Historic Overview of Rutgers-Camden

Historic Overview of Rutgers-Camden


Campus Beginnings

The Camden Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, traces its roots back to the creation of the South Jersey Law School on March 21, 1926. The school was started by two enterprising members of a local building and loan association, Arthur E. Armitage and Elmer G. Van Name, who recognized a strong interest among Camden County residents for an evening program teaching New Jersey law. The South Jersey Law School formally opened its doors on September 24, 1926, on the third floor of an office building at 505 Market Street in Camden with Armitage acting as registrar and Van Name as dean.

This postcard from 1909 includes an early image of the Ayer mansion, located at 406 Penn Street, on the right. The building now houses the Campus' Admissions Office.
When the school first started, it was possible to enter law school without any previous college experience, earn a bachelor of laws degree and be admitted to the bar. However, during the first year of the law school’s operation, the New Jersey Board of Education adopted a ruling that required two years of college education as a pre-requisite to admission to any law school. So to serve their potential students fully, Armitage and Van Name established the two-year College of South Jersey as part of their operation in September 1927. Dr. Charles L. Maurer was named the college’s first dean and a part-time faculty was recruited from other colleges in the area.

The independent law school and its junior college continued to grow through the 1930s and managed to survive an enrollment slump caused by World War II, all the time adapting to changes in the accreditation requirements of the state’s Board of Education and the American Bar Association. When the ABA stated that accredited law schools must have facilities separate from undergraduate programs, Armitage purchased the Ayer House at 406 Penn Street along with some adjoining property in July 1946, for $19,000. The fieldstone mansion, which had been built in 1869 at a cost of about $40,000 for Philadelphia educator Nathan Wheeler Ayer, was used as a classroom building for the College of South Jersey, and a new, two-story brick law school was built behind it.

Two more plots bordering Fourth and Penn Streets were purchased the following year, giving the institution a firm presence

In 1946, Arthur Armitage purchased property at 406 Penn Street to house the College of South Jersey. At its centers was the stately home builit for Nathan W. and Joanna B. Ayer in 1869.
in the quiet neighborhood of row homes and churches. Expenses to maintain the new facility were high and the school began to run a deficit. Finally Armitage was faced with an insurmountable obstacle when the law school failed to achieve accreditation, primarily because it was not associated with an established university “and therefore lacked assurance of continued operation.”

In trying to solve the dilemma, Armitage contacted New Jersey Governor Alfred E. Driscoll and suggested the struggling law school and college be incorporated into the State University system and that title to all the Camden operation’s property be turned over to Rutgers. The university’s response was positive. “The State University’s extension of educational service to South Jersey has been a part of its long-range planning for some years,” Provost Mason W. Gross explained when the merger plan was first announced. “Only by the establishment of facilities within easy reach of that portion of the State can it meet its obligations in that area.” Rutgers had incorporated the University of Newark in a similar manner in 1946.

In October 1949, Rutgers assumed temporary control of the South Jersey Law School and College of South Jersey. In May, the state legislature voted unanimously to make the merger official on July 1, 1950. At the time of the merger, the college and law school were housed in six buildings and the total assets of operation were worth $300,000.

The College of South Jersey was offering 14 different courses to the 251 students enrolled in the two-year program when the merger took place. It operated with a total of 27 faculty and administrative staff, most working on a part-time basis. After the merger was official, Rutgers began increasing the scope and quality of the undergraduate education, immediately expanding the junior college to a three-year program to a full four-year program in 1951-52. W. Layton Hall, an associate professor of marketing at the Rutgers–Newark School of Business Administration, was named full-time dean. An evening program – University College – was also added.

The 1950s

Student activity at Rutgers College of South Jersey blossomed. Class officers were elected and a Student Council was formally established during the first year. Organizations such as Der Deutsche Verein (a German culture society), the Masqueteers (a dramatics club), a Glee Club, Humanities Club and Newman Club appeared. The Benevolent Order of Ancient Spartans, founded in 1950, became Kappa Sigma Upsilon social fraternity in 1951. A women’s organization, Delta Rho, was created in the spring on 1952.

