The idea for Hampshire originated in 1958 when the presidents of Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, as well as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, appointed a committee to reexamine the assumptions and practices of liberal arts education.
Their report, "The New College Plan," advocated many of the features that have since been realized in the Hampshire curriculum: emphasis on each student's curiosity and motivation; broad, multidisciplinary learning; and close mentoring relationships with teachers.
In 1965, Amherst College alumnus Harold F. Johnson donated $6 million toward the founding of Hampshire College.
With a matching grant from the Ford Foundation, Hampshire's first trustees purchased 800 acres of orchard and farmland in South Amherst, Massachusetts, and construction began. Hampshire admitted its first students in 1970.