Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part IV


Benevolent and Educational Enterprises





Educational Work Among the Iowa Friends


            The history of the Society of Friends has been adorned with names of men eminent in almost every field of scholarship. The number of Friends who have thus distinguished themselves has been “large in proportion to he small body with which they are connected”.(361) Two factors seem chiefly to be responsible for this fact: first, the thoughtful and meditative form of worship among the Friends; and second, their unfailing provision for a “guarded education” of their youth. Wherever the Quakers have planted new communities in the West, there side by side are found the home, the church, and the school.

            By a “guarded education” the Quakers did not mean an exclusively religious one; but believing, as they did, that a human being found his highest expression in things religious, they realized the necessity of both intellectual and spiritual training in the making of a man. As is still the case, rarely did the public schools of the early days afford religious training; and to meet the need, the Friends evolved a system of education which to them seemed complete. It was expected that each Preparative or Monthly Meeting would maintain within its borders one or more elementary schools, presided over by a Friend and in which the scriptures would be taught daily. Above these schools were the academies or maintained by Monthly, or Quarterly Meetings, or by holding associations in which members of the Society owned the controlling stock. Then, as the final step, came the colleges, of which the Friends have in America at the present time no less than ten, stretching in a chain from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast.


Salem as an Educational Center


            Hardly had a the Quakers become settled in their Iowa homes before the Salem Monthly Meeting appointed a committee to “endeavor to have schools put in operation”(362) in their midst. In its report in 1841 the committee stated that there “are 212 Children of suitable age to go to School” in the Monthly Meeting; that there “are 185 of our children who have received Education the past year in schools taught by Friends”; and that there “are none of our children growing up without education.”(363) Typical, indeed, is this report, of the conditions which prevailed almost universally among the Iowa Friends for the next half century, for well did they carry out the disciplinary provisions on this important subject.(364)

            The real advancement began in 1845, when Reuben Dorland, a highly educated Friend, came from Poughkeepsie, New York, and on his own responsibility founded Salem Seminary. By the winter term of 1851 he had built up his enrollment to over two hundred students, coming from far and near; and with his staff of three teachers besides himself, was offering courses in the following subjects: reading spelling, grammar, geography, history, astronomy, chemistry, physiology, mineralogy, botany, algebra, geometry, surveying, book-keeping, mercantile correspondence, and intellectual and moral philosophy.(365) In the very midst of success, however, Dorland’s health failed. He was forced to abandon his school, and on March 4, 1852, while enroute to California, he died and was buried in the sea.(366)

            For a time Salem Seminary was neglected; but realizing the value to he institution to the church, the Salem Monthly Meeting took up the work in 1854, built a brick structure twenty-five by thirty feet in size, and reopened the school. But these accommodations soon proved insufficient, and to meet the growing demands in the spring of 1867 a number of interested persons banded together as a joint stock company, and organized the “Whittier College Association”.(367) John W. Woody was secured as president, and on April 20, 1868, Whittier College opened its doors. The school met with immediate students in 1869, Salem again took on the appearance of an educational center. Further increase in the number of students created a demand for larger space, and in 1874 the old brick meeting-house was remodeled for a school building, and the Friends sought other quarters for their religious gatherings.(368)

            Buoyant with hope, the Salem Quarterly Meeting of Friends now launched a campaign for an endowment fund of $15,000; but in the midst of the undertaking there came the panic of 1877, which blighted the hopes of Whittier College. What with the foreclosure of mortgages and failing crops the enrollment dwindled, and in their attempt to keep things running in hope of a brighter day, the trustees plunged the institution into debt. Then came the second blow, from which it never recovered. On the night of December 4, 1885(369) came the call of fire, and in a short time thereafter the main building of Whittier College lay in ashes. With a courage typical of the Salem Friends they built anew; and in 1887 the present brick structure, two stories high, was erected. But with these set-backs, Whittier College was not able to regain its former prestige. Without good railroad connections, with little financial backing, surrounded by public high schools and denominational colleges, and in competition with Penn College with its superior equipment, Whittier College could have little hope of success. Fro years it struggled along as a Friends’ academy, but in 1910 gave up and closed its doors.


Quaker Seminaries or Academies in Iowa


            The same desire for independent schools shown by the Salem Friends has at various times and in various ways expressed itself in almost every Quaker center in the State, so that among this religious sect there have existed a number of academies, each characteristic of its time. A typical example of the establishment and subsequent history of these church schools is to be found in Springdale Seminary.

