Change Yale University To ‘Hale’ University, Online Petition Says

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An online petition is seeking to change the name of the nation’s third oldest college from Yale to “Hale.”

The idea is to replace a controversial colonial corporate figure who oversaw slave trading with the rhymes-with-Yale name of an American hero who died during the Revolutionary War.

The petition, at, presents a study in contrasts.

Elihu Yale (1649-1721) was born in Boston and grew up in London. He became president of an outpost in Madras, India of the British East India Company and from there oversaw a flourishing slave trade, according to a historical account based on company documents. A portrait from the time shows Yale sitting with other rich British gentlemen near a young slave with a collar around his neck.

He was controversial even in his time because of his other behavior in India, including hanging a local groomsman for stealing a horse without trial, profiteering from illegal trading side deals, and siring a love child with a widow after his wife returned home to England. Even the epitaph on his tomb offers a split decision in the course of a nine-line poem, stating “Much good, some ill, he did …”

In 1718, Elihu Yale gave some of his wealth for a building at a college in New Haven, Connecticut, and school officials named the school after him.

Nathan Hale (1755-1776) was a Connecticut teacher who joined the Continental Army early in the Revolutionary War and rose to captain. He volunteered to go on a dangerous spying mission in New York, was captured by the British, and was hanged without trial in Manhattan, after being denied a Bible and a clergyman. He was 21.

British officers were impressed enough by Hale’s behavior to record portions of his speech at the gallows, including a line that has come down through history:  “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Hale did not own slaves, and was well thought of by friends, relatives, and soldiers under his command.

Hale was also a 1773 graduate of the college that currently bears Elihu Yale’s name.

Yale University tilts left, and university officials have in recent years appeared open to making major changes based on the historical record of its honorees.

In 2017, the school ditched John C. Calhoun, a prominent 19th century slave owner and defender of slavery, as the honoree of one of its residential colleges where students and some faculty members live.

At the time, the president of Yale University, Peter Salovey, acknowledged that Elihu Yale’s hands weren’t clean, either, but he suggested that the earlier man’s connection to the school is stronger than Calhoun’s, who graduated from Yale College in 1802, in part because Elihu Yale donated a significant sum at an important time in the school’s development.

“… [H]onoring a namesake whose legacy so sharply conflicts with the university’s values should weigh especially heavily when the name adorns a residential college, which plays a key role in forming community at Yale,” the university president said in February 2017. “Moreover, unlike, for example, Elihu Yale, who made a gift that supported the founding of our university, or other namesakes who have close historical connections to Yale, Calhoun has no similarly strong association with our campus.”

That “strong association” stems from a letter Congregational minister Cotton Mather wrote in January 1718 to Elihu Yale, who was 68, rich, and without obvious heirs. What was then known as the Collegiate School had recently moved from Saybrook, Connecticut to New Haven, and it was in need of a new building.

Mather, according to a web site that quotes the letter called, floated naming rights:


Sir, though you have your felicities in your family, which I pray God continue and multiply, yet certainly, if what is forming at New Haven might wear the name of YALE COLLEGE, it would be better than a name of sons and daughters. And your munificence might easily obtain for you such a commemoration and perpetuation of your valuable name, which would indeed be much better than an Egyptian pyramid.


Elihu Yale, after some cajoling, responded with textiles, books, and a portrait of King George I, which were worth enough to help the school establish a foothold in New Haven.

Even so, it’s not clear that calling the school Yale was part of the deal, according to a scholarly article published in 2012 by Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin.

The question comes down to what the meaning of the words “YALE COLLEGE” is.

“Was ‘Yale’ simply to be the name of a new college hall, already under construction, or of the new Collegiate School as a whole?” write Basie Bales Gitlin and Jay Gitlin, in an article called “Your Valuable Name:  Elihu Yale’s America and America’s Elihu Yale.”

The governor of the colony and the colony’s council decided in December 1718 to name the whole school Yale, according to the article. But the authors point out that school officials at the time were still hoping to get more out of Elihu. A verbal promise to make a substantial yearly bequest from his estate turned to nothing after he died, and even a one-time bequest of 500 pounds in his will vanished after the will was contested.


Critics of Elihu, attracted by a recent Twitter handle that is gaining attention called @CancelYale, are not focusing on such historical niceties, but opting instead for more direct comparisons:


A spokesman for Yale University could not immediately be reached for comment.


The behavior of American Captain Nathan Hale at his execution on September 22, 1776 impressed his British captors so much that they later spoke and wrote of it. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


Elihu Yale’s tombstone in Wrexham, Wales offers a qualified assessment of his virtues. Photo by John S. Turner, courtesy of Wikipedia.