It is a fact little appreciated that the presidents of America’s early universities were pioneers of what we would now call mental health care, and bear some credit for central features of today’s therapeutic institutions. These teachers, like today’s, felt an obligation to provide their students with guidance on how to overcome life’s inevitable stresses and setbacks.
But this was before the days of psychiatry and psychotherapy, which did not come into existence until the early twentieth century. Rather, the approach of these early university presidents was to integrate moral education into liberal education in the arts and sciences. Although the most highly acclaimed American colleges and universities today enjoy a reputation as secular institutions, it is often forgotten that nearly all of these schools started in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as seminaries under the leadership of staunchly Christian presidents, and that the therapeutic guidance they provided was given within avowedly religious contexts.