Liberal educators spent almost a decade thinking up Bennington before the college opened its doors to an all-female class of eighty-seven in 1932. From the beginning, it aimed to be different: unlike any other school at the time, it offered a Visual Arts major, and it encouraged its students to be active, engaged participants in their own educations to an almost unprecedented degree. The Field Work Term (FWT), Bennington’s version of a co-op program, dates back to this era as well.
Starting in 1935, men were allowed admission to the theater program and, in 1969, after a serious expansion, the school went co-ed. In the 1990s, President Elizabeth Coleman implemented controversial changes on behalf of the Board of Trustees that included eliminating tenure for professors, after which numerous faculty members were let go.
The 550-acre campus was formed out of donated farmland and rural touches are visible everywhere on this pastoral campus. The main building was a barn -- and is still called the Barn -- and students refer to the rolling lawn in front of the Commons building as the End of the World.
Bennington is a town of about 16,000 in the Southeastern corner of Vermont, near the border with New York and Massachusetts. Albany, the nearest city, is about an hour away by car. The Green Mountains are nearby, as are lots of picturesque New England villages, but the school can feel pretty remote, especially to those students who don't have cars.
Pigfest: an annual springtime party featuring live bands and a pig roast
Sunfest: day-long music festival in May
Snowball: a winter formal
Bowl-a-rama: bowling in Bennington
Roll-a-rama: roller-skating in Greenwall Auditorium
Bacchanal: one of the annual parties hosted by the houses
24-Hour Play: plays are written and performed in the span of one day
Alan Arkin '55, actor ("Little Miss Sunshine")
Donna Tartt '86, novelist ("The Little Friend")
Andrea Dworkin '68, activist
Kiran Desai, novelist ("The Inheritance of Loss")
Bret Easton Ellis, author ("Rules of Attraction")
Justin Theroux, actor ("John Adams," HBO)
Michael Pollan '77, writer ("In Defense of Food")
Tim Daly, actor
Jonathan Lethem, novelist ("Fortress of Solitude"), attended but did not graduate
Melissa Rosenberg '86, filmmaker ("Twilight")
Bennington has no varsity sports teams. Athletes can play intramural sports like dodgeball and soccer and can venture, either on their own steam or via the Outing Club, to the nearby Green Mountains for hiking, biking, skiing, and white-water rafting.
When Martha Graham was a faculty member there, she helped create what’s now known as Modern Dance.
Alum Bret Easton Ellis’s book “the Rules of Attraction” is set at a fictionalized version of the college called Camden. Alum Donna Tartt also set her famous first novel, "The Secret History," at a small private Vermont college, but not one that seems to be based on Bennington.
Buckminster Fuller built one of his first geodesic domes on the campus.
Bennington was the first college to offer a major in the Visual Arts.
Students are guaranteed a place all four years in one of the college's co-ed houses. There are no triples, suites, or on-campus apartments; 60% of the available rooms are singles and the rest are doubles. Only 1% of the undergrad population opts out of this system.
The colleges were built in varying styles, ranging from Colonial to hyper-modern and, appropriately, are supposed to have different personalities. They are each responsible for hosting certain traditional annual parties.