Shimer College History (1853-1950)
"Improvement and progress are duties," motto of the Oread Society of Mount Carroll Seminary, might well serve as the theme of Shimer College history throughout the first hundred years of its progressive development, which reached its century mark on Founder's Day, May 11, 1953. For the small acorn, planted by two courageous women in May, 1853, has grown and spread into an oak of strength and beauty, a school that has steadily improved and progressed through good and bad years, to reach a proud place in the educational world. It has not only kept pace with the times, but has become a leader in educational thought and practice.
Its inspired service to youth through succeeding generations has fully justified the faith of its founders, whose dream of educational usefulness has found its realization in the college of today.
Frances Ann Wood, with her friend and ally, Cindarella Gregory, "builded better than they knew" when, in spite of hardships, obstacles, difficulties and discouragements, they labored unfalteringly to give to the new West the educational advantages sorely needed by young folks of those pioneer days. Hundreds of graduates, who have gone out from the school to take their places in the world and make their contributions to life, have blessed the day when two young school ma'ams, with hope in their hearts, set out to translate their bright dreams into vibrant reality and Shimer College was born.
Every human achievement was first a thought in someone's mind. Shimer College had its inception in the desire of early settlers in and around Mount Carroll, Illinois, to give their children educational opportunities in spite of the lack of public schools.
Mount Carroll, in the early '50's, was a village clustering around the Emmert and Halderman grist mill on the Waukarusa, a meandering stream winding its way among the green hills and wooded valleys of the beautiful countryside. Enterprising citizens of this pioneer community decided to organize and finance a "Seminary." Headed by John Wilson, attorney, and William T. Miller, state legislator, the townspeople secured in 1852 the passage of a bill in the Legislature incorporating their project as Mount Carroll Seminary.
The next hurdle was to secure competent teachers. Accordingly, Attorney John Wilson wrote his friend Isaac Nash of New York State suggesting that his sister-in-law, Frances Wood, come out and take charge of the incorporated, but, as yet, non-existent Mount Carroll Seminary.
Frances Ann Wood, born in Milton, Saratoga County, New York, August 21, 1826, started to school at the tender age of 2 1/2, went away from home at 7 to live with a cousin whose husband was principal of a school Frances attended until, overwhelmed with homesickness, she was allowed to return home. Left motherless at the age of ten, she made her home with an older sister, Caroline, Mrs. Isaac Nash, until sent to Stillwater Academy when not yet twelve. At fourteen she begged to keep house for her father, which she continued to do all through her 'teens with great efficiency, her father taking great pride in her housekeeping ability. In addition, she taught a country school near her home until she had earned enough to put herself through the New York Normal School at Albany. Here she graduated in 1849 after one year only of intensive study "day and night" to complete the course.
In her young womanhood she had been thrilled by accounts her older brother, Talmadge, wrote home from Missouri and points farther west about his adventures as a hunter, trapper, scout and Indian fighter. He was in some way connected with the pioneer Whitman Party that went out to the Oregon country. He was interested in a saw mill and lumbering. Then, during the gold rush fever, he was lured to California, where he was murdered by Indians. His letters, doubtless, made a profound impression on "Cis," as he called young Frances, whetting her appetite for adventure. So, when opportunity offered to go out to the pioneer country and start a school, it was a challenge she could not resist.
Cindarella Gregory, of Naples, Ontario County, New York, a Normal School classmate and friend, who was teaching in Milton and boarding at the Nash home, was urged to join Frances in this undertaking. After corresponding with incorporator, John Wilson, H.G. Grattan and others, the two young women were persuaded to go west in the spring of 1853 and start the school.
Frances Ann was then a slender, dark-haired girl of 26, Cindarella a dignified but sprightly young woman of shorter, slighter build. Frances had shown the symptoms of TB, so, when the invitation to come west arrived, her family thought a change of climate might do her good. Her body may have been frail, but her subsequent activities proved that she had the heart of a lioness, ready to spring into action with singular directness of purpose, force and strategy in pursuit of her aims. As years passed she developed into a woman of heroic mould.
