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Three histories of Wesleyan have been published, Wesleyan's First Century by Carl F. Price in 1932, another in 1999, Wesleyan University, 1831–1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England and Wesleyan University, 1910-1970, Academic Ambition and Middle-Class America, released in May 2015, both authored by David B. Potts. Wesleyan was founded as an all-male Methodist college in 1831. The university, established as an independent institution under the auspices of the Methodist conference, was led by Willbur Fisk, its first president. Despite its name, Wesleyan was never a denominational seminary. It remained a leader in educational progress throughout its history and erected one of the earliest comprehensive science buildings devoted exclusively to undergraduate science instruction on any American college or university campus, Judd Hall (named after alumnus Orange Judd). It also has maintained a larger library collection than institutions comparable in size. The Wesleyan student body numbered about 300 in 1910 and had grown to 800 in 1960, the latter being a figure that Time described as "small". Although Wesleyan developed into a peer of Amherst and Williams, Wesleyan was always decidedly the smallest of the Little Three institutions until the 1970s, when it grew significantly to become larger than the other two.

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