Through the years Villanova has grown from a tiny suburban college to a great
university. Struggle and uncertainty often marked Villanova's first half century
(1842-1892). Classes began in the fall of 1843 with only seven young men; fifty
years later, when the college celebrated its Golden Jubilee, there were still
fewer than 100 students on campus. Shortages of both money and personnel also
forced the young institution to close on two occasions for a total of almost
nine years. Despite such early difficulties, the college erected several new
buildings and enlarged others.
Villanova's second fifty years (1892-1942) brought expansion, economic
depression, and two world wars. For several decades thereafter the college grew,
propelled by a boom in the nation's economy, the increasing prosperity of local
Catholics, and modern academic programs. New buildings arose, intercollegiate
athletics became a major element, and student social life glittered with fancy
balls and big name bands. As the 1920s came to an end Villanova experienced a
ten-fold increase in its student body in little more than three decades; then
the Great Depression struck, bringing a large decline in students and forcing
the college to postpone numerous building plans. The economy rebounded with
World War II; but enrollments sagged when a large percentage of Villanova's
all-male student body reported for military service. Only a Navy training
program on campus saved the college from great hardship during the war years;
but the wartime emergency forced Villanova to curtail its centennial
celebrations in 1942-1943.
The next fifty years (1942-1992) however witnessed more uninterrupted growth
at Villanova than during any comparable period in its past. Hundreds of veterans
flooded the campus following World War II. Postwar prosperity and the baby boom
continued to promote student enrollments. Dozens of buildings went up; new
academic programs were launched; and in 1953 Villanova officially became, in
1953 a university. By 1960 there were over 7,000 students on campus, one
thousand times the number who had entered the first class twelve decades before.
The 1960s also saw student protests at Villanova. Some involved inconsequential
issues, while others addressed serious questions of gross injustices in American
life and university governance. With the 1970s and 1980s came gradually
increasing enrollments as well as national recognition for academic excellence.
By the time of Villanova's Sesquicentennial (1992-1993) it stood poised for even
It is hoped that the exhibition will provide visitors, especially those with
earlier identification with Villanova, with initial acquaintance or pleasing
remembrance of significant aspects of Villanova's history.
We dedicate this account of Villanova's history to the devoted
administration, faculty and staff whose faith has created and sustained the
University; and to the thousands of students who have been part of the living
stream of Villanova's life.