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Professor Emeritus of History James Conrad, Jr. may be the most qualified person to tell the story of Nichols College.
Besides his long teaching career on campus, his father, James Conrad, Sr., founded the school as a two-year college in 1931, with just 11 students at first, and served as its president.
That period to the present day makes up Conrad’s just-completed volume of Nichols history. The book is his second devoted to Nichols, following an earlier effort that focused on Nichols Academy as a pre-collegiate private school founded in 1815.
The second book includes Nichols’ evolution from junior college to a four-year institution in 1958 and the transition to a coed student body in 1971. ““It was a marvelously exciting time,” Conrad says. “Nichols has a remarkable history, including the fact that it has survived all these years as a small, unique college. Few colleges like that existed in the countryside. I keep referring to the word ‘remarkable.’ We have survived, and survived very well.”
Nichols began distinguishing itself in the middle of the 20th century as one of the few two-year colleges in the country to offer a degree in business administration, Conrad points out. “The early students were very good. Even though we were in the Great Depression, they were quite successful after graduating.”
Those graduates, surprisingly, included a number who went into writing, publishing, and broadcasting. Conrad identifies Fred Friendly, the pioneering president of CBS News who worked alongside broadcasting legend Edward B. Murrow during the 1950’s, as one of the two-year college’s most illustrious graduates.
Nichols also broke new ground when it expanded to four years, a long-held ambition of President Conrad. “He was already planning (that expansion) in the 1930’s,” Conrad reveals. “All of it was on the table. Nichols was the first junior college was to become a senior college in Massachusetts,” a first made all the more remarkable, he points out, “since Massachusetts had been a leader in higher education for more than 150 years.”
The admission of females in 1971—nine matriculated that year—marked another turning point that overcame gender stereotypes from earlier years. “There was initially some feeling—and I don’t agree—that women weren’t interested in business,” Conrad recalls, adding that on the first day of classes, “There was no big commotion as suddenly nine women showed up.” Women now make up a large portion of the student body and have continued into successful business careers.
Conrad does more than let his words do the talking in his new history. The book contains a large range of historical photographs culled from the hundreds he researched.
“In some respects, Nichols has changed a great deal. In some respects, it hasn’t when you think of the master plan,” Conrad sums up. “We’re still a business school and we’re still rural.”