered as a private entity, the state agricultural society (also a private body) had urged the governor and legislature to commit public resources in support of the new institution, since it directly benefited the public welfare. The state subsequently provided funds to help construct the original Old Main building, the first and for many years only structure on campus.

Old Main in 1855 with horses

Establishing the Spirit of Philanthropy at Penn State

Hugh McAllisterFrom Penn State's founding in 1855, members of the Board of Trustees have given generously not only of their time and expertise to help advance the University, but in many cases they have taken leadership roles as philanthropists.

When the construction of Old Main, the first building on campus, ran short of funds, Trustee Hugh McAllister stepped in with several thousand dollars from his own pocket and donations from other Trustees to keep the work going.

McAllister, an attorney and gentleman farmer from nearby Bellefonte, gave unstintingly of his energy as the "local Trustee" to look after all the practical details of founding a new school. Thanks largely to his hard work and generosity, it was up and running in time to greet the first students and faculty in 1859. Today's McAllister Building honors his dedication to Penn State.

The First Board Chairman

Attorney, business leader and gentleman farmer Frederick Watts of Carlisle was elected the Board chairman.

As head of the state agricultural society, he had been the principal advocate for a college of scientific agriculture. He led the way in working with state government officials to secure approval of the charter.

Penn State historian Wayland Dunaway has written that "more than any other man, perhaps, Watts deserves the title of 'founder' of Penn State."

Decisions with Huge Implications

Mount Nittany view from campus in 1890.

The appearance of Mount Nittany and environs changed little between the 1850s and the time this photograph was made in the 1890s.

Pastoral scene from the 1870's with hay piles in front of Old Main.

In the 1870s, the Trustees sought to define land-grant education. Despite this pastoral scene, Penn State was transitioning away from being primarily an agricultural college.

Defining Land-Grant Education

The Impact of General Beaver and President Atherton

In 1882, the Trustees made one of the most momentous decisions in their history: they selected George Atherton as Penn State's seventh president.

Atherton, already a nationally recognized authority on land-grant education, also proved to be a capable administrator. During his twenty-four-year tenure at Penn State, the college became a model of land-grant education. It created one of the first agricultural experiment stations on any campus, for example, and launched an ambitious program of engineering education just as Pennsylvania was emerging as the nation's industrial power house.

Atherton worked closely with Trustee James A. Beaver of Bellefonte to solidify Penn State's standing in Harrisburg. Beaver, an attorney and Civil War hero, was active in politics—he served a term (1887-91) as governor—and enjoyed considerable esteem on both sides of the aisle.

Thanks largely to the harmonious relations the Trustees cultivated with state leaders, the College began receiving a regular series of state appropriations and special allotments for new buildings, enabling it to develop the campus beyond the single Old Main building.

Beaver also was Hugh McAllister's son-in-law. He took McAllister's place in the informal role of "local Trustee" and visited the campus frequently. He was much beloved by students, many of whom he came to know by name. When he secured state support for new athletic facilities, the students responded by naming Beaver Field in his honor. He was elected Board chairman in 1898 and held that post until his death in 1914.

Growing National Prominence

Engineering Students

Engineering students in the foundry, 1890s.

Penn State's growing importance to the state and nation in the late nineteenth century was evidenced by the election to the Board of a number of prominent business leaders, such as steel magnates Andrew Carnegie (who served 1886-1916) and Charles Schwab (1902-1930).

In view of Penn State's growth, the Trustees believed their number should be further expanded to make the Board still more representative of the varied constituencies served by the College. In 1905, the legislature approved a request to set the total number of Trustees at thirty-one.

Ex officio membership was limited to four: the governor, the college president, the superintendent of public instruction, and the state secretary of agriculture (succeeding the former state agricultural society president).

The governor was empowered to appoint six Trustees. Alumni chose nine Trustees, while delegates from Pennsylvania's agricultural and industrial societies each elected six Trustees.

The Generosity of Carnegie and Schwab

Andrew Carnegie and Charles Schwab, steel magnates and philanthropic Board Members

Andrew Carnegie (l) and Charles Schwab (r).

In the late nineteenth century, Penn State blossomed as a land-grant institution and graduated hundreds of alumni who met the needs of a rapidly industrializing nation for highly educated leaders in business and technology.

While the state made regular appropriations, those funds were insufficient to meet the needs for additional buildings. Carnegie and Schwab stepped forward with gifts that underwrote construction of a library and an auditorium, respectively, that bear their names and have long been campus architectural gems.

James A. Beaver, second chairman of the Board, pictured in 1905.

James A. Beaver, chairman of the Board of Trustees 1874-82, 1898-1914.

{ 1905 }

Board of Trustees membership is increased to 31, including 9 elected by the alumni and, for the first time, 6 appointed by the governor.

A Trustee Provides for Engineering

When the need for a building for electrical engineering education became critical, Trustees Chairman James A. Beaver made a donation and obtained additional private gifts to build Engineering Unit F in 1908.

It was an unadorned structure, intended to be a stopgap until state funds could be found to build a permanent home for electrical engineering. Yet it lasted for nearly a half century, serving a variety of important purposes for engineering and outreach education.

The First Campaign

In the early 1920s, Penn State was turning away highly qualified students. It simply had no room for them—residence halls, classrooms and laboratories were overflowing.

Trustees Chairman Howard Walton Mitchell '90, College President John Martin Thomas and other Trustees considered the possibility of asking the alumni and others in the private sector for philanthropic aid. There was some concern in the greater Penn State community as to whether the state's public land-grant institution should actively seek private support, but the Trustees believed that the University's physical plant needs were critical.

The Board thereupon gave its blessing to the Emergency Building Fund campaign, launched in 1922. The campaign secured $1.7 million in commitments, which combined with later state appropriations helped to make possible the construction of such landmark structures as the new Old Main, Rec Hall, West Halls, and additional classroom, laboratory and support buildings.

John Martin Thomas and Howard Walton Mitchell

Trustees Chairman Howard Walton Mitchell '90, right, with President John Martin Thomas.

Governor Gifford Pinchot

Governor Gifford Pinchot, standing at far left, chats with other Trustees on the steps of Old Main, circa 1924.

Board of Trustees 1940

The Board of Trustees meets in 1940. Chairman J. Franklin Shields is fourth from the right.

{ 1939 }

Legislation is enacted to add the secretary of mines as a fifth ex officio Trustee. (The secretary of mines has since been superseded by the secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the secretary of the Department of Education has superseded the superintendent of public instruction.)

Jesse Arnelle

{ 1969 }

H. Jesse Arnelle '55, elected by the alumni, becomes the first African American Trustee. A former Nittany Lions basketball All-American and student government president, Arnelle would later serve two terms (1996 and 1997) as Board chairman.

The Board Takes the Lead in a Tumultuous Era

The late 1960s and early 1970s were tumultuous years that witnessed widespread protests against America's involvement in Vietnam and for civil rights for all citizens. A wave of unrest swept over college campuses.

These protests often manifested themselves as antagonism toward a perceived "establishment" that was unresponsive to change.

At Penn State, several Board chairmen responded by taking the lead in changing some long-held Trustees practices, resulting in a higher public profile for the body within the University community.

Board of Trustees photo from 1970

The Board of Trustees in 1970.

{ 1971 }

Board Chairman G. Albert Shoemaker '23 changes the frequency of Trustee meetings from semi-annually to seven times a year, later reduced to six, a schedule the board continues to follow.

{ 1971 }

Governor Milton Shapp begins the custom of naming a Penn State student to the Board as one of the gubernatorial appointments. Undergraduate Student Government President Benson M. Lichtig '72 is the first student Trustee.

{ 1974 }

Board Chairman Michael Baker '36 opens board meetings to the public. The first such meeting is held September 20, 1974, in Keller Building with about twenty-five members of the public in attendance.

{ 1976 }

Board Chairman William Ulerich '31 opens standing committee meetings to the public. Agendas are made public in advance of meetings. A veteran newspaper man, Ulerich welcomes journalists to attend.

Meetings Beyond University Park

By the 1980s, the Board affirmed as a regular custom holding two of their meetings each year at locations other than University Park.

Typically, the March meeting is convened at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the July meeting at one of the other twenty-two Penn State campuses throughout Pennsylvania.

Exceptions to the custom are occasionally made when the Board has met in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or even New York City or Washington, D.C., to strengthen person-to-person relationships with influential alumni, government and corporate leaders, or philanthropists.

Aerial view of Hershey Medical Center and surrounding hills with fall colors

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Large group of Trustees, Press, Alumni, and Penn Staters gathered on the Old Main steps as President Bryce Jordan announces the Campaign for Penn State surpassing its $300 million goal.

Gathering on the steps of Old Main as President Bryce Jordan announces the Campaign for Penn State has surpassed its $300 million goal.

Board Leads The Campaign for Penn State

In 1984, sixty years after the first capital campaign, the Board of Trustees again helped to lead the way by approving The Campaign for Penn State. Trustee William A. Schreyer '48 served as volunteer chair of the campaign, which secured $352 million over six years. The Trustees alone accounted for $16 million in gifts, far exceeding the $10 million goal set by the campaign leadership.

{ 1991 }

Mimi Barash Coppersmith '54 is elected as the first female chair of the Board of Trustees. First elected to the board in 1976, she serves two terms as chair.

Balloons fall from the ceiling as celbration occurs for reaching the Grand Destiny Campaign's billion-dollar goal.

Celebrating the Grand Destiny Campaign's billion-dollar goal.

Trustees Captain Grand Destiny Campaign

{ 2002 }

The Board convenes in Washington, D.C., for its first meeting outside Pennsylvania, to strengthen relationships with government leaders and alumni.

Knowledge Commons

Board Backs For the Future

The University is now engaged in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, a $2 billion effort. Even prior to launching For the Future's public phase in 2010, the campaign received 100 percent participation from the Board of Trustees.

The Fundamental Obligation

View of Old Main from the lawn.