On September 27, 1951, the first issue of The Gleaner, a bi-monthly student newspaper, was published. A simpler newsletter, the RSCJ News, served the campus in 1950-51. First published in 1952, the campus yearbook Mneme means “memory” in Greek.

The intercollegiate athletic program also began to grow. Albert J. Carino, a 1950 South Jersey Law School graduate and coach of its basketball team, was named the new athletic director and took the squad into a 13-4 season. Golf and tennis were also added. A group of students had organized themselves into a baseball team.

In 1951, two students – Isaac Avayou and Lawrence DiPeitro – had earned enough credits to be presented with the first R.C.S.J. diplomas. The following year the first full class of seniors – 38 men and four women – graduated.

Through the 1950s, the university found an increasing demand for each new educational opportunity it offered in Camden. The administration said providing enough space for the burgeoning student population was a “spectacular problem,” but before the end of the decade it was able to more than double the facilities by “careful and continuous planning, ingenious improvisation and a minimum of outright new construction.”

The first new building on campus was a $350,000 library constructed along Penn Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. The long-awaited structure opened in September 1957, with a capacity of 110,000 volumes, replacing a much smaller library that served undergraduates in one section of the law school building. The old College of South Jersey library contained only 5,145 volumes when it became part of the university in 1950, but by 1959 the number of books had increased to 25,382.

At the end of its first decade of existence, the outlook for Rutgers College of South Jersey was bright. Enrollment had risen from 201 undergraduates in 1950-1951 to 495 in 1959-60. There were only 31 courses offered to the students that first year, compared to 162 courses by the end of the fifties. Perhaps the most important event for R.C.S.J. was the passage in November 1959 of a college bond issue which provided $2.6 million for new Camden Campus construction.

Except for the library, the physical plant of the college was still limited in 1959 to a collection of 16 converted row homes, with the basement of the Presbyterian Church at Fifth and Penn Streets acting as combination Campus Center and snack bar. City streets bisected the campus and the required freshmen physical education courses were conducted at the Y.M. and Y.W.C.A.s several blocks away. “Home” basketball games were played in the deteriorating Camden Convention Hall beside Cooper Hospital.

Undergraduate activity seems to have outpaced campus growth in the 1950s. Student Council and individual classes sponsored dances, concerts, and other programs. New groups, like the Debate Society, were formed. There more local fraternities – Theta Phi Kappa, Lambda Sigma Chi, and Sigma Episolon Phi – contributed to the Greek social life. By 1959, increased student activity encouraged the appointment of Ralph L. Taylor as the first Rutgers–Camden dean of students.

The 1960s

The next decade brought about significant new construction on the Camden Campus, thanks to the passage of the 1959 bond issue. New structures opened in the fall of 1964: the $1.1 million Campus Center and the $1.8 million Science Building. More relief to the overcrowded campus came in December 1965, when Victor Hall at Point and Pearl Streets was obtained from RCA. The seven-story facility was known to several generations simply as “the annex.”  The space reopened in 1966 after some renovations. Another bond issue was passed in 1964, which funded the construction of Armitage Hall, a $3 million facility for much-needed classroom and office space, as well as a $1.3 million addition to the library in the spring of 1969.

Student life at Rutgers–Camden in the sixties reflected all of the social changes and political turmoil affecting the nation. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum and the controversy surrounding Vietnam intensified, student activism also grew.

As at other colleges in the nation at this time, the university’s relationship with minority students on all three campuses became contested. Despite the expanding number of students, there were still less than 20 minority students enrolled at Rutgers–Camden by the late sixties. Campus organizations such as the Black Student Unity Movement were formed. To call attention to their cause, a group of African American students peacefully “took over” the Campus Center one Sunday night in 1969 and kept it closed until the following afternoon. The incident, and similar activity on the New Brunswick and Newark campuses, helped raise Rutgers’ awareness of the needs and interests of minority students.

