Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Illinois State University: The founding, life, and demise of a small Midwestern College

I just finished reading Robert Allan Stevens' book, Saga of an Antebellum College: The Story of the Original Illinois State University, and can recommend it to those with an interest in the founding of denominational colleges during the 19th century.  The author expertly places ISU within the contexts of western expansion across the Midwest, Lutheran denominational interests, and the competition of other similar institutions in the state and region.

ISU's story is really the story of the founding of three institutions.  Hillsboro College operated in Hillsboro, IL from 1847-1852 and its closing coincided with a decision to found ISU as a Lutheran institution in a more promising location, the state's capitol in Springfield.  A variety of complex issues confronted ISU during its relatively brief existence and it closed in 1869 as attention turned to the founding of Carthage College in Carthage, IL.

Stevens' skills as a story teller are evident as he weaves the results of extensive research into an interesting narrative that underscores the importance of ISU.  Even though it enjoyed a relatively brief existence, a number of ISU students played important roles as adults.  Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, and John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary, biographer and later U.S. ambassador to England and Secretary of State, were ISU students.

Lists of trustees, students, graduates, and short bibliographic sketches are included as appendices, along with references and other sources.