Past Inaugural Speeches

From the Introduction of Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of Yale University, edited by Josephine Broude (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).

Three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the Collegiate School, later to be named Yale College, the head of the school was called a Rector. There are no copies or descriptions of inaugural addresses made by the five ministers who served as Rectors: Abraham Pierson, Samuel Andrew (pro tempore), Timothy Cutler, Elisha Williams, and Thomas Clap. Clap was installed on April 2, 1740 as Rector and in a few years felt the need for change. In 1745, he drafted a new charter (patterned after those of Cambridge and Oxford) which was voted into being by the General Assembly of Connecticut. Among the reforms promulgated in the Charter was a new name for the institution, Yale College. The Rector was to be given increased powers and called President; the trustees were to be called Fellows. Thus began the traditional phrase “The President and Fellows of Yale College in New Haven” (changed to Yale University in the nineteenth century). Thomas Clap’s title was changed from Rector to President in 1745, and he served another twenty-one years as Yale’s first President.1

No inaugural addresses have been found for President Clap or his successor Naphtali Daggett, who as the sole professor at Yale was designated President pro tempore in 1766 and served for eleven years. Ezra Stiles was asked to serve as President by the Corporation and accepted in March 1778. His inaugural address, delivered in Latin on July 8, 1778, has been translated with great wisdom and skill by A. Thomas Cole, Professor Emeritus of Classics at Yale.

Timothy Dwight, who was formally inaugurated after the death of Ezra Stiles, also delivered his address in Latin. Unfortunately, no copy has survived. Nor is there a record of the speech given by Dwight’s successor, Jeremiah Day; included in its stead is the text of the handwritten speech he delivered at his ordination into the ministry.

To read chapters from Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of Yale University, including past inaugural addresses, click below:

Ezra Stiles 
July 8, 1778, in the College Chapel

Timothy Dwight
September 8, 1795, in the College Chapel

Jeremiah Day
July 23, 1817, in Center Church

Theodore Dwight Woolsey
October 21, 1846, in Center Church

Noah Porter
October 11, 1871, in Center Church

Timothy Dwight
July 1, 1886, in Center Church

Arthur Twining Hadley
October 18, 1899, in Battell Chapel

James Rowland Angell
June 22, 1921, in Woolsey Hall

Charles Seymour
October 8, 1937, in Battell Chapel

A. Whitney Griswold
October 6, 1950, in Woolsey Hall

Kingman Brewster, Jr.
April 11, 1964 in Woolsey Hall

Hanna Holborn Gray
May 21, 1978, Baccalaureate Address in Woolsey Hall

A. Bartlett Giamatti
October 14, 1978, in Woolsey Hall

Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.
September 20, 1986, in Woolsey Hall

Howard R. Lamar
May 23, 1993, Baccalaureate Address in Woolsey Hall

Richard C. Levin 
October 2, 1993, in Woolsey Hall

1 For a description of the early Rectors of Yale, and a history of the beginnings of the presidency, see Brooks M. Kelley, Yale: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974) and Reuben A. Holden, Profiles and Portraits of Yale University Presidents (Freeport, Maine: The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1968).