Henry County, IAGenWeb


Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County, Iowa
Chicago: Acme  Publishing Company, 1888.


Next to its religious interests, the educational interests of a community are the one by which a community may be properly judged. With respect to the latter Henry County will compare favorably with any county in the State. With a fine university, including a German college, an academy second to none, and public schools, the pride of its citizens, comparison may well be invited. The pioneers of the county little expected that so soon the beautiful country which they had selected for their future homes would be so abundantly supplied with the means of educating their children. To them great credit is due for inaugurating so shortly after coming the educational system which has grown to be such a powerful factor for good as the splendid schools of to-day are.

Iowa Wesleyan University.

Mt. Pleasant is called the Athens of Iowa, and here is located one of the best known educational institutions of the Mississippi Valley, the Iowa Wesleyan University. This school dates its origin from the winter of 1843-44, when the Territorial Legislature of Iowa passed a bill which was approved by the Government Feb. 15, 1844, granting a charter to the Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute. The institution thus incorporated was to be located within five miles of Mt. Pleasant, and was to be under the control of the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the first meeting of the Iowa Conference of that body, held at Iowa City Aug. 14, 1844, a memorial was presented from the Trustees of the institution asking recognition and patronage.

Steps were at once taken for the erection of a building, which was completed in 1846, and in 1849 the Conference appointed a board of control, consisting of the Presiding Elder of the Burlington District, and the preachers in charge of Burlington, New London, Mt. Pleasant and Fairfield. Like every other educational institution in the then New West, the Collegiate Institute was, with great difficulty, made self-sustaining, or even kept running. In the report to the Conference in 1852, the Trustees said that during the preceding year the school had been sustained. During that year, however, Rev. James McDonald, A. M., was appointed by Bishop Ames, Principal of the Institute, but he resigned in about six months. Prof. James Harlan was then chosen Principal, and under his administration the school began an era of prosperity. In 1853 the Trustees reported an attendance of 100, and in 1854 it had still further increased to 218. A new building was constructed for this year for $15,000. In the winter following a university charter was secured, and James Harlan, A. M., was chosen its first President. He remained at the head but a short time, and was succeeded by Rev. Lucien W. Berry, D. D. From the beginning those who have been at the head of the institution were as follows:

Hon. James Harlan, first President; Rev. Lucien W. Berry, D. D., President and Professor of Mental and Moral Science in the Faculty, 1855-57; Rev. Charles Elliott, D. D., who added to the above the chair of Biblical Literature and Theology, 1857-61; Rev. George B. Jocelyn, A. M., who was also Professor of Mental and Moral Science, and English Language and Literature, 1861-62. After the resignation of President Jocelyn, Rev. W. J. Spaulding became Acting President, and stood at the head of the Faculty during the college years of 1862-64; Rev. Charles Elliott, D.D., LL. D., again became President, and Professor of Sacred Literature and Theology, in 1864-66; Rev. Charles A. Holmes, D. D., also Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, 1866-69; James Harlan, LL. D., 1869-70; John Wheeler, D. D., also Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, 1870-75; W. J. Spaulding, Ph.D.; also Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, 1875-84; J. T. McFarland, D. D., 1844 to the present time.

Never in the history of the institution has it been more prosperous than at this writing. From a small beginning it has grown to be one of the most popular schools of the State. During the session of 1886-87, there was an enrollment of 338 pupils, and up to February, 1888, there had been a slight increase over the previous year. Contracts have been let for the erection of a new building at the cost of $35,000, and for remodeling the old one at a cost of $3,000. The new building will be erected just east of the old one. It will contain a chemical and physical laboratory, a number of recitation rooms, and a chapel with a seating capacity of 1,400.

German College.

