HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
Home - Table of Contents - Next Chapter
CENTRAL UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
ABOUT four and a half years after the Hollanders founded their community in Marion County, on one of the coldest days of the season, the people of Pella, both Dutch and Americans, assembled in a house on Garden Square. All were buoyant with hope because an opportunity had been presented for securing within their midst "that which in its moral, literary and religious bearing upon the community would be more important than county or government seats."
The Baptists of Iowa having decided to establish a college where they could depend upon the most liberal donations of land and money, there ensued an enthusiastic campaign to collect money from the citizens of Pella and vicinity. Many Hollanders, like Scholte and A. E. D. Bousquet, deemed higher education an absolute necessity; and even though Baptists were the chief promoters of the plan, wealthy members of the Dutch church did not hesitate to subscribe large sums of money. Scholte himself offered eight acres of land for a college campus.(256)
In June, 1853, the citizens of Pella rejoiced when they learned that the Baptists had resolved to accept Pella's offer. That the Central University of Iowa found a home among the Hollanders was largely due to the influence of Scholte, who showed in this way how little he cared "about differences of opinion regarding the less important points of religious worship". Graduated from the renowned University of Leyden and himself a man of learning, he at once approved the plan of providing higher education for the youth of his community. The Puritans of New England waited longer for Harvard College than the Hollanders of Pella did for Central College. Scholte cooperated with the Baptists at every step, gave generously of his wealth, and at all times had the interests of the college at heart. He dreamed of a university which would one day by reason of its central location attract many hundreds of young people to its departments of law, medicine, theology, and liberal arts.(257)
Among the first trustees of Central University were two Hollanders: J. Smeenk and H. P. Scholte. The latter was president of the board in 1855 when proposals were asked for a three-story brick building with stone trimmings. For a few years before June, 1858, there existed only an academic or preparatory department. Many Hollanders f ailed to appreciate the benefits which this academy conferred upon the people of Pella. Although the institution had been "scrupulously kept free from all sectarian influences ", it had not received the cordial support of the members of all religious denominations at Pella. Some Hollanders were too strongly tinged with sectarianism to overlook the Baptist origin of the college, but others declared it an excellent privilege to be able to acquire a liberal education at home in the midst of Christian surroundings even though their own theology could not be taught.(258)
Among the first three students to graduate from Central University, shortly after the Civil War broke out, was Herman F. Bousquet, a foreign-born Hollander. When the College again opened its doors in the autumn of 1861, not a single able-bodied young man enrolled, for all had enlisted in the Iowa regiments. Enthusiastic graduates refer with pardonable pride to the fact that Central University "gave not only a larger proportion of her young men to the service than did any other school in the United States, but she gave all that she possessed", one hundred and twenty-two.(259)
Van Raalte's hopes of being able to found at Pella a college of the Dutch Reformed Church as he had established Hope College at Holland, Michigan, miscarried in the year 1865, because the unusually fine standard of both higher and lower education at Pella made an additional school in such a country town at once unnecessary and superfluous. Thus Central University has held the field alone (though not a few young Hollanders from Pella have attended Hope College), and like so many other small colleges of Iowa has passed through many trials during the past half century. It has always maintained a high standard of instruction, has steadily raised its endowment, and claims about two hundred and fifty students divided among the academy, the college, and the departments of music and oratory.(260)
Central University has never lacked warm friends among the Hollanders who comprised a majority of the people of Pella. Besides Scholte and A. E. D. Bousquet, Auke H. Viersen also faithfully served the college. In 1911 one-fourth of the college trustees were Hollanders; while among the names of past instructors appear those of Lillian Viersen, John Nollen, Henry Nollen, and Herman Neyenesch. It can not be denied, however, that the founding of Central University at Pella was not sufficiently prized by the Hollanders for many years. While young people of Dutch parentage have always enrolled at the college, the number in attendance until about twenty years ago was almost negligible. But in the last two decades the Hollanders have been good patrons, and in 1911 they claimed nearly one-third of the students in the college, more than half in the summer school, not quite one-half in the academy, two-thirds in the elocution department, and more than one-third of the students in the school of music. This is an admirable showing and indicates that as wealth increases among the Hollanders of Pella and vicinity more young people will acquire the culture of college halls.(261)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(256) The Pella Gazette, July 12, 1855; Catalogue of Central University, 1911, p. 5. See also Clarkson's A Beautiful Life, pp. 79-94, for a brief history of the college.
(257) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 59, 60.
(258) The Pella Gazette, August 9, 1855, and April 22, 1858; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 87.
(259) Clarkson's A Beautiful Life, p. 79.
(260) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part III, pp. 107, 110; and Iowa Official Register, 1911-12, p. 823.
(261) Clarkson's A Beautiful Life,
pp. 86, 88, 89.
Copyright 2003. These electronic pages are posted for the benefit of individuals only who are researching their family histories. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by any other organization or persons. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must obtain the written consent of the contributor, or the legal representative of the submitter, and contact the Sioux County Coordinator with proof of this consent.