            At the opening session of the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting in 1853 the subject of education was taken up and the founding of church schools was urged; but owing to the heavy public school taxes already assessed upon them, many of the Friends were more inclined to the policy of gaining control of the public schools and conducting them to their liking. As a result it appears that in 1859 of the two hundred and thirty-two children of school age in the Monthly Meeting but thirty-five were in attendance at the school maintained by the Monthly Meeting’s committee, while one hundred and seventy attended the public district schools in which eleven Quakers served as teachers.(370)

            Soon, however, a school of higher grade was needed, and to meet this need the Friends built a small academy in 1860. Seeing that this would not long suffice, a plan for uniting with the school authorities of the “Independent District of Springdale” for better instructional facilities was evolved. Thus under an agreement, peculiar on the part of Friends, Springdale Seminary was founded in 1866.(371) To assist in the construction of the necessary building the Monthly Meeting pledged three hundred dollars, in return for which it was to be represented by three of its members on the board of directors in the selection of teachers and in administering the affairs of the school; and as a special concession, the Friends were to be allowed to hold a religious meeting “of short duration” in the building once each week for the benefit of the students.(372)

            Springdale Seminary at once pushed its way to the front, occupying a place second to none of the same rank in the State of Iowa. Its graduates were for a time admitted to the State University without examination. But friction soon arose over the question of special privilege. The Springdale Monthly Meeting, feeling that its rights had been ignored, withdrew in 1877 from its official relation with the school. As a Quaker community, however, the Friends have down to the present time exerted a controlling influence over the institution. While not strictly a Quaker school, its teachers with few exceptions have from year to year been Friends, and it has administered largely to the interests and needs of the church.

            Other academies conducted by the Friends in Iowa have each had a history unique and interesting; but only a passing reference can be given to them in this connection. About five miles to the east of Indianola, in Warren County, through the energetic efforts of J. W. Morgan a school called Ackworth Academy, with a two-story brick building costing about $6,000, was founded in 1867.(373) In 1881 the officers of the institution reported an enrollment of  on hundred and thirty-one students in the academic courses and seventy-four in the preparatory courses;(374) but in succeeding years for various reasons there was a gradual decline, and in 1910 the building was remodeled and is now used by the Sunday school and church alone.

            Contemporaneous with the beginnings of Ackworth Academy was the founding of West Branch Academy, in Cedar County; Lynn Grove Academy, in Jasper County; and Stanford Seminary, in Marshall County. Each of these schools flourished for a time after 1869(375) and then disappeared.

            LeGrand Academy, in Marshall County, founded by the LeGrand Monthly Meeting in 1872;(376) Pleasant Plain Academy, in Jefferson County, founded by a “Stockholders’ Association” in 1876;(377) and New Providence Academy, in Hardin County, also founded by a “Stockholders’ Association” in 1882,(378) all have had interesting careers, productive of much good to hundreds of young men and women in their respective communities. Earlham Academy, in Madison County, the last of these Quaker schools established in Iowa, opened the doors of its $10,000 building in 1892.(379) For seven years, under the direction of the Bear Creek Quarterly and Earlham Monthly Meetings, it did excellent work; but during the winter of 189901900 an epidemic of smallpox closed its doors. In the fall of 1900 the Academy and Earlham High School were combined, and thus the institution passed from under the control of the Friends.(380)

            Having briefly traced the history of these various schools, a statement should be made as to the causes of their general decline. First stands the fact that, aside from the attempt on the part of the academies themselves of late years to so adjust their courses of study as to meet the entrance requirements of the higher schools of learning, little or no correlative effort or general control has prevailed, each school, for the most part, following out its own peculiar policy. Secondly, in Iowa no successful attempt has been made to endow these schools and place them on a sound financial basis; but year after year the instructors have been expected to shift for themselves, generally having to depend for their compensation on the tuition received or on whatever bonus fund might be contributed by interested persons. Finally, because of the growth of the public high schools there has of late years been a marked decline in interest in these church schools on the part of the Friends whose efforts have been shifted to the maintenance of their growing college at Oskaloosa.


Penn College


            Penn College, the pride of the Orthodox Friends in Iowa, is the product of the fusion of two distinct Quaker elements, one bearing a southern stamp and the other being of New England origin. The first of these elements found expression in the building of the “Iowa Yearly Meeting Boarding School” in 1860, close beside the Spring Creek meeting-house, some two and one-half miles northeast of Oskaloosa.(381) In contrast, near the Center Grove meeting-house, about two miles to the north of the town, stood the “Thorndyke Institute”, owned and controlled by Henry and Anna Thorndyke, prominent Friends from New England.(382)

            In the fall of 1863, soon after the opening of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, the building of the “Spring Creek Institute”, as the “Boarding School” was now called, caught fire and burned to the ground. Finding it difficult to rebuild with the funds remaining on hand, a large committee was appointed by the Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1866 to consider “the Educational wants of the members.”(383) This “consideration” led directly to the founding of Penn College. Out of the Spring Creek school and other interests was formed in 1867 “The Iowa Union College Association of Friends”,(384) which soon amalgamated with the Thorndyke school; and the site for a union college where Penn now stands was chosen in 1869(385) In the fall of 1871 the committee was able to report that ten acres for a college campus had been procured without cost to the Yearly Meeting, that the west wing of a new college building was up and enclosed, and that “Friends of Philadelphia and other parts of the East have subscribed $1,000 annually for five years to assist in filling out the salary of teachers, and about $1,000 towards the completion of the building.”(386) On the fifth of November, 1872,(387) amid much rejoicing, Penn College, named for William Penn, swung wide its doors for the first time.

