The History of Cogswell College

Cogswell Campus  1915

Dr. Henry Daniel Cogswell, born in Tolland, Connecticut, March 3, 1820, was a man of both vision and distinguished heritage. The Cogswell family was descended from Alfred the Great and Charlemagne and emigrated to America in 1635 from England. Dr. Cogswell cherished his family crest and motto, “Nec Sperno Nec Timeo,” which means, “I neither despise nor fear.” As his ancestors numbered among America’s pioneers, so was Dr. Cogswell’s own life one of pioneering and service.

Henry D. Cogswell had a humble childhood. It was necessary for young Cogswell to go to work at an early age in the New England cotton mills. After a day’s work in the mills, he spent the evening hours reading, writing, and learning arithmetic. Eventually he became a teacher, but after one year, he decided to enter the dental profession. Upon completion of his training at the age of 26, Dr. Cogswell began the practice of dentistry in Providence, Rhode Island. One year later, in 1846, he married Caroline E. Richards, daughter of Ruel Richards, a manufacturer in Providence.

When gold was discovered in California, Dr. Cogswell followed the pioneering urge he inherited from his ancestors. He left for California by sea and after 152 days aboard the clipper ship “Susan G. Owens”, landed in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. Rather than enter the rugged and uncertain business of mining, he practiced dentistry and established a mercantile business in the mining region. After several successful years of dental practice and real estate investments and buoyed by his ever-present strength of purpose, Dr. Cogswell became one of San Francisco’s first millionaires.

Dr. Cogswell was a pioneer in his profession as well. In 1847 he designed the vacuum method of securing dental plates. In 1853 he performed the first dental operation in California using chloroform.

On March 19, 1887, Dr. and Mrs. Cogswell executed a trust deed setting apart real property (valued at approximately one million dollars) to establish and endow Cogswell Polytechnical College. It was, as far as is known, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

Cogswell History

The purpose of the College as a nonprofit charitable trust is well expressed in the words of Dr. Cogswell in his presentation address to the first Board of Trustees, which he and Mrs. Cogswell had selected. It is remarkable that his reference to the immediate need for technical training is as true now as it was at that time. He spoke, in part, as follows:

“Educated working men and women are necessary to solve the great labor problems that will arise in the future. For the purpose of this education, there is room and need for technical schools in all quarters of our country.

For the purpose, then, of providing boys and girls of the state a thorough training in mechanical arts and other industries, we have made the grant, as set forth in these papers, providing for the founding and maintaining of Cogswell Polytechnical College.”

The school was opened in August 1888 as a high school with well-equipped departments of technical education for boys and business education for girls. The school operated in this capacity until June 30, 1930, when its status was changed to that of a technical college offering a college-level two-year program. In 1971 Cogswell began offering four-year Bachelor degrees. Cogswell College now offers a Bachelor of Science in Digital Arts Engineering, a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Art and Animation, and a Bachelor of Science in Digital Audio Technology, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, a Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science.

Cogswell College was singled out and originally written into the California State Constitution, along with the Huntington Library, Lick School (Lick-Wilmerding), the Mechanics Institute (Library), and Stanford University, as a tax-exempt institution. Cogswell College’s contribution to the community justified this honor. That contribution marks Cogswell College as a continuing and vital institution in California as well as the nation.

Cogswell History

The Campus

The College has inhabited five campuses during its history. The first building, located in the Mission District in San Francisco, was occupied in 1888. When the 1906 earthquake partially destroyed the campus, the College relocated across the street to an existing home on the property. After the City of San Francisco purchased some of the land by eminent domain in 1917, a new building was constructed at Folsom and 26th Streets to house the school. In 1974, having outgrown the existing campus, the College purchased and moved to a location at Stockton and California Streets. In 1985, the College moved to Cupertino, where it remained until 1994. The College purchased its present Sunnyvale campus in 1993.

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