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History

A nationally ranked, residential college, Monmouth celebrates its history as an outstanding private college dedicated to excellence in undergraduate education.

Founding

Founded as an academy in 1853 by the Presbyterian Church, Monmouth College’s initial financial support came from local leaders—many of whom were not Presbyterian—who appreciated the benefits that a strong academic institution would bring to the frontier town of Monmouth. That broad local support continues to this day.

A Co-ed Pioneer

From the beginning, the college admitted women — one of the first colleges or universities to do so.

First president

The Rev. David Wallace, the first president, was a brilliant young scholar who was elected president of Muskingum College before he completed his own college diploma. He also felt called to preach, and he built two successful mission churches in Massachusetts before accepting the Monmouth presidency.

Determination and survival

Founded on the eve of the Civil War, the college immediately faced a serious crisis, as its campus was still under construction while virtually the entire male student body left for military service. President Wallace issued what would become a legendary proclamation, “We must educate, whether there be peace or war,” and saw the college construction through to successful completion while keeping classes in session for a primarily female student body.

Military tradition

Monmouth’s exceptional military heritage began with the Civil War, when it furnished 232 soldiers and sailors from the student body, faculty and board of trustees. A quarter of them were wounded and one in eight was killed. Two were awarded the Medal of Honor, and Abner Harding, a college trustee who raised a regiment composed largely of MC students, was commissioned a brigadier general for his leadership in the defense of Fort Donelson in 1863.

Stockdale Center and Dunlap Terrace, adjoining the center’s entrance, are named for two remarkable alumni, who were both Medal of Honor winners and also first cousins. Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, Class of 1946, was a fighter pilot shot down in Vietnam in 1965, who endured seven years of torture and imprisonment in a Hanoi prison. He was later president of the Naval War College and a candidate for Vice President of the United States. His cousin Bobby Dunlap, Class of 1942, was a Marine captain decorated for exceptional bravery at the Battle of Iwo Jima, leading his company for two days and nights under constant enemy fire.

Greek Life firsts

In the college’s early years, college women enjoyed equal footing with their male counterparts — unusual for that time. This sense of equality helped inspire the birth of the sorority movement at Monmouth. When veterans returning to the college from the Civil War decided to form fraternities, a group of women was determined not to be outdone. In 1867 they established the first fraternity for women, known today as Pi Beta Phi. Three years later, another famous women’s fraternity, Kappa Kappa Gamma, was founded at Monmouth.

Ancient Treasures

Monmouth has on display in its archives a rare historical relic, presented in 1872 by a Presbyterian missionary and archaeologist who had been previously recognized by the college with an honorary degree. It is a plaster cast of the Canopus Stone, discovered in 1866 on the wall of an Egyptian temple. More important than the Rosetta Stone because of the quality of its multilingual inscriptions, the original relic was retained by the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, but special casts were made for the Royal Museum of Berlin, the British Museum and Monmouth College.

Ingenuity

Monmouth’s Scots have a reputation for intellect and know-how. John Findley Wallace, Class of 1872, was a civil engineer who made his reputation building railroads before being named chief engineer of the Panama Canal in 1904. He was also the son of the college’s first president, David Wallace.

Loyalty and service

Jackson B. McMichael and his son, Thomas H. McMichael, Monmouth’s second and fourth presidents, served the college a total of 52 years. Thomas’s son, David, served as the college’s influential business manager for 24 years.

Architecture

Dan Everett Waid, an 1887 graduate, designed Monmouth’s chapel building as his first commission. He quickly rose to prominence in the architectural world, becoming president of the American Institute of Architects and chief architect for Metropolitan Life Insurance. Throughout his distinguished career, he was influential in developing Monmouth College’s distinctive Georgian-style architecture.

Debate and rhetoric

Monmouth has a distinguished tradition in debate and oration. In 1880, MC student James Erskine won the prestigious state intercollegiate oratory competition, defeating the future legendary debater William Jennings Bryan of Illinois College.

The Fighting Scots

Harold Hermann, a 1927 Monmouth graduate, became the very first alumni secretary upon his graduation. It was his idea to capitalize on the college’s Scottish heritage by establishing a bagpipe band, adopting a college tartan and naming athletic teams the Fighting Scots.

Resilient and agile

World War II posed a crisis to the institution similar to that of the Civil War, as male students began enlisting in the service within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and soon only a handful remained on campus. Through an arrangement with the Navy Department, the college survived by becoming a preflight training school for cadets, and later offering a refresher program for Naval officers. Courses were taught by Monmouth’s broad-based liberal arts faculty, with a curriculum so innovative that the Navy adopted portions of it for training programs nationwide. More than 2,000 Navy men went through Monmouth College, a number of whom would re-enroll here after the war through the G.I. Bill.

Commitment to students’ futures

When Monmouth’s chemistry department gained national prominence in the 1950s, longtime professor William S. Haldeman was recognized with a major award by the American Chemical Society. Because financial circumstances deprived him of the opportunity for graduate school, he became a champion for advanced study, helping 88 of his 343 chemistry graduates attain Ph.D.s by establishing his own revolving loan fund to pay their expenses. The students were widely known as “Haldy’s Boys” and “Haldy’s Girls.”

President’s Home

Quinby House, the National Register home of the Monmouth College president, was designed in 1867 by Chicago architect John Crombie Cochrane, whose reputation would be established through his efforts to help rebuild that city following the Great Chicago Fire. Among Cochrane’s other commissions was the magnificent Iowa State Capitol, the only five-domed capitol building in the country

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