            Strengthened by the addition of a preparatory academy, Penn College has through a period of forty years steadily pushed ahead into a prominent position among the denominational colleges in the State of Iowa, and among the Quaker schools of higher learning in America. During this period it has trained within its walls over five thousand young men and women, of whom no less than four hundred and seventy-five have received the honors of graduation.(388) Five presidents have guided its policies;(389) and from among its faculty and student body many have risen into prominence in both the business and the professional world.

            With the changing years every effort has been strained to meet the growing demands upon the institution; and without adequate means of support, time and time again its managers have been face to face with financial failure. In 1898 came the first successful attempt to raise a permanent endowment fund, which through the enticing offer of a $9,000 farm if the Friends would raise an additional $50,000 for their college, was completed at the Yearly Meeting in 1900.(390) Then came the recent financial struggle to meet the State regulation that all first-grade colleges in Iowa must have a productive endowment of $200,000, or an independent income equal to five per cent of that amount.(391) To accomplish the task every strategy known to those who had the enterprise at heart was employed, and no stone throughout the realm of Iowa Quakerism was left unturned. As the final day, June 1, 1911, drew near, the interest in the undertaking grew intense; but no authentic information found its way to public ears as to the course of affairs. When the midnight hour of that eventful day arrived, however, every church bell in Oskaloosa pealed forth the glad news and every factory whistle joined the chorus to say that Penn had won the victory. On the following commencement day it was publicly announced that the aggregate of the endowment fund had reached $222,000, and that the future of the college, for a time at least, was safe.(392)

            In more ways than one this last financial undertaking will mean much to the Society of Friends in Iowa. Not  only does it now assure the church of a permanent training school for future leaders in all lines of church activity; but of more importance is the fact that it opened the purse string of  a people who, through the conservative nature of their training, were untutored in the art of giving. True, the Iowa Quakers have done much in a philanthropic way, as the foregoing pages have shown; but aside from their mission work of recent years in Jamaica and their existing pastoral system, their church connection has cost them little in actual outlay of money. Now they are awakened to a growing consciousness of common interest; and in the third campaign which before long must begin if Penn College is to continue to hold its educational standing, it will no doubt be found that a more liberal spirit prevails.




361-  Encyclopedia Britannica (Werner Edition, 1902), Vol. XX, p. 150.

362-  Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 8 mo., 31st, 1839, p.26.

363-  Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 7 mo., 31st, 1841, p. 71.

364-  Discipline of the Society of Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting, 1854, pp. 85, 86.

365- Annual Catalogue of Salem Seminary, 1851.

366- Sixty-Sixth Anniversary of the Organization of the Friends Church of Salem, Iowa, p. 5.

367- Whittier College was named in honor of the Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who subscribed fifty dollars to the “Whittier College Association”.

368- Salem Weekly News, May 5, 1904.

369- Sixty-Sixth Anniversary of the Organization of the Friends Church of Salem, Iowa, p. 5.

370- Minutes of Red Cedar Monthly Meeting of Friends, 10 mo., 5th, 1859, pp. 63, 64.

371-Aurner’s A Topical History of Cedar County, pp. 159-165.

372- Minutes of Springdale (Red Cedar) Monthly Meeting of Friends, 4 mo., 3rd, 1867, p. 166.

373- Dr. J. W. Morgan’s account of Ackworth Institute, prepared at the request of the writer. See also Western Work, Vol. III, May, 1899, p. 2.

374- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1881, p. 14.

375- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1869, pp. 15, 16. The available material on the history of these three schools is exceedingly scarce, being confined to a few brief references in the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting.

376- Western Work, Vol. III, May, 1899, p. 5.

377- Western Work, Vol. III, May, 1899, p. 3.

378- Western Work, Vol. III, May, 1899, p. 3.

379- Western Work, Vol. III, April, 1899, p. 5.

380- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1900, pp. 13, 14.

381- Dr. J. W. Morgan, one of the first teachers, states that the “Iowa Yearly Meeting Boarding School” was founded by interested Friends of the Pleasant Plain and Bangor Quarterly Meetings, and was opened in the presence of a joint committee of the two Quarters on the 27th of November, 1860.

382- The “Thorndyke Institute” was of high grade for its time, having as early as 1865 a library containing some two thousand volumes.

383- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1866, p. 35.

384- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1867, p. 4.

385- Western Work, Vol. II, June, 1898, p. 10.

386- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1871, pp. 16, 17.

387- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1873, p. 10.

388- Western Work, Vol. XVII, April, 1911, p. 7. To the number of graduates here recorded the writer has added those for the years 1911-1912 and 1912-1913.

389- The following, in order named, have been the presidents of Penn College: John W. Woody, also the first president of Whittier College, Salem Iowa; William B. Morgan; Benjamin F. Trueblood; Absolom Rosenberger; and David M. Edwards, who is the present incumbent.

390- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends, 1898, p. 25; 1900 p. 14.

391- Iowa Educational Directory, 1907-1908, p. 86.

392- Western Work, Vol. XVII, June, 1911, p. 1.



Back to Table of Contents


Home to Iowa History Project