Confidential letters to Sister Caroline from "Frank" and "Cindy," telling of the intrepid school ma'ams' westward journey and early struggles are most revealing. They went by train from Milton to Chicago, thence by lake-boat to Milwaukee, by train again to Janesville, where rail service ended, then toiled on by horse-driven vehicles.
On May 6, having been delayed by a storm, they set out from Janesville in a "spring wagon" over muddy, deeply rutted roads to reach the little hamlet of Mount Carroll, ninety miles farther west, a place nobody along their route had even so much as heard of until they stopped overnight in Cherry Grove, a neighboring settlement.
All along the way they were plagued by wind and rain as they jostled along roads "perfectly awful, almost impassable in places." The lumbering stages "met with accident almost hourly," wrote Frances, "two or three stuck in the mud, passengers being obliged to leave them, one stuck there all night and is there yet for aught I know. Several were upset and passengers bruised, scratched and frightened most to death ... Well, we had as fine a team and good driver as could be scart up, but ... first one whiffletree broke, the driver went back and got another ... that time we were completely slewed. Cinda and I got out and walked a rail out on to solid footing, the horses gave another pull and broke a tug ... men unloaded the baggage, whole kit and cargo! The horses tried again, broke another tug ... Meanwhile it was raining, so Cinda and I took our umbrella and started along on foot ... after about two hours we were snugly loaded up and on our way again ... Sunday morning (May 8) we drove into town and put up at the American Hotel. Isaac (who had accompanied them) called on Mr. Wilson ... who invited us to his house till we should get a boarding place, which we did the next day."
Once settled there, things, began to move. The cooperation of the townspeople was made manifest. "Squire Goss" took them out "prospecting for to admire the beauties of the town and give our opinion about the site for the Seminary buildings ... the books are open for subscription ... something over three hundred shares were taken in one day ... there is considerable excitement ... there seems no doubt that the enterprise will succeed, and even exceed our most sanguine expectations."
The "books opened" were those of the corporation whose Board of Trustees included the Presbyterian minister, Rev. C. Gray, president, John Wilson, secretary, Leonard Goss, treasurer, Hon. David Emmert, Nathaniel Halderman, Dr. B.P. Miller, James Hallett, James Farguson and Rev. John Irvine.
On May 11, three days after their arrival, the teachers opened their school in the Presbyterian Church. In six weeks it was moved to more commodious quarters on the second floor of the only brick building in town, which the trustees had renovated, and partitioned off, installing blackboards, chairs and tables.
On the opening day only eleven pupils appeared, but by the end of the term forty had enrolled. The following year they opened a boys' department on the third floor of this building with Miss Ransom as teacher.
Meanwhile the incorporators took stock in their venture, sold shares at five dollars each to their fellow townsmen and started looking for a place to build. Eighty-three people subscribed 548 shares representing a value of $2,000. However, as faith in their investment waned, only six of the eighty-three paid in full, others paid in part, some settled by notes, most never paid. With less than $1,000 with which to finance the purchase of land and the erection of a building the Board was faced with a serious dilemma.
In spite of this discouraging outlook, stout-hearted Frances writes, "We number but twenty-five as yet, but we are just commencing, its a new thing." "I don't care if we only pay our way for a time, if we can ultimately have a school that will be appreciated." Fannie Bartholomew Bailey, one of the first eleven pupils, comments, "Then was first displayed that perseverence and energy, that courage to combat difficulties, that has ever characterized the work of the Principal, Mrs. F.A. Wood Shimer."
When it came to selecting a site for the school, differences of opinion developed. To further complicate matters, whenever a trustee showed interest in any location, there the price of real estate went up immediately. Misses Wood and Gregory, though urged to do so, hesitated to express a preference for any one location, not wishing to antagonize any of the Board. They knew Trustee Irvine did not share their preference. But before the day of decision they won over Mrs. Irvine to their way of thinking and Frances writes, "having her on our side, of course Mr. Irvine came around all right."
