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Wagner College was founded in 1883 in Rochester, New York, as the Lutheran Proseminary of Rochester. Its purpose was to prepare young men for admission to Lutheran seminaries, and to ensure that they were sufficiently fluent in both English and German to minister to the large German immigrant community of that day. The school's six-year curriculum (covering the high-school and junior-college years) was modeled on the German gymnasium curriculum. In 1886, the school was renamed Wagner Memorial Lutheran College, after a building in Rochester was purchased for its use by John G. Wagner in memory of his son.
The college moved to the 38-acre (15 ha) former Cunard estate on Grymes Hill, Staten Island, in 1918. An Italianate villa called Westwood, the Cunard mansion (circa 1851), is extant (now Cunard Hall), as is the neighboring former hotel annex that was built in 1905 (initially named North Hall, now called Reynolds House). The college soon expanded to 57 acres (23 ha) after it acquired the neighboring Jacob Vanderbilt estate in 1922. In the 1920s, the curriculum began to move toward an American-style liberal arts curriculum that was solidified when the state of New York granted the college degree-granting status in 1928. The college admitted women in 1933 and introduced graduate programs in 1951. The college expanded further when it purchased the W.G. Ward estate in 1949 (current site of Wagner College Stadium), and again in 1993, when the college acquired the adjacent property of the former Augustinian Academy, which has largely remained wooded green space and athletic fields. The college now occupies 105 acres (42 ha) on the hill and has commanding views of the New York Harbor, the Verrazano Bridge, Downtown Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan.
New York City Writers Conference
From 1956 through the late 1960s, Wagner College was the home of the New York City Writers Conference, which brought some of the leading lights of the literary world to campus each summer. Instructors included Saul Bellow, Robert Lowell, Edward Albee, Kay Boyle and Kenneth Koch. From 1961 to 1963, while English professor Willard Maas directed the conference, it served as a training ground for the poets of the New York School.
Maas himself was a significant figure in the New York avant garde world of the 1950s and 1960s; Edward Albee used Maas and his wife, experimental filmmaker Marie Menken, as the models for his lead characters in the early masterwork, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
The Stanley Drama Award, which began as a prize given at the conclusion of the NYC Writers Conference, has provided encouragement for several notable playwrights, including: Terrence McNally for "This Side of the Door" (1962), an early version of "And Things that Go Bump in the Night"; Adrienne Kennedy for "Funnyhouse of a Negro" (1963); Lonne Elder III for an early version of "The Ceremonies in Dark Old Men" (1965), and Jonathan Larson in 1993 for an early version of "Rent."
Prominent early buildings include Cunard Hall (ca. 1851); Reynolds House (1905); Kairos House (1918), a Craftsman Style cottage; and Main Hall (1930, restored 2012) and Parker Hall (1923), built in the Collegiate Gothic style. Main Hall provides classroom and office space and a theater auditorium. Parker Hall, first built as a dormitory, is used for faculty offices.
Two cottages built in the early 1920s provide administrative space for the college's Public Safety and Lifelong Learning offices.
Three dormitory facilities were constructed during the college's major building drive: Guild Hall (1951), Parker Towers (1964) and Harbor View Hall (1969), later complemented by Foundation Hall (2010), a residence hall for upperclassmen. About two-thirds of undergraduates live on campus.
Another dormitory building, Campus Hall (1957), now provides classroom and office space.
The Horrmann Library (1961) contains over 200,000 volumes and holds the collection and personal papers of poet Edwin Markham.
The Megerle Science Building and Spiro Hall were opened in 1968, followed by the Wagner Union in 1970.
Two building projects have expanded earlier structures. In 1999, a dramatic expansion of the 1951 Sutter Gymnasium created the modern Spiro Sports Center. And in 2002, a pair of Prairie Style cottages constructed around 1905 were refurbished and joined by a bridge building into Pape Admissions House.
Three substantial resources on the physical history of the Wagner College campus have been published:
(1) "Founding Faces & Places: An Illustrated History Of Wagner Memorial Lutheran College, 1869-1930," first published for Wagner College's 125th anniversary commemoration in 2008,
(2) "Wagner College Memories: A Photographic Remembrance of Grymes Hill" (2011), and
(3) "Wagner College History Tour," a three-part series published in the Winter 2015-16, Fall 2016 and Summer 2017 issues of Wagner Magazine.
Admission and tuition
About 88% of incoming students graduate in the top half of their classes, about 50% in the top quarter and about 25% in the top tenth. The average incoming SAT score for critical reading is 540-620, math 530-630. The average incoming ACT score is between 23 and 30.
The average incoming high school grade point average is 3.45. Important admissions factors are class rank, rigor of secondary school record, academic GPA, application essay, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and standardized test scores.
Tuition, fees, and room and board for full-time undergraduate students (9 units) during the 2018-19 academic year was $61,214.
About 87% of students receive financial aid. Wagner College offers various academic and athletic scholarships.
Walt Hameline, in 38 years (1982-present) as the director of athletics and 34 years as head football coach at Wagner (1981-2014), won the school's only National Championship with a 19-3 victory over the University of Dayton in the 1987 NCAADivision IIIChampionship game (also known as the 1987 Stagg Bowl). He was named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year in 1987. During his 34-year coaching career, Hameline amassed an all-time record of 223-139-2 (.615) at Wagner College. Upon his retirement as head football coach following the 2014 regular season, those 223 victories ranked fifth among active head Football Championship Subdivision head coaches and remains in the top 10 among all Division I-FCS coaches in the United States.
Notable Wagner sports coaches of the past include former Seton Hall University, NBA head coach and current TV analyst P.J. Carlesimo (head basketball coach 1976-1982), former Marquette University and Wagner head coach Mike Deane, Jim Lee Howell (head football coach 1947-1953), and current University of Florida head football coach Dan Mullen (assistant football coach 1994-1995). In 2019, two NFL coaches who had previously been Wagner assistant coaches were elevated to defensive coordinator positions. Lou Anarumo now heads the Cincinnati Bengals' defense, while Patrick Graham is defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.