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Illinois College

Definition: Illinois College was founded in 1829 by Reverend John M. Ellis, a Presbyterian minister who felt a - seminary of learning - was needed in the new frontier state of Illinois.
Illinois College was founded in 1829 by Reverend John M. Ellis, a Presbyterian minister who felt a - seminary of learning - was needed in the new frontier state of Illinois.
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Illinois College was founded in 1829 by Reverend John M. Ellis, a Presbyterian minister who felt a "seminary of learning" was needed in the new frontier state of Illinois. His plans came to the attention of a group of Congregational students at Yale University. Seven of them, in one of the now famous "Yale Bands", came westward to help establish the College. It became one of the first institutes for higher learning in Illinois and the first two men to graduate from a college in state were Richard Yates, who became the Civil War governor of Illinois and later a U.S. Senator and Jonathan Edward Spilman. This second graduate composed the now-familiar music to Robert Burns's immortal poem, "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton". Both men received their baccalaureate degree from Illinois College in 1835.

Nine students met for the first class on January 4, 1830. Julian Sturtevant, the first instructor and the second president, reported, "We had come there that morning to open a fountain for future generations to drink at." Shortly after, Edward Beecher left the Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, to serve the new college as it first president. He created a strong college and retained close intellectual ties with New England. His brother, Henry Ward Beecher, preached and lectured at Illinois College, and his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was an occasional visitor. His brother, Thomas, was graduated from Illinois College in 1843. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, and Wendell Phillips were among the visitors and lecturers in the early years.

In 1843 and 1845 two of the College's seven literary societies were formed. Possibly unique in the Midwest today, the societies have continued in their roles as centers for debate and criticism. Abraham Lincoln was one of many speakers appearing on the campus under the sponsorship of a literary society.

Illinois College also became heavily involved with the abolitionist movement as President Beecher took a very active role. At one point, a group of students was indicted by a grand jury for harboring runaway slaves. Illinois College was also a well-known station on the Underground Railroad and a number of tunnels can still be found under the college, leading to the Smith and Fayerweather houses on the campus.

In the years following the Civil War graduates contributed with distinction to the national scene. Among these was William Jennings Bryan, '81, who within 15 years was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in the race with McKinley. He continued with a prominent role in politics even after the election.

There were many other famous and prominent graduates of the school over the years and it has maintained an outstanding scholarly program.

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