One day Trustee Wilson drove them to Savanna on the Mississippi, ten miles west. On this excursion Miss Wood divulged her bright idea of buying a desirable piece of property in Savanna owned by her brother-in-law. Then, should the Mount Carroll landowners become too grasping, by the mere threat of transferring the whole project to the rival town, these Mount Carroll folk might be brought to terms.
Negotiations to purchase the property were begun, "even if I never go near it" she writes. The townsfolk, as well as the Board, getting wind of these proceedings, were much perturbed. Board members felt they should have been consulted, that the women had not been properly communicative. Throughout her career, Frances Wood kept her own counsel until the strategic moment to speak out.
The following Monday she was taken around to view the six or eight sites under consideration in Mount Carroll. An eminence south of the village was the first choice of the two ladies. The Board, learning of their preference and reasons for it, decided unanimously on that location. There the school stands today.
Here five acres were purchased from Messrs. Halderman and Rinewalt with four years to pay. These public-spirited gentlemen, in turn, took $500 worth of stock in the Seminary corporation.
The Board of Trustees now organized the Seminary under the charter granted by the state and contracted for the services of Misses Wood and Gregory at the princely stipend of $300 a year each, plus room and board. They also contracted for the erection of a brick building of two and a half stories, 42 x 46 ft., that would provide twenty rooms, the contract price $4,500.
Miss Wood was soon absorbed in drawing plans for this structure and worked in close collaboration with the architect, whose ultimate plans embodied many of her ideas and suggestions. The Trustees, however, were stymied for lack of funds and were obliged to borrow in order to get their building finished and furnished.
In the summer of 1854, while the building was under construction, Miss Wood went east with $2,000 provided by the Board, to buy furnishings and provisions. Accompanied by her hometown furniture dealer, she went to Albany and purchased all needed furniture at wholesale. Returning to Milton she engaged women and children to pick great quantities of fruit, which she dried and canned, as fruit was not to be had in the pioneer settlement of Mount Carroll. She also had a big supply of bedding made up and pillows from old feather-beds. These she packed around the fruit jars and shipped back to the school.
On October 24, 1854, the school moved into the new building with twenty-five boarders and twice as many day pupils, and was formally organized as Mount Carroll Seminary under the control of a reorganized Board of Trustees. Both young men and young women were received, and Misses Wood and Gregory retained as principals.
Harassed by the many details to be attended to, some of the Board favored "giving the whole concern into our hands to manage entirely ourselves," Miss Wood writes home. "I think they will all agree to do so, but I don't know as I crave so great responsibility, though I do think we could perhaps do better and effect more than by any other management." She continues, "I feel more than ever that this is a better place for us than east, not as regards gain in dollars and cents (for I know we are not getting rich here) but there is such an ample field for labor, and now, if I know my own heart, my desire is to do some good in the world." ... "You know, sister, my whole ambition has been to do something smart, as I called it, to win honors in some shape, but I trust I have done with such ambition."
From then on Miss Wood carried on with supreme consecration to the task of making the Seminary a center of learning where young men and women could receive intellectual discipline, spiritual inspiration and cultural advantages of a high order. She sought the best teachers available, for the Board had authorized the joint principals to select their own teaching staff and household workers, as well as to furnish the new building "from attic to cellar."
In those days Mount Carroll Seminary offered a variety of courses, covering six years of study. These were the Primary, Advanced, Teachers' and Collegiate Courses. Later the Primary became the Preparatory Course and Advanced became the Academic Course. In the first printed "Register and Circular" Miss Wood states, "As we claim the female mind is susceptible of the same cultivation as the male, and that there is equal demand for it, the same graduating course is prescribed for both. Their minds will be trained to vigorous thought, enlarged views and practical efficiency ... The time devoted to each study is not specified as students will be advanced from class to class according to their progress."
Not only intellect, but character was to be trained. Along with books, music and art were studied, ideals of sincerity, thoroughness, purpose and self-reliance were instilled.
