Shortly after the Civil War, Westminster teacher Fayette R. Buell began to realize his dream of founding a private college. He bought a tract of land atop a hill overlooking the town and issued a prospectus in search of support for his dream.
Financing was slow, but he received generous support from two of the community’s leaders: J.T. Ward, the Methodist minister who would become the college’s first president, and John Smith, resident of nearby Wakefield Valley and president of the then-thriving Western Maryland Railroad.
Smith, who would become the first president of the College’s board of trustees, offered free rail passage to everyone who attended the cornerstone ceremony. The building was completed in September of 1867, and 37 men and women were enrolled in eight areas of study.
From its beginnings, the College offered entrance to all students without regard to race, religion, color, gender, or national or ethnic origin. It became the first coeducational college south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and one of the first coeducational colleges in the nation.
The College has always been an independent liberal arts college with an autonomous board. There was a voluntary fraternal affiliation with the United Methodist Church from 1868 until 1974, but today there are no ties to any denominational body.
In 2002, the Board of Trustees changed the name of the college from Western Maryland College to McDaniel College. Western Maryland’s namesake railroad had long since merged with another railroad, thereby losing its name. Prospective students often mistook Western Maryland for a satellite of a public university and thought it was located in rural western Maryland.
The College has grown from the original 37 undergraduate students to 1,600 undergraduates and 1,560 part-time graduate students. There are now 72 buildings instead of one on the 160-acre campus. Students come from all over the country and most of the world’s continents to the close-knit community, where learning is collaborative not competitive and every student receives personal attention.
On July 1, 2002, the name officially changed to McDaniel College in honor of William Roberts McDaniel, whose 65-year association with the College as student, professor, administrator, trustee, parent, and grandparent helped shape its destiny and today personifies its mission.
McDaniel College in Brief
Founded as one of the nation’s first independent, coeducational institutions of higher learning, McDaniel College’s evolution is characterized by academic excellence, extraordinary administrative and faculty dedication and resourcefulness, and increasing student selectivity and diversity. And yet, throughout its history, McDaniel College has remained committed to expanding accessibility and opportunity to first-generation college students. Situated on a scenic hilltop in Westminster, Maryland, its ideal location is just a short distance from the nation’s capital and Baltimore provides a warm, friendly campus community with boundless opportunities for global learning and engagement.
Transcending the traditional classroom, the McDaniel experience encompasses the laboratories, the lounges, the athletic fields, and the residence halls, which 80 percent of our 1,600 undergraduates call home. Our students’ learning reaches beyond McDaniel’s 160 acres to a European campus in Budapest, Hungary, and study abroad partnerships on virtually every continent. Our promise to students is to guide them on their individual educational path and quest for personal development. The McDaniel Plan – an integrated program of studies in the liberal arts and sciences – is the centerpiece for customized learning and academic excellence at the College. A January mini-mester of uncommon courses, and options for self-designed majors provide learning opportunities beyond the norm.
Post-baccalaureate programs have also evolved to meet the changing needs of professionals in the region and across the nation. Over 20 master’s degree programs including Deaf Education, Gerontology, and Human Services Management further distinguish McDaniel College.
McDaniel College is nationally recognized as one of the eight colleges in the Northeast that changes lives, according to former New York Times education editor Loren Pope in his book Colleges That Change Lives.