rchitects in Boston, New York, and other cities began to define their professional status in the second half of the 19th century, and the need for reliable training was an issue in their campaign for professional recognition. As a result of the post-Civil War building boom, many architectural firms of the 1870s and 1880s were too busy to provide the in-house training previously offered to their new employees. Ware realized that a flexible course of study at the Institute was necessary to accommodate draftsmen and architects at all levels of expertise.
In the earliest years of the Department, students in the regular four year degree program comprised no more than ten percent of the enrollment, with the remainder classified as "special students." Special students, a number of whom were employed in architects' offices, enrolled in a shorter course of study lasting a year or two. Many of the special students had already earned baccalaureate degrees in liberal arts or applied science. Some stayed at MIT just long enough to prepare themselves for an office career, while others, including Arthur Rotch, class of 1873, attended the Institute in anticipation of completing their training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The Institute's special students went on to have more distinguished careers than the four year graduates of this period. This is perhaps due to their practical experience in local firms, or because of the broadening influence of their previous undergraduate work or their subsequent training at the Ecole. During the 1880s and 1890s, MIT alumni formed some of the better-known firms in late 19th-century Boston, such as Rotch & Tilden. Other firms like Chamberlin & Austin benefited from an informal network of communication between alumni. Several graduates of the program would become public architects, while others gained reputations as principals of locally or nationally prominent firms. Many held significant positions as head draftsman or office managers in major firms. Alumni who became educators include H. Langford Warren, a special student from 1877-79 and founder, in 1893, of the Department of Architecture at Harvard. Some students went on to hold lectureships at major universities, while others made their careers in publishing.
Since the founding of the Department, an effort was made to retain the best examples of student work, as was the practice at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Illustrations of successfully completed student projects and drawings prepared for theses were collected and Ware stipulated that these projects should be hung on studio walls until displaced by student work from the following year. Of the 14 students who completed the four year program during Ware's tenure, four are represented in this exhibition. William Dowse, class of 1874, and Charles Baker, class of 1878, never practiced architecture. Henry Phillips, class of 1873, went on to Paris for further training but devoted his career more to the practice of civil engineering than architecture, as did Charles Wilkes, class of 1881.