In 1870 the Southwest German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed a commission to locate a German college, and during a session of the Iowa Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held at Mt. Pleasant in October, 1871, Dr. Wheeler suggested to Rev. F. Stoffragen, a member of the Southwest German Conference, who had been appointed to bear fraternal greetings to the Iowa Conference, that Mt. Pleasant was just the place. The Trustees of the university appointed Dr. Wheeler and Prof. Willey a committee to secure this location, and at a session of the Germany Conference held at Warrenton, Mo., March 20, 1872, the Doctor presented a proposition offering free tuition in the university, five acres of land, and a college building three stories high, 40x60 feet in dimensions. The Conference at its next session, held at Quincy, Ill., Sept. 9, 1872, accepted the proposition to locate the college at Mt. Pleasant, on condition of an endowment being raised of not less than $20,000. This sum was raised within six months.

On the 25th day of July, 1873, Bishop Jesse P. Peck broke ground for the erection of the college building, and on the 29th day of August following, Dr. Wheeler laid the corner-stone with appropriate ceremonies. The building was finished, and the college dedicated Sept. 22, 1874, by Bishop Haven. From that time to the present the college has been in successful operation, and has in connection with the university done a grand work. While connected with the university, it is independent in finances and control.

Howe's Academy.

This is another institution of learning in which the citizens of Mt. Pleasant have just pride. Prof. Samuel L. Howe located on a farm near Mt. Pleasant in 1841, and in the winter of 1841-42 taught a term of school in a log cabin. A year or two later he moved into the village and opened a school in the old jail building, subsequently removing to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and finally, in 1845, moving into a building erected for the Mt. Pleasant High School and Female Seminary, of which he was the head. Until his death, which occurred Feb. 15, 1877, Prof. Howe conducted the school, assisted at times by his children, whom he trained as teachers. The impress of his mind was left upon many persons who have become prominent in Iowa and elsewhere. He was a thorough and a successful teacher. Since his death the school has been conducted by one of his sons, and at this time is in a most flourishing condition, with a very large attendance.

Whittier College.

The Society of Friends, which has a large membership in Salem and vicinity, soon after the close of the Rebellion took steps for the formation of a college association, and on the 17th day of May, 1867, an association was duly incorporated. Its members having great veneration for the Quaker poet, John G. Whittier, bestowed upon the institution his name, and hence Whittier College. The Friends kindly offered the upper story of their meeting-house, located in the suburbs of Salem, which was fitted up and furnished for the reception of students, and the first term was opened in April, 1868, with Prof. John C. Woody, and Mrs. Mary C. Woody as Principals of the male and female departments. The Board of Directors of the college subsequently purchased the building, which they remodeled and fitted up for school purposes.

The first class graduated from the institution in 1871, since which time a large number of persons have been sent out from the institution, and are now filling responsible positions elsewhere in the school-room, at the bar, and in the pulpit, to say nothing of that large number who have adopted farming as a profession.

Early on the morning of Dec. 4, 1885, the college building and contents were entirely destroyed by fire, entailing a loss of many thousands of dollars. The bricks of the old building were not cold before the school was organized in the meeting-house, and the citizens of Salem had determined to rebuild. But the work of raising the means to build was a difficult one, on account of poor crops and other adverse circumstances, but the amount was secured, and in the fall of 1886 the foundation walls were laid, and in July, 1887, the brick work was commenced, and the building completed in November, 1887. The college opened for business Nov. 16, 1887, with Prof. A. J. Beddison as Principal.

The institution has accommodations for 150 students, and is well adapted for the purposes for which it is intended. The building is 40x50 feet in size, with a square tower 20x20, is built of brick, and is three stories high, including mansard roof. It is a tasty and commodious building, and reflects great credit on those who have labored so hard to secure its construction. While nominally an institution of the Friends, others have assisted in its building.

Public Schools.

From the report of the Superintendent of Public Schools of the county, it is learned that in the fall of 1887 there were in the county 81 frame school-houses, 27 brick, and one stone school-house, with an appraised valuation of $253,480. During the year 54 male and 192 female teachers were employed, who received average compensation, males $32.49 and females $24.94 per month. In the county there were 3,128 males, and 3,057 females of school age, of which number 4,924 were enrolled in the public schools. The average cost for each pupil per month was $2.45.

Transcribed by Conni McDaniel Hall for Henry County IAGenWeb, November 2014.

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