Colby College opened as the Maine Theological Seminary and Institution in 1813, the 12th-oldest liberal arts school in the country. The school got its authority to grant degrees when Maine and Massachusetts re-drew the state boundaries and was re-named the Waterville College (after the town of Waterville) in 1821. When enrollment dipped perilously during the Civil War, a Boston merchant named Gardner Colby donated enough money to keep the school open ‘til the soldiers came home. He also gave the college (and a new kind of cheese) a name that finally stuck: Colby.
Colby College became the first college in New England to break the all-male mold when it admitted its first woman, Mary Low, who went on to graduate as valedictorian. With co-education and rising enrollment, Colby began to outgrow its original campus. In the 1930s, Waterville gave the college 500 acres on Mayflower Hill to keep the school from moving, and Colby added major sections to its campus during the 1950s. The last class in Coburn Hall, part of Colby’s historic flagship location, took place in 1951.
While the Colby Greek system dated all the way back to 1874, trustees decided to abolish fraternities and sororities one "Bloody Sunday" in 1984. In 1975, Colby introduced the first of the Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips (COOT), which have since grown to include nearly 98 percent of incoming freshmen in a variety of hiking and outdoor camping trips during their first weeks at school.
The Colby campus on Mayflower Hill overlooks its neighbors in Waterville and is anchored by the stately Miller Library. Red-brick neo-Georgian architecture makes structures seem straight out of colonial times, but most buildings were built during the 1950s Mayflower Hill expansion. Clusters of classrooms and dorms square up around grassy quads and walkways that connect different sides of campus. Johnson Pond separates the main campus from a series of athletic fields and tree groves on the northeast corner.
Despite its centuries-old foundation as a college town, Waterville doesn’t offer students at four nearby colleges much in terms of atmosphere. The departure of the once-flourishing factory left Waterville in a bit of a slump, and students report high turnover in the meager selection of retail basics available downtown. Town officials have begun reaching out to Colby and other local schools to encourage better town-gown synergy by inviting better off-campus options and keeping bars, restaurants, and cafes open later. The over-21 crowd spends Thursdays at popular Mainely Brews, but for the most part, the best places to escape Colby require a bit more of a drive. Maine state capital Augusta offers better shopping only a half-hour drive away, and Sugarloaf’s ski slopes attract outdoorsy types looking to take a snow break.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Colby students wake up as early as they can to begin downing drinks for the day-long celebration, "Doghead Day," that winds up at a big off-campus party. Administrators have tried unsuccessfully to shut it down in the past, but it persists, as students are now more careful to take their revelry off-campus.
Senior Steps unites the graduating class for one last toast on campus. During the last day of classes, seniors gather on the steps of Miller Library and get a glass of champagne. Reminiscing and tipsy stair-walking ensue.
Despite the conspicuous absence of frats at Colby, members of dorms converted from the old Greek houses band together and compete against other dorms in a series of carnival-style events called the Frat Row Olympics.
And, on the first and last weekends of every semester, Colby students get their final yips out during “Loudness,” a campus-wide party with bands, games, entertainment, and plentiful booze.
Billy Bush (1994) is a TV personality.
Doris Kearns Goodwin (1964) is a historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Elijah Lovejoy (1826) was an abolitionist.
E. Annie Proulx (1957) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Brokeback Mountain."
Tara Allain (2008) is Miss Maine 2007.
Colby College got its odd mascot, the White Mule, as a result of an op-ed written in 1923 claiming that Colby was no longer a “dark horse” but a “white mule” in the college athletic arena. While the phrase might baffle students today, Colby’s outstanding athletic programs are assisted by its ample New England natural resources. It competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference with similarly-sized liberal arts institutions. Varsity teams (including crew, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer, tennis, hockey, and volleyball) compete in Division III. The two exceptions, alpine and Nordic skiing, both participate in Division I meets. Winter sports are especially strong, both for varsity athletes and intramural participants. Colby has sent two hockey players onto the Olympics, and it offers ice skating on Johnson Pond during the cold winter months. In the spring and fall, Colby is one of the few colleges to still compete in inter-school lumberjack competitions, which test traditional woodsman skills like log-sawing and log-rolling.
Colby College students claim to have created the drinking game "Beer Die."
Colby was mentioned as the "local college" adjacent to the summer camp in the movie Wet Hot American Summer, and The Sopranos featured Colby as a college visited by Tony Soprano’s daughter (although the scenes were actually shot at Drew University).
Memorial Hall is the first Civil War memorial to be built on a college campus.
While Colby once received national attention for allowing students to buy beer and wine in the dining hall, the program has since been cut to save money.
Frat Row dorms: The seven converted frat and sorority houses host some of the most tight-knit communities on campus—-Piper, Drummond, Goddard-Hodgkins, Treworgy, Pierce, Perkins-Wilson, and Grossman. Accommodations are spare, with only two floors of housing hosting around 30 students per dorm. While drafty windows and tiny showers may turn some off, others report the settings create a bond between floor neighbors and members of nearby Frat Row houses. Colby officials have announced plans to renovate Frat Row dorms within the next few years.
Central campus dorms: The Heights, Hillside, AMS, and Averill dorms are located on the east side of campus, and their central location and recent construction makes them preferred upperclass housing. The Heights, situated behind the chapel, is known for its big suites and bigger parties. Hillside and AMS (a conglomeration of three dorms—-Anthony, Mitchell, and Schupf) lay partway up the hill towards Johnson Pond and house a number of suites attractive to juniors and seniors. According to Jake Fischer ’10, “There is a rumor that [Hillside] was built during the 70s to be riot-proof, and as a result has winding hallways and a somewhat confusing layout.” Averill is the most centrally located, right next to Miller Library, and is one of the better-maintained dorms on campus.
Lower campus dorms: The third cluster of housing is located at the base of Mayflower Hill, close to the President’s quarters, is comprised of Mary Low, Coburn, Dana, Foss, Woodman dorms. This end of campus lends itself to more sedate living arrangements than the rowdy up-campus houses. Mary Low, named for Colby’s first female student, is currently chemical-free, meaning that students can’t drink or return to the premises drunk. Coburn is zoned as a “quiet dorm” and enforces "quiet hour" 24 hours a day. Foss and Woodburn are connected across a small quad by a vegan-friendly dining hall, giving it a reputation for housing hippies. Dana, the biggest dorm on campus, is also down campus and serves more traditional fare in the dining hall on the first floor. Other themed housing is pervasive in these dorms, and administrators have welcomed such creations as Spanish Language Housing, Green Housing, and Art and Music Housing.