You may not realize that our fine institution has not always had a board of trustees. When Alden Partridge established the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, it had no formal charter that dictated a governance structure. Some early manuscripts held by the University Archives indicate that there may have been a governing board sometime in the 1820s, perhaps established in connection with Partridge’s attempts to obtain a charter from the State of Connecticut during the Middletown years.
The Board as we know it today received its charge when the State of Vermont granted us a degree-granting charter, along with the name Norwich University, in 1834. With handwritten minutes recorded in a leatherbound book, the Board met in a variety of locations, sometimes the president’s own office or home, to approve the granting of degrees and vote on major changes like the naming of Lewis College, the move to Northfield, and much later, the merger with Vermont College.
For over 100 years, the Board of Trustees had no permanent chair. Nineteenth-century meeting minutes show that a board member was elected as chair at the start of each meeting. Later on, the tradition was for the president or vice president of the university to chair the board meetings. The practice of appointing a single, long-serving, visionary person to chair the Board of Trustees began in 1946 with the election of former Vermont governor Stanley C. Wilson to the post. Wilson was the only board chair not to have graduated from Norwich.
Since the position was created, Norwich has had eight board chairs. The shortest term length was Charles Adams, who served from 1993 to 1995, but most have served for over a decade. The longest serving chair was Philip Marsilius, class of 1943, whose 17-year term lasted from 1970 to 1987—a time of pivotal change in Norwich history. Here are the luminaries who have overseen the direction of Norwich University since 1946:
- Stanley Wilson, served 1946-1960
- William Adams, class of 1921, served 1960-1970
- Philip Marsilius, class of 1943, served 1970-1987
- Rollin Reiter, class of 1950, served 1988-1993
- Charles Adams, class of 1940, served 1993-1995
- Fred Kreitzberg, class of 1957, served 1995-2003
- Gordon Sullivan, class of 1959, served 2003-2016
- Alan DeForest, class of 1975, served 2016-present
The records of the Board of Trustees dating back to 1834 are available for research in the Norwich University Archives and Special Collections on the 5th floor of the Kreitzberg Library.