Citing a need for “new leadership,” Dean Hall resigned in March of 1969, after 19 years of service. Dr. William Bach of the biology department was named acting dean. Student concerns regarding social, ecological, and political issues remained strong. In May 1970, when U.S. troops invaded Cambodia and National Guardsmen tragically killed four students demonstrating at Kent State University in Ohio, Rutgers–Camden students staged a strike that resulted in the cancellations of the classes that remained in the semester.

The 1970s

The college ended the turbulent sixties with a new name and a glimpse of the era of growth ahead. After several years of discussion, Rutgers College of South Jersey officially became Rutgers University, Camden College of Arts and Sciences when the Board of Governors approved the change on April 10, 1970. The campus had grown in resources and stature enough to make it possible for the nearly 250 members of the Class of 1970 to be the first to have commencement exercises on campus, instead of attending graduation in New Brunswick.

By the time that first on-campus ceremony took place, construction had begun on a new law school building, and thanks to the passage of a 1968 bond issue, two more major undergraduate/graduate buildings became feasible. Even the section of Penn Street, between Third and Fourth Streets had finally closed – a prelude to a campus that would look more like a beautifully landscaped park.

Dr. James E. Young, chair of the Department of Ceramic Engineering at the State University of New York, was named RUCCAS dean in July 1970.  The campus continued to flourish and in the fall of 1970 enrollment increased to 1,787 undergraduates, a tripling of the student population from just a decade before. In May 1973, Young resigned and was replaced by Dr. Walter K. Gordon of the Rutgers–Camden English department, first as acting dean, then as dean in July 1974.

In the fall of 1973, the campus’ first gymnasium opened. The $3.1 million facility boasted a pool, basketball court, locker rooms, teaching spaces and offices within 55,280 square-feet of space. This was a far cry from the years of gym classes at the Camden YMCA. During this time, the college also secured the Delaware River Port Authority’s former maintenance building for development into a University Police/physical plant center.

Rutgers–Camden athletics (nicknamed “The Pioneers”) began to make its mark.  In 1977, Ray Pace became the first Rutgers–Camden basketball player to be selected in the NBA draft (sixth round by the Boston Celtics).  In 1979, the golf team won the NAIA District 19 golf championship; the same honor is earned again in 1980.

Additional facilities continued to be unveiled on campus.  In September 1974, the $4.7 million Fine Arts Building opened its classroom and office wing. The facility that now houses the Gordon Theater and Stedman Gallery opened in January 1975. The impressive 65,000 square-foot structure made it possible at last for Rutgers–Camden to sponsor major public events in an attractive modern setting.

During this same time period significant construction began in the Campus Center. A $1.7 million wing would open in the fall of 1976, providing the 20,000 square-foot building with the Main Lounge, Multi-Purpose Room, meeting rooms, and even a tavern.

The first phase of a major landscaping effort began in 1975, when a parking lot at Fourth and Penn Streets was transformed into an attractive central mall with brick walkways, trees, shrubbery, and grassy knolls. Traffic ceased to rumble through campus in the summer of 1980 when Fourth Street was finally closed between Lawrence Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. By the close of the seventies, the “sidewalk campus” of the previous decade had been transformed into a flourishing campus with tree-lined walkways and open lawns.

The new decade brought a change from the student activism of the last decade. The student of the seventies was more interested in practical career-oriented education and by the fall of 1973, 20% of the entire student population had declared a major in business or economics, a 42% increase over the number of students selecting that field just two years earlier. A nursing program, established in 1973, enrolled 52 students in its first year and grew to 172 students the next.

Rutgers–Camden also began attracting non-traditional students: older men and women attending college on the G.I. Bill or years after graduation from high school. These older students brought “adult” concerns with them, such as a need for job counseling or daycare.  New women’s organizations including “Antigone” and “The Women’s Coalition” reflected the growing feminist movement and promoted programs, like a regional conference on rape.

Toward the end of the 1970s, campus life would change dramatically with the construction of student housing. In 1977, a survey was made of all those admitted to Rutgers–Camden that fall, but who chose not to attend. Forty percent of those who responded said they went elsewhere because the campus did not having housing facilities. Another study that year identified a strong interest in on-campus residence among already enrolled students. By 1978, Rutgers was seriously considering the addition of student housing at both the Camden and Newark campuses.

