The Founding of NACUC
Written for NACUC’s 50th anniversary held at Yale University, June 1998, by
Donovan Hull (1998) with subsequent editorial updates by Historians Cynthia Terry (2005) and Jim Davis (2010)
Professor Clarence Prouty Shedd of Yale Divinity School wrote Dr. Sidney Lovett, chaplain of Yale University, a simple letter in the fall of 1947 suggesting they get together for lunch to discuss an idea he had. It was a plan that was shaping up in his mind, for Yale to host a conference of about 40 chaplains and directors of student religious life of colleges and universities.
It would be a gathering of men and women serving both in men's and women's colleges, and in coeducational institutions. He hoped that this selected group might be fairly widely distributed and representative of different types of colleges across the country. He suggested spring break, 1948 as the time for this informal conference. Professor Shedd had talked with eight or ten chaplains and found great interest in the possibility. He had also received a special grant from the Walter Teagle Foundation to be used in ways that would further the national service of Yale in the field of religion in higher education. He also suggested, and many would say wisely so, that the conference should be "leisurely and not too heavily loaded with program, offering opportunity for leisurely, personal conferences, or for conferences of small groups." Hospitality would be provided by Yale (with the help of the Teagle grant money).
Chaplain Lovett kept the luncheon appointment with Professor Shedd and he enthusiastically endorsed Shedd's plan. The first gathering took place in March of 1948 at Yale Divinity School and Yale University. There were 84 occupants of the "barracks" dormitory (resembling the accommodations at some of the places where NACUC has met?) at the spring conference and it was agreed that another gathering should occur the next year at Northwestern. The conference actually was held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Professor Shedd referred to chaplains as "men" because all those whom he knew were men; yet he urged that the first gathering be inclusive.
Charles Noble, chaplain of Syracuse, must have been one of those 84 occupants of the "barracks" that March, because he was chosen as the first President of the Association. He was followed in successive years by chaplains from Rutgers, Fisk, and Yale who served as Presidents. The variety of college chaplaincies involved is reflected in the institutions of the elected Presidents during the 1950's: Hampton Institute, Virginia Institute, Queen's University, Toronto, Iowa State Teachers' College, Brown University, the U.S. Military Academy and Vassar. Certainly not an Ivy-league only list! All were male, and most were white although some were African American. All were Protestant Christian. Archival records do not contain complete information on conferences in the 1950's; however, notes from former president Bradford Abernethy of Rutgers indicate the locations, dates and themes for most years on the 1950s link to the right.