As Norwich University continues going boldly into its third century, it will stop this week to celebrate Founder’s Day and remember Capt. Alden Partridge, who founded the academy and inspired its teaching and tradition 204 years ago.
Aug. 6 is Founder’s Day, marking the day in 1819 when the beginnings of Norwich University’s foundation were laid.
An Aug. 17, 1918, clipping from the Concord, New Hampshire-based Essex Patriot newspaper, kept in the Norwich University Archives, heralded Norwich University’s founding.
“The erection of the building on Norwich Plain, (Vt.), for a Literary, Scientific and Military Academy has already commenced. Joseph Emerson, who has undertaken to erect and finish this magnificent building, has begun his work with a spirit of enterprize (sic)
… On Friday, the 6th instant, the first blocks were laid. On this occasion, many inhabitants of the village … convened at the spot to unite in praise and gratitude of the author of our existence, to implore his blessing on their efforts and his benediction on those that may resort to this Temple of Science for an education.”
Norwich welcomed its first students just two years later on Sept. 4, 1820.
Partridge (1785-1854) founded the university in the town where he grew up on his family’s farm. He attended Dartmouth College from 1802 to 1805, then entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1806.
As the Sullivan Museum and History Center relates, Partridge commissioned into the U.S. Army in 1807, becoming a 1st lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and mathematics teacher at West Point. Partridge was promoted to captain in 1811 and to an engineering professorship in 1813. He served as the Corps of Engineers’ acting superintendent from 1808 until 1815 before officially being named superintendent.
Partridge oversaw a major reorganization of the 3-year-old academy. He developed his vision for a model of education that seamlessly combined military discipline with the academic preparation for a generation of “citizen-soldiers.”
The museum reported that around 1815, Partridge and his fellow West Point faculty members began feuding over cadet discipline, institutional finances, and the appropriate military-academic education balance. Partridge was eventually court-martialed and relieved of his duties in 1817.
“He began almost immediately to make plans for his own military academy,” the museum’s essay reads. “The seeds of Norwich University had been planted.”
Partridge’s West Point biography page noted that Norwich University, which had an initial enrollment of 100 cadets, gained quick renown.
“His academy developed a reputation for having an excellent academic program embodied in a tough, disciplined military environment,” the essay reads. “It was thought by some that Partridge’s views on military defense were years ahead of his time.”
As the Sullivan Museum recalls, the South Barracks, Norwich University’s principal building at the original campus in Norwich, VT, burned nearly to the ground on March 13,1866. When Norwich’s trustees met that August, they determined that moving the university would be prudent and accepted a proposal from Northfield’s residents to move to there. Many Northfield locals pledged money toward the move and building construction.
Northfield and the university maintain their strong bond. In 2017, Norwich University renewed a five-year agreement to donate money to Northfield to support the town’s public services. The agreement was the third such voluntary arrangement to promote excellent “town-gown” relations.