The 1980s

A new decade began with the promise of full-time student life on campus. In 1982, the university’s Board of Governors approved a two-phase student housing program. In May 1984, the board awarded the contract for the first phase of the project: a 248-bed, six-story housing unit, located between Second and Third Streets on Cooper Street. The $6.5 million building opened in August 1986, bringing students to Rutgers–Camden from 14 states and countries like Canada, Greece, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Japan.

That same year Rutgers acquired the Walt Whitman International Poetry Center from the City of Camden. Formerly Johnson Library, named for Eldridge Johnson, founder of RCA, the Greek revival building also featured a charming fountain and surrounding statues originally created for a children’s library active during Camden’s heyday.

Prof. John Pittenger, former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was named dean of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden on July 1, 1981; during the same year, The Graduate School–Camden was founded.  After Dean Pittenger returned to the faculty, Prof. Richard Singer became dean of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden on July 1, 1986.

The Rutgers School of Business—Camden was established in September 1988 to serve an ever-increasing number of students seeking degrees in accounting, management, business studies, or a master of business administration degree.  Dr. Rick Elam served as inaugural dean.  Dr. Milton Leontiades took the helm of the school as acting dean in 1989, and then dean in 1991.  The dedication of the expanded student apartment building, designed specifically for graduate students, brought the total number students calling Rutgers–Camden home to 500.  In September 1989, a $9 million Business and Science building opened, featuring four-stories of classroom and office space and a distinctive chevron-shaped glass front.

The 1990s

The 1990s started at Rutgers–Camden with great promise as the Campus’ capacity for student housing doubled and a state-of-the-art facility opened to house the recently founded Rutgers School of Business­—Camden.

In 1995 the school became the only southern New Jersey institution to earn accreditation from the respected American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. The business school continued to expand its offering with the addition of new majors, a concentration in e-commerce, an MBA program, and a degree in hospitality management offered in Atlantic City, as well as the creation of the William G. Rohrer Center for Management and Entrepreneurship, which paved the way for the Rutgers Institute for Management and Executive Development.

In 1991, Prof. Roger Dennis was named dean of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden; he had served as acting dean since 1989. In January 1991, the Rutgers–Camden gymnasium opened an addition, featuring new handball and racquetball courts and an auxiliary gym for intramural activities.  

Two years later, the Campus Center underwent a fourth expansion which yielded a spacious new bookstore, student health facilities, and student activities offices in its new three-story wing. The Paul Robeson Library also was expanded, thanks to a 1988 bond issue. Part of the library expansion project included a wide bridge connecting the building to the law school library, which increased the size of the facility by 40%.

In 1992, Dr. Robert Catlin began directing the College of Arts and Sciences as Dr. Walter K. Gordon served as provost and dean of the Graduate School-Camden. In 1998, Dr. Margaret Marsh, a nationally known scholar of women’s history and a 1967 graduate of Rutgers–Camden, was named dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Formerly the chair of Temple University’s Department of History, Marsh began overseeing the Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences, University College, and Graduate School-Camden. Dean Marsh’s initiatives included the creation of the Center for Children and Childhood Studies and the Center for State and Constitutional Studies.

After serving Rutgers–Camden for 35 years as provost, Dr. Walter K. Gordon retired in January 1997. His tenure had been marked by dramatic campus growth, extensive new educational opportunities for students, and a long-term commitment to excellence. In May, Rutgers School of Law—Camden Dean Roger J. Dennis was named provost.

Provost Dennis built upon his predecessor’s success with the aim of forging “a campus dedicated to the creation and dissemination of knowledge and responsive to the needs of our region, our state, and our world.” Along with fostering interdisciplinary academic efforts and building bridges among campus administrative offices, Dennis embarked on an effort to expand and beautify the campus. In 1999, work began on Gateway Park, attractive greenery at the base of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge that welcomed travelers to New Jersey, replacing a number of old structures near Rex Place and the bridge’s toll plaza. The Campus also started actively acquiring properties along Cooper Street, starting with a new home for the Alumni Relations Office in January 1999. Several other properties followed, with a goal of renovating the Victorian facades of the buildings while providing needed administrative and faculty space and maintaining the boundaries of the Campus.

