Illinois Wesleyan University
From: History of McLean County Illinois
By: Jacob L. Hasbrouck
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianoplis 1924


As early as 1849, public spirited citizens of central Illinois began to agitate for the establishment of a college at Bloomington. The minutes of the Illinois conference of the Methodist church for 1849 show that a committee composed of Rev. Thomas A. McGhee and Rev. John S. Barger was named to confer with Bloomington citizens on the subject. The first meeting is believed to have been held Dec. 2, 1850, and another on the 11th of the same month. The constitution was adopted Dec. 18, 1850, and that date is forever afterward celebrated as "Founders' Day." The conference minutes of 1850 show that a committee composed of Peter Cartwright, John S. Barger, W. D. R. Trotter, J. C. Rucker and W. J. Newman were named to visit the Illinois Wesleyan at Bloomington, hence it must have been fully organized at that time. The Methodists had previously established the Female College at Jacksonville, Georgetown and Paris and Waynesville seminaries and had started seminaries at Danville, Marshall and Quincy.

In July, 1851, Rev. William Goodfellow and Rev. Reuben Andrus were elected professors and Rev. Erastus Wentworth as president. Wentworth did not accept, but Andrus and Goodfellow conducted the school from September, 1851. In July, 1852. Rev. John Dempster was chosen president, and his name remained as president for two years, although he did not perform many of the duties of president, as he had taken a better position with Garrett Biblical Institute.

In the session of the Legislature in 1853, the Wesleyan received a special charter vesting the ownership in the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church. Soon after the organizaton of the corporation, the question of a site for the buildings came up. James Allin deeded a ten acre tract north of the Chicago & Alton Railroad in Bloomington, and much building material was unloaded there, when it was discovered that the site was totally unsuitable, and in June, 1854, the present site was chosen and the materials removed from the former site. The first structure erected was the small two story brick long used for the preparatory classes, and now used for some of the class rooms. Its use as the library was abandoned in 1923 on the completion of the Buck Memorial Library.

In the first few years the school led a precarious existence. On the close of the fall term of 1854 work was suspended. In the same months Rev. Peter Akers was elected president, but declined. In 1855 Rev. C. W. Sears was for the second time offered the presidency, and under his management the school reopened in October, 1855. Work was again suspended in 1856, owing to lack of funds and the debts which had accumulated. In 1857, Oliver S. Munsell was elected president, although the university was little more than a name. It had ten acres of land and the bare walls of a three story brick building, with a debt of $5,000, which was increased by $10,000 when the building was completed. President Munsell and his brother, Rev. C. W. C. Munsell, raised funds to pay the debts and start the school again. Girls were admitted with equal rights with boys as students early in the history of the university, and co-education has ever since proved popular.

By 1868, a new and larger building was needed, and $40,000 was raised for this purpose. The corner stone of the main building on the campus was laid in 1870, and it was dedicated in June, 1871, having cost $100,000. In addition to the erection of the building, President Munsell was instrumental in securing important natural history collections, including the R. H. Holder collection of ornithology, Prof. George Vasey's botannical collection, and Prof. C. D. Wilber's collection of fossils and minerals, etc.

Dr. Munsell resigned as president in 1873 and Rev. Samuel Fallows was chosen to succeed him. He served two years and left a profound impression of his scholarship upon the history of the university. The law school was organized under his presidency. In 1875, Dr. W. H. H. Adams became president in succession to Bishop Fallows. He had served in the Civil War and was a man of great energy and ability. He increased the funds of the university, raising the endowment to over $72,000. For 13 years he served with fidelity and unending effort for every cause of the school. He literally gave his life for Wesleyan.

In 1888, Dr. W. H. Wilder, who had graduated in 1873, was elected president of Wesleyan, and served until 1897. An athletic field, named Wilder field in his honor, was acquired while he was president. About $15,000 was expended in improvements, including ground for janitor's house and gymnasium. The H. S. Swayne and Shellenbarger chemical laboratories were added to the science department. The Lichtenthaler collection of sea specimens, the G. B. Harrison collection of fossils, and the Weems archaelogical collections were added during this period. A. C. Behr gave the university a telescope, for which a suitable building was erected.

Dr. Edgar M. Smith served as president from 1897 to 1905, during which time a period of steady growth was maintained, although no outstanding additions were made. In 1905, Dr. Frank G. Barnes was chosen president and came to the school with a young man's enthusiasm. During his term, Andrew Carnegie gave $30,000 for a Science Hail, provided $60,000 were raised as an endowment, which was successfully accomplished.

However, the required $60,000 was not wholly secured when President Barnes resigned and Dr. Theodore Kemp was chosen to succeed him. This was in 1908. Dr. Kemp at once raised the balance of $18,000 to close the Carnegie contract and secure the Science Hall. The building of this structure was the first new building which had been done on the campus in a period of forty two years.

