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Beloit College Celebrates 174th Birthday

Beloit College honored its 174th birthday with a celebration in the atrium of the Sanger Center for the Sciences on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from noon to 2 p.m. Over 300 students, faculty, and staff filled the first and second floors of the Science Center for free cupcakes, beverages and t-shirts, and the student a capella group Bits & Pieces sang a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” after which President Scott Bierman cut a special birthday cake in honor of the historic event. 

Thirteen booths on the first and second floor promoted different programs offered today by the college, including the new Channels initiatives, the Center for Immersive and Experiential Learning Opportunities (CIELO), the Office of International Education (OIE), the Beloit Fiction Journal, the Logan and Wright Museums, the Archives, and the Career and Community Engagement Center. A faculty book signing featured Associate Professor of English Francesca Abbate and Professor of English Chris Fink who sold copies of their latest book publications. A booth promoting Campus Recreation and the Powerhouse handed out flyers featuring the Spring 2020 Group Fitness classes available in March, including Zumba, Yoga, Pilates, Hip Hop, Cycling, and Aqua Splash. A slideshow at the back of the atrium displayed images from Beloit’s history, and artifacts were on view at the Archives booth. 

One hundred and seventy-four years ago, the charter for Beloit College was enacted by what was then the Wisconsin Territory on February 2, 1846. Middle College was constructed in 1847, which was the same year classes began, making Beloit College the oldest continually operating college in the state of Wisconsin. In comparison, Carroll University, whose charter was established on January 31, 1846, suspended collegiate academic teachings from 1871 to 1893 due to low enrollment during the American Civil War. 

The campus of Beloit College was built on land containing 25 Native American burial mounds constructed by the Late Woodland people of the Midwest—ancestors of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) people—between 400 and 1200 A.D. Today, 20 of these mounds remain, including one effigy mound resembling a turtle that has become Beloit’s unofficial mascot. Previous excavations of the mounds revealed human remains, and fragments of pottery and stone tools also recovered from the mounds are on display today in the Logan Museum of Anthropology. In 1986, following legislation drafted by a committee featuring several Beloit faculty and staff, the mounds were cataloged as an official burial site by the Wisconsin State Historical Society and therefore cannot be disturbed without a permit from the Historical Society. 

The college has seen several other notable changes during its 174 years of operation. In 1895, Beloit became coeducational, and nine years later Grace Ousley became the first African-American woman to graduate from Beloit College. Enrollment topped 1,000 students for the first time following the end of World War II in 1945, because veterans began seeking a college education, and in 1853 The Round Table, the student-run newspaper then known as Beloit Monthly, began publication. In 1964 the college embraced the “Beloit Plan,” a trimester system with a field term off-campus, before returning to the two-semester program in 1978. In 1969 Beloit College student activists compiled “The Black Demands,” which included calls for increased enrollment and the hiring of students and faculty of color. Following hate acts and crimes in 2006, 2015, and 2017, the college revised its bias policy in 2018 to include a response to hate acts. 

More recently, Beloit has been included in Loren Pope’s 1996 educational guide Colleges That Change Lives, and in 2006, Beloit College students broke a world record by playing the longest game of Ultimate Frisbee on record at 72 hours. The Center for the Sciences, now renamed the Majorie and James Sanger Center for the Sciences, was completed in 2008, and in 2010 Beloit opened the Hendricks Center for the Arts in downtown Beloit, which was the biggest single gift in college history. Current construction on the student union and athletic facility known as the Powerhouse is expected to reach completion later this month. 

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