A Brief History of Centre

Breckinridge Hall
C6 H0
Debate 2000
Graduation 2008

Centre College received its charter from the Kentucky Legislature on January 21, 1819. Classes began in the fall of 1820 in the first building of the College, Old Centre, with a faculty of two and a student body of five. Since that time Centre has remained steadfast in its mission of providing superior education in the liberal arts tradition.


Currently, Centre’s enrollment is approximately 1,300 students. Centre is among the smallest coeducational colleges in the United States to have a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter and the only private institution in Kentucky to do so.


Centre’s image as a small school capable of startlingly large achievements was enhanced by its 1921 football victory over Harvard University, then ranked No.1. The New York Times later called Centre's achievement “the greatest upset in the first half of the 20th century.”


In 2000, Centre became the smallest college ever to host a national election debate when the two vice presidential candidates, Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, met in Centre’s Norton Center for the Arts. The debate was quickly dubbed the “Thrill in the ’Ville.”


Centre set another national record when it achieved a 75.4 percent participation rate for alumni contributing to the College’s annual fund, a record that remains unbroken. Centre has led the nation in the percentage of alumni who make contributions to their college over the last 25 years.


Centre notable alumni include two U.S. vice presidents (John Cabell Breckinridge-Class of 1838 and Adlai Ewing Stevenson-Class of 1859), two members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Frederick M. Vinson-Class of 1909 and Class of 1911-Law, chief justice of the United States; and Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan-Class of 1850), and a number of U.S. senators, representatives, and state governors. Other Centre alumni have been and are leaders in the fields of business, teaching, medicine, law, and journalism.


Centre's strong connection with the past brings added meaning to the present, and provides inspiration for the tradition to be continued in the future.


Click here for a more detailed history of Centre College.

Click here for information about historic preservation at Centre College.