1960: Wesleyan Abolishes Compulsory Chapel

Wesleyan ChapelOn this day in 1960 Wesleyan abolished compulsory attendance for chapel and assembly, a requirement of all students since the university’s founding in 1831 as an all-male Methodist college. The announcement by President Victor L. Butterfield also marked the university’s decision to cease to define their curriculum as Christian, a break from the “decidedly Methodist” character of the institution into the second decade of the 20th century.

The school officially severed its ties with the Methodist church in 1937, though one alumni of the time fondly remembers still being awoken by the chapel bells at 5:30 each and every morning for mandatory service. The decision to end compulsory chapel in 1960 was voted on by the faculty of the university. President Butterfield had this to say:

“Wesleyan is not voting against religion on the campus. We are, on the contrary, endeavoring to provide the student with an experience of religious worship and to challenge him to exercise this option on a mature level of decision.”

Story contributed by Deborah Shapiro.


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