Shortly after the Civil War, Westminster teacher Fayette R. Buell began to realize his dream of founding a private college. He bought a tract of land atop a hill overlooking the town and issued a prospectus in search of support for his dream.
Financing was slow, but he received generous support from two of the community’s leaders: J.T. Ward, the Methodist minister who would become the college’s first president, and John Smith, resident of nearby Wakefield Valley and president of the then-thriving Western Maryland Railroad.
Smith, who would become the first president of the College’s board of trustees, offered free rail passage to everyone who attended the cornerstone ceremony. The building was completed in September of 1867, and 37 men and women were enrolled in eight areas of study.
From its beginnings, the College offered entrance to all students without regard to race, religion, color, gender, or national or ethnic origin. It became the first coeducational college south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and one of the first coeducational colleges in the nation.
The College has always been an independent liberal arts college with an autonomous board. There was a voluntary fraternal affiliation with the United Methodist Church from 1868 until 1974, but today there are no ties to any denominational body.
In 2002, the Board of Trustees changed the name of the college from Western Maryland College to McDaniel College. Western Maryland’s namesake railroad had long since merged with another railroad, thereby losing its name. Prospective students often mistook Western Maryland for a satellite of a public university and thought it was located in rural western Maryland.
The College has grown from the original 37 undergraduate students to 1,600 undergraduates and 1,560 part-time graduate students. There are now 72 buildings instead of one on the 160-acre campus. Students come from all over the country and most of the world’s continents to the close-knit community, where learning is collaborative not competitive and every student receives personal attention.