In addition to doing her share of the teaching, Miss Wood kept the accounts, toiling over them far into the night She writes, "Here are no less than eight great account books standing in my writing desk in solemn array right before me waiting with impatience my attention. They must be posted and ready to submit to the Board next Monday ... bills for the quarter scarcely straight ... next week I must commence making bills for this quarter ... As soon as I am out of school I have to go to the Library, seat myself at my desk, pen in hand, till midnight, and not infrequently writing from five to ten letters besides accounts, bills, etc in one evening." While serving thus as bookkeeper and treasurer she often allowed herself only four hours of sleep a night, while Miss Gregory carried the heavy end of the educational work and was the disciplinarian. The students dreaded her displeasure expressed by a "withering look."
Six months after transferring to permanent quarters, the Board, profoundly discouraged because of the school's financial plight, offered the property to Misses Wood and Gregory for the contract price of the building, $4500, proposing to donate the five-acre site, as well as the furniture if the ladies would agree to continue the school for ten years. The offer was accepted. To validate the transfer a new charter, vesting all rights in the two principals, was obtained from the Legislature. With a small legacy from the estate of Miss Wood's father and financial help from eastern backers, the two women took over full proprietorship in the struggling, young institution. And it was only by dint of hard work in schoolroom and office, most careful management and attention to detail, plus complete dedication to the task, that the two young proprietors were able to win through.
Miss Wood personally supervised the landscaping and planting of the campus. Twenty additional acres, adjoining the original five, were acquired and the entire rectangular tract planted for both use and for beauty. A line of evergreens was set along the rim of the grounds that stood for years, tall and straight, like sentinels. Within that line were set at intervals maples and other deciduous trees that have become towering giants, every autumn glorious to behold. Between these lines of bordering trees 30,000 osage orange plants were set to form a hedge enclosing the campus. An arbor vitae hedge, put in years later, lined the entrance driveway on either side.
With the help of an inexperienced boy Miss Wood set out 2,000 evergreens comprizing 15 varieties, 600 deciduous trees of 60 varieties, 1,000 apple trees, 400 pear trees, 300 cherries, 25 crabapples, 1500 grape-vines, beside quantities of small fruit. Every vegetable that flourishes in the Illinois climate was grown in the kitchen garden.
Beside dotting the campus with beautiful trees she set out many kinds of roses, ornamental shrubs and flowering plants. Later she bought acreage, some distance from the school, on which to grow additional food supplies and develop a nursery. It is said she once worked out all day in a drenching rain to plant orchard trees delayed in transit, fearing they might die unless gotten into the ground as soon as possible.
Scarcely was the permanent building occupied before it became apparent that more room would soon be needed. Two wings were planned, one to the south, soon to be added, the other an ell to be attached to the northeast corner of the first structure, and built later.
In 1857, in the midst of the second building project, a financial panic struck the country. Business and industry were paralyzed with fear and distrust. Workmen, uncertain of their pay, laid down their tools. With only the masonry and carpentry about completed, the work of the building came to a standstill. Yet rooms in the new wing had been engaged for the fall term and the opening date was near at hand. Undaunted, Miss Wood did the work of two men, helped handle brick, laid floors, bought glass, paint and paper at wholesale, glazed forty windows, painted the building inside and the trim, except for the cornice, outside. She also papered and repainted most of the rooms in the main building. When the opening day arrived all was ready.
This manual labor was in addition to her bookkeeping, correspondence, employment of teachers, laying in of supplies of food and fuel, installing of furnishings in the new wing, supervising the work of others and oversight over grounds and gardens.
Her clock struck twelve when in 1876 bids for the construction of the second or east wing were so much in excess of the school's ability to pay, while the need for expansion was so urgent, that Mrs. Shimer turned architect and building superintendent, had stone quarried, timber cut, lumber sawed and brick made from land she owned or purchased, with machinery she bought and by men she employed. She supervised the details of construction, heating, ventilating, plumbing, and lighting, and completed the building at a cost much less than the lowest bid. One must exclaim, "What a woman!"
As one contemplates the prodigious labors and shrewd management that crowned with success the career of Mrs. Shimer one is reminded of the saying, "Never underestimate the power of a woman." Her ingenuity and resourcefulness seemed equal to every emergency. Every obstacle was a challenge, every crisis an opportunity that called out her reserves.