Rutgers began its second half-century in Camden with the opening of two campus facilities that would ramp up the athletic program, both for the players and the patrons. The Rutgers–Camden Community Park opened in 2001 on Linden Street, between Second Street and Delaware Avenue. Some 5.5 acres contributed by the university and the City of Camden gave students their first-ever on-campus playing fields for softball and soccer. In May 2001, Campbell’s Field opened and became the home field for both the minor league Camden Riversharks and the Rutgers–Camden Scarlet Raptors baseball teams. The two new facilities were major scores in the revitalization of the Rutgers–Camden athletic program that changed the school mascot from the Pioneers to the Scarlet Raptors in 1999. In 2002, the program grew even more with the addition of a crew team and boathouse on Cooper River. Four years after the Community Park opened, the Rutgers–Camden softball team won the NCAA Division III National Championship Title and became the first Rutgers team to win an NCAA title in more than 60 years. More athletic advances include the acquisition of a driving range at Cooper River Park in 2008, the start of a women’s lacrosse program in 2010, and the opening of the Rutgers-Camden Athletic and Fitness Center in 2009. The renovated 75,000 square-foot facility now offers top-of-the line cardio and strength-training equipment, a resistance pool, team locker rooms, and a recreation program space for yoga, spinning, and Pilates.

In 2005, Dr. Milton Leontiades retired as dean of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden.  In 2006, Dr. Mitchell Koza, an international management scholar, took on this leadership role; he returned to his research and teaching passions in 2009.

The 21st century continued to bring positive change to the Campus with the dedication of a major new facility, the launch of new academic programs, and the appointment of a new chancellor after a national search.

On April 3, 2009 a dedication ceremony of the new 53,000 square-foot law school facility drew hundreds of supporters from across the state. Dubbed “Law School East,” the four-story facility at Fifth and Penn Streets allows Rutgers’ legal clinics to better deliver more than 30,000 hours of free legal service annually.

More academic offerings launched, including the nation’s first doctoral degree in childhood studies, additional doctoral degrees in computational biology and public policy, a comprehensive four-year undergraduate program in business, and an MFA program in creative writing, which now oversees the reputable literary journal Story Quarterly.

In 2008-09, Rutgers selected a new chancellor for the Camden Campus.  Dr. Wendell E. Pritchett, a former professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, started his new position on June 30, 2009. The author of two books and numerous articles on topics relating to urban history and policy, Dr. Pritchett served as deputy chief of staff and director of policy for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and chaired the Urban Policy Task Force for U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Dr. Margaret Marsh, dean of the Rutgers–Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences, served as interim chancellor since the retirement of Provost Roger Dennis in 2007. Dr. Marsh worked to improve Campus enrollment and retention efforts and established two new public works of art on campus: “Walt Whitman with Butterfly” and the Gateway, which is reflective of many of the Campus’ capital improvements.

Looking Ahead

The Camden Campus continues to make great strides in its missions to teach, research, and serve the larger community. Thanks to funding from the Annie Casey Foundation the establishment of an Office of Civic Engagement, an initiative set forth by Chancellor Pritchett, Rutgers–Camden aims to better develop its relationship with its urban neighbors in need. As the campus reached its highest enrollment ever at 6,000 students, a goal to grow the student body to 7,500 within five years has been announced.

A desire to expand on-campus housing has also been expressed by Rutgers–Camden administration. Plans are also in the works to secure additional space for parking and for playing fields for lacrosse and track teams.

According to Chancellor Pritchett, “our 60th anniversary is an opportunity to remind the world about the critical role of Rutgers–Camden in transforming lives and building optimism for the future.”

Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan
(856) 225-6627
E-mail: catkarm@camden.rutgers.edu