Like all the other schools of the country, the Wesleyan University lost many of the young men from its classes during the spring and fall of 1917, for they answered the call to the colors and served in many branches of the army and navy. Several gold stars were added to Wesleyan's service flag before the war was over, and a memorial service after the close of the war took note of the following Wesleyan men who had died for liberty: George Herman Anna, Lyle Best, Howard Bolin, Elmer T. Doocey, Vergne Greiner, Allington Jolly, Sergt. Lemuel Jones, Frank Jordan, Henry R. Peckmann, Herbert Quarnstrom, William Ralston, Maurice Roberts, Edmund W. Sutherland.

In the opening of the fall term in 1918, Wesleyan, like many other colleges, became in fact a military academy by the formation there of the Student Army Training Corps, sponsored and managed by the war department of the government. All academic work was planned on military lines, and drills were carried on certain hours each day under Captain Wheaton, a regular army officer assigned to this camp. Barracks were erected on the vacant ground north of the campus, at a cost of $25,000, this fund being guaranteed by Bloomington business men, who were later reimbursed by the government. But the war ended all plans on this line, and in fact the armistice came before the S. A. T. C. had a chance to show its true worth as a military asset of the country.

Dr. Kemp continued in the office of president for 14 years, resigned May, 1922. In that period was covered a period of renewed growth for the school, which for some years previously had been caught in a season of depression and stagnation. There was a debt of $57,000 against the school, owing to many years' annual deficits. The endowment fund aggregated only $131,783, which with other resources of $185,500 made the total property of the school amount to only S327,283. During the incumbency of President Kemp the endowment fund was increased to $869,366; other general assets were raised to $232,807; and the buildings and grounds were appraised at $364,600; making total resources of the University $1,466,774.

The greatest campaign for funds ever undertaken in the history of the Wesleyan was that of June, 1921, when in a strenuous drive of one month's duration a total of $692,000 was pledged by citizens of Bloomington and McLean County. This made the grand total of resources at the close of Dr. Kemp's term, $2,158,774. Debts aggregating $110,000 were paid off during the same period. There were also bequests written into wills but not yet realized during this term of years. The total assets of the university at the close of President Kemp's incumbency indicated that five times as much money had been subscribed or written into wills in the fourteen years as had been previously obtained in the fifty eight years of the university's history. E. M. Evans, as chairman of the Association of Commerce Committee on Wesleyan Affairs had charge of this campaign and put in many strenuous days in planning for it. He had the assistance and co-operation of hundreds of citizens who gave up their own business to a large extent during the campaign.

Dr. Kemp was personally instrumental in securing the girls' dormitory and adding it to the property of the Wesleyan. This was the magnificent three story brick residence built by A. E. DeMange on Main Street, two blocks from the campus. It was bought on President Kemp's personal responsibility for $30,000 and it was several years later that the funds were forthcoming for making good the personal risk which Dr. Kemp had incurred for the building. The attendance at the Wesleyan increased in corresponding ratio with its material growth. The enrollment in the liberal arts college grew from 174 to 352. The law school also had a healthy growth.

The board of trustees in July, 1922, selected Rev. Dr. William J. Davidson as president of the Wesleyan. At the time of his selection, he was executive secretary of the life service commission of the Methodist Church, with headquarters in Chicago. He holds the degree of LL. D. from Nebraska Wesleyan, the degree of S. T. B. and D.D. from Garrett Biblical Institute, and had performed undergraduate work at Boston College, Cornell and Harvard. For 28 years he was member of the Illinois Conference and two years was chancellor of Nebraska Wesleyan. After six years of pastorate of First M. E. Church in Decatur, he returned to Garrett Biblical Institute as professor of religious education. Dr. Davidson was formally installed as president of Illinois Wesleyan on Dec. 13, 1922. President Harker, of Illinois Woman's College, made an address, as did President David Felmley, of Normal University. E. M. Evans, chairman of the Wesleyan Board, presented Dr. Davidson, who responded in an address. The exercises were held in the new memorial gymnasium of the Wesleyan.

The Wesleyan under Dr. Davidson has had a wonderful growth, and the enrollment of students and personnel of the faculty is more notable than at any other previous period.

According to the latest statistics during the current year is a new total enrollment of 1,162 students. These students are divided among the three colleges as follows:

College of Liberal Arts: Seniors, 65; juniors, 74; sophomores, 140; freshmen, 249; unclassified, 46; total, 574.
College of Law: Third year, 36; second year, 34; first year, 63; total, 133.
College of Music: Music, expression and art, 535.
Grand totals of all colleges, 1,242; duplication, 80; net total, 1,162.

Return to [ Illinois History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ] [ Illinois Biographies ]

Illinois Counties at this web site - Adams - Carroll - Champaign - Cook - De Kalb - Du Page - Edgar - Kane - LaSalle - Lee - Logan - Macoupin - Madison - Mason - McHenry - McLean - Stark - Stephenson - Vermilion - Will

Also see the local histories for [ CT ] [ IA ] [ IL ] [ IN ] [ KS ] [ ME ] [ MO ] [ MI ] [ NE ] [ NJ ] [ NY ] [ PA ] [ OH ] [ PA ] [ WI ]

All pages copyright 2003-2013. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy