The history of Calhoun College is certainly living history, the subject of much present-day discussion and debate. For more materials on the debate since the 1980s, see the links to the right (“On the name of Calhoun College”).
In 1641, three years after New Haven was founded, John Brockton established a farm on the plot of land that is now Calhoun College. After the Revolutionary War, an inn was constructed on the land, which would later become the meeting place for the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
From 1863 to 1874, the land became the site for Yale’s Divinity School. In 1932, with the institution of the college system, the residential building at the corner of College and Elm Streets became Calhoun College, named for John C. Calhoun (1782-1850; B.A. 1804), alumnus and statesman. Like many of the other residential colleges at Yale, Calhoun College was named in honor of one of Eli’s illustrious sons, but there is no direct connection between the college and the man (he was neither founder nor patron). The name of the college itself is controversial: John C. Calhoun was an ardent defender of slavery and his works were foundational to the intellectual architecture of secession.
In recent years there have been several attempts to convince the university to completely rename the college or hyphenate it to reflect changing sensibilities about honoring advocates of slavery. One suggested alternative has been Calhoun-Bouchet College, in memory of Calhoun and past college history and in honor of Edward Bouchet, the first African American to graduate from Yale College and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the United States, again from Yale. The most recent debate over the naming issue culminated in the spring 2016 decision on the part of Yale’s President and Corporation to leave the name as is. Many Calhoun students responded by designing and participating in a ceremony withdrawing the name from the college, leaving it symbolically nameless. In the meantime, inspired by a student campaign, the Head of College christened the dining hall the Roosevelt L. Thompson Dining Hall, in honor of beloved alumnus “Rosey” Thompson (1962-84).
At its foundation, Calhoun was a noisy place to live because of its location at the corner of the College and Elm, where trolleys used to go screeching around the corner. That changed under Master Charles Schroeder, who once remarked that if the despicable trolley system were ever removed he would purchase a trolley car, put it in the courtyard, and hold a celebration to commemorate the event. The trolley system was indeed removed in 1949, and though a whole car proved unfeasible, Master Schroeder secured a fare collection machine and made good on his promise. Thus was born Trolley Night, a proud college tradition.
Like all other residential colleges at their inception, Calhoun had a 24-hour guard service and the gates were never locked. Jacket and tie was the attire of choice in the dining hall and all meals were served at the table.
The college colors are black, blue and gold, and the various college regalia – such as scarves and ties – display them. The coat of arms designed for Calhoun College combines the university arms, set atop the Cross of St. Andrew. The shield too has been touched by the naming controversy in recent years, inasmuch as the ancient symbol of the saltire was incorporated into the Confederate flag, and therefore has a distinctive meaning in U.S. history. A recent college t-shirt alluded to student resilience amid the waves of controversy over name and related symbols by incorporating into its design a phoenix taking wing.