In December, 1857, Frances A. Wood had married Henry Shimer, a naturalist, whom she had come to know in Mt. Carroll's church circles, where he was an active leader. When young, back in Pennsylvania, he had learned the trade of a stone mason, had then taught school, and came west through the influence of his home-town pastor who had gone out to Mt. Carroll as the Baptist minister. Henry Shimer had helped to construct the original Seminary building. A few years later he graduated from the Chicago Medical College and took an M.A. degree from Chicago University. He afterward spent two winters attending the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Bellevue Hospital Medical School in New York and attended Bellevue Hospital Clinics; later spent one winter studying at the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson College Medical School in Philadelphia. He became a learned scientist and expert taxidermist, many of his specimen and collections going to the Smithsonian Institution and to the Chicago and St. Louis Academies of Science. Hence he was a real acquisition to the faculty of the Seminary and also served as resident physician with a wide country practice.
During the dark days of the Civil War most of the young men students joined the army -- the young recruits drilling on a vacant square across the street from the school. The young ladies, no less patriotic, made uniforms for their soldier school-mates, as well as beautiful flags for the companies that went from Mount Carroll.
By 1866 crowded conditions caused the elimination of young men students. The next year the school housed 100 boarders and many day pupils.
After being connected with the school eighteen years as educational director, Miss Gregory withdrew, Mrs. Shimer purchasing her interest in 1870. Shortly thereafter, Miss Gregory became the wife of the Rev. L.L. Lansing of Minneapolis. For Mrs. Shimer the loss of Miss Gregory was a heavy blow, as her daily help and sympathetic counsel had become almost indispensable. Left to carry the load alone, this seemed to Mrs. Shimer to be her darkest hour.
In the fall of 1867 a full-fledged music department was opened by Miss M. Ophelia Mason, who was designated its principal. It came to be well and favorably known as the Mount Carroll Conservatory of Music. The Vocal Music Department was presided over by Miss Isabelle Dearborn who came out from Lynn, Massachusetts in 1869. She possessed a voice of exquisite purity, rare sweetness and flexibility; had been trained by celebrated teachers and proved to be a very competent instructor and wonderful friend to those under her direction. Her gracious poise, beautiful character, fine judgment and quiet charm, added to her superior musical gifts, made her loved and revered by all. After the untimely death of Miss Mason, Miss Dearborn was made directing head of the Conservatory of Music.
In 1877 Isabelle Dearborn married her childhood sweetheart, Henry W. Hazzen, a New Englander, who joined the Seminary faculty, occupying the chair of literature and history with distinction for twenty years. He was beloved by his students whom he inspired to work hard, think independently and love the best in literature. A personal friend of Emerson and a proponent of his philosophy, he was also well acquainted with the great literature of all time. A brilliant speaker, he was much in demand as a lecturer on Dante, Shakespeare, Emerson, Browning, and other literary topics, while his Fourth of July oration has gone down as a great moment in Mount Carroll history. His library of 2500 volumes as left as a legacy to the Academy. At Mrs. Hazzen's death she left $2,000 to the school to keep in repair and to augment the Hazzen library.
In 1872 Miss Adelia C. Joy, a native of Kennebunk, Maine, was invited to come to the Seminary as Associate Principal for one year and stayed twenty-five. A graduate of Shephardson College ('69), Granville, Ohio, she received an added degree there in 1893. A woman of cultivated mind, lofty ideals, sound judgment, queenly dignity and fine Christian character she aimed to train each student to make the most and best of herself. Her stately bearing and wealth of auburn hair made her an unforgettable figure. As Mrs. Shimer's health failed she leaned more and more heavily on her keen-minded, utterly loyal and capable associate, whose executive ability and tireless devotion to the school well nigh matched her own. Miss Joy is remembered for developing a broader policy of modern education at the Seminary.
A Fine Arts Department flourished in those days, under Miss M. Burt, later under the excellent instruction of Miss Mary Clare Sherwood, assisted and later followed by her most talented pupil, Miss Grace Bawden.
Extra-curricular activities of Seminary girls included croquet, tennis, picnics, skating parties, singing groups, literary societies, and special celebrations, particularly Founder's Day.
The first literary society, the Lyceum, active in 1856, presented public programs to which townspeople were invited: "Admittance 25 cents. Doors open at 6 1/2 o'clock. Exercises commence at 7." In 1861 the Philomathean Society and later the Neosophic club played an important part in the life of the student body. Some of the boys, who later became state legislators and members of Congress, learned their parliamentary law in these societies.
In 1859 appeared "The Seminary Bell," a monthly news sheet, which continued up to the Civil War. In 1868, when girls only were in attendance, the Oread Society was formed and continued successfully to the close of Mrs. Shimer's regime. Oread embers soon branched out into the journalistic field, editing and publishing the Oread Magazine, filled with original poems, essays and short stories, school and alumni news as well as ads, many of which played up the good points of the sewing machines, pianos, organs and other musical instruments Mrs. Shimer sold on commission to replenish the exchequer.
In the closing years of the Seminary a lively German Club made its bow and put on some delightful programs.
The forerunner of the present Shimer Alumni Association was the Reunion Society, founded in 1859, which presented an alumni program followed by an on-campus picnic every year at Commencement time. The Carroll County Alumni Association continues this traditional gathering.
Ante-dating the campus Y.W.C.A. was the weekly prayer meeting and a Missionary Society started in the early years. This society supported a Hindu boy in a Missionary School in Assam, who took the name Carroll and turned out to be an effective native missionary worker in India.
Seminary girls rose at 6:30, breakfasted at 7:00, started the school day at 8:00, attended chapel daily at 10:00, took outdoor exercise at 4:00. Those who did not play tennis or croquet went for a bracing walk outside the Seminary grounds, two by two, a teacher at the head and one at the tail of the double line. Dinner was at 5:15; freedom 6:00 to 7:00 (in winter the girls danced in the gym); study hours, each girl in her own room, 7:00 to 9:00; 9:30 lights out, all quiet for the night. Simple life, early hours and good nourishing food spelled health for Seminary girls.
Mrs. Shimer, always sympathetically interested in aiding worthy, needy, promising girls to secure an education, offered a Normal Department scholarship to one future teacher in every county of the state and every township in Carroll County, while daughters of ministers, soldiers, and Chicago fire sufferers were given reduced rates. Ambitious students earned part of their expenses working in the Manual Labor Department.
"Regulations" were stricter in those days; no leaving school without request from home; no calls or travel on the Sabbath; students expected to attend church and Bible school; clothing "must be plain and neat, extravagance in dress and jewelery particularly deprecated;" pocket money for students deposited with Principal, kept in safe; borrowing and lending money or clothes strictly forbidden;" occupants of rooms paid for all damages; correspondence restricted to parent-approved list; "no young lady will receive calls from a young gentleman of the town unless introduced by the Principal" and "no stranger received as a visitor unless known and approved by parents."
As Mrs. Shimer neared her 70th year, health and strength waning, she spent more and more time at her DeLand, Florida, winter home, faithfully attended by Miss Joy or Mrs. Hazzen, or both (whom she lovingly called "Joy" and "Pet"). Miss Gordon, a Seminary science teacher, also devoted herself to Mrs. Shimer as a sort of secretary. Here in the Southland Mrs. Shimer supervised the cultivation of her very fine orange groves. With these in healthy, bearing condition, she felt she could generously endow the school when she might be obliged to relinquish it. Unfortunately, while perfecting plans to turn over the school to the University of Chicago, a killing frost practically wiped out her valuable groves.
Mrs. Shimer had offered the school to the Baptist Women of the Northwest if they would raise an endowment of $100,000, an offer which was considered but never accepted.
Methodists and Presbyterians each hoped to arrange to take over the school. Being a Baptist, Mrs. Shimer favored bringing the school into such relation with the University of Chicago as would assure its future. Dr. Shimer's estate, worth some $100,000, had been left at his death in 1895 to his widow to be used for educational purposes. Subsequently, some of his kