Charles Benedict Calvert: Founder of the University of Maryland
Anne S.K. Turkos, University Archivist Emerita, University of Maryland
Without Charles Benedict Calvert, the fifth child of George and Rosalie Calvert, the institution known today as the University of Maryland would not exist. Charles Benedict (“CB”) worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the need for an institution of higher learning to teach “scientific and practical agriculture and mechanics” and to gather the funds necessary to open the college. As early as 1850, he began a series of appeals to the public for support, and he traveled across the state to meet with farmers and planters to make his case. He sought to raise the standing of the farmers of Maryland, arguing that
‘so soon as you give a professional, and at the same time a liberal
education to the farmer, you at once arouse a professional pride
to make his own the most honorable of all pursuits, and it is only
necessary to arouse this pride to enable the agricultural community to
take the position which their intelligence and numbers entitle them to.’
To create the school he envisioned, Calvert worked with the Maryland State Agricultural Society and an illustrious board of trustees, including such men as James T. Earle, William T. Goldsborough, Allen Bowie Davis, and John Merryman, to petition the Maryland General Assembly to grant a charter for a new school, to be named the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC). The legislature approved the charter on March 6, 1856, and charged the trustees with raising $50,000 within two years to incorporate,
begin operation of the college, and qualify for a $6,000 annual appropriation from the state.
Calvert and the trustees set immediately to work, selling shares of stock in the young school and soliciting donations. When sufficient funds were in place, and it was clear that the school was to become a reality, in March 1858, Charles Benedict, his brother George, and their wives sold a 428-acre parcel of Calvert family property called Rossburg farm to the new college to serve as its home. This property included the building we know today as the Rossborough Inn, as well as a two-story brick house, a large barn with a brick basement, and some other minor outbuildings. Evidence in the Calvert Papers on loan to Riversdale from family descendant Matt Ray shows that Charles Benedict played a major role in the design of the first building constructed specifically for the MAC, commissioning drawings from Emil Friedrich in the Architect’s Office in the U.S. Capitol. Calvert also paid for numerous college expenses, including hay, bricks, flour, bulbs, siding, pots, and legal fees.
When the Maryland Agricultural College opened its doors to students in October 1859, Calvert’s four sons, George, Charles, William, and Eugene, were the first to enroll. Battista Lorino, an acquaintance who is also represented in the Calvert Papers, was one of the three faculty members who began the students’ instruction in what Charles Benedict envisioned as “everything that is taught in the best universities.”
In addition to his financial support for the MAC, Calvert served the college in an administrative capacity on the Board of Trustees and even as the college’s leader on a daily basis in the aftermath of the resignation of Benjamin Hallowell, MAC’s first president, after one month on the job.
Charles Benedict’s close association with and love for the college was reflected in the sentiments voiced by the members of the Mercer Literary Society, one of the MAC’s first student organizations, at the time of his death in May 1864:
Be it resolved…that we have heard with feelings of the deepest
and most heartfelt sorrow of the death on the 12th instant of the
Hon. Chas B Calvert, to whose energy, liberality & enterprise this
Institution owes its success & to whose posterity, care
& kind encouragement our Society will ever be indebted.
Resolved that while we do not complain of the will of our heavenly
master, who doeth all things well, we can not but feel with aching
hearts this deep public affliction which he has laid upon us, while at
the same time we bow submissively to his chastening hand…
Even after his passing, Charles Benedict Calvert’s passion for agricultural education, embodied in his support for the Morrill Land Grant Act, continued to benefit the Maryland Agricultural College. This legislation, enacted in 1862 during Calvert’s term in the U.S. House of Representatives, provided funding for a land grant college in
each state supported by the sale of federal lands. In February 1864, the Maryland General Assembly finally accepted the Morrill Land Grant Act and designated the MAC as the state’s land grant institution the following year. The income from the sale of the western properties assigned to Maryland helped keep the young college afloat in the succeeding years, until the state assumed complete control of the school in 1916.
Charles Benedict Calvert’s legacy lives on today in a university known around the world for the quality of its education, diversity and inclusiveness, do-good attitude, and fearless focus on the future, striving to become the “institution superior to any other” that he envisioned 160 years ago.