Originally founded in 1813 as the Maine Literary and Theological Institute, Colby College began holding classes in a vacant home in Waterville, Maine in 1818. When Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820, the institution lost its explicit religious affiliation and was renamed Waterville College in 1821. After a generous donation from philanthropist Gardner Colby in 1865, the college was renamed Colby College in 1867.
The College was at the forefront of progressive ideas from an early age. In 1833, students formed the first college-based anti-slavery society in the United States. During the Civil War, many young men left school to fight in the Union Army. At its semi-centennial in 1870, it was proposed that Colby make “immediate provision for the admission of women to all the advantages of the college.” This proposal was officially made to the Board of Trustees in August 1871 and was immediately approved. The first woman to attend Colby College, Sigma Kappa Founder Mary Caffrey Low, entered Colby that fall - she was the only woman to take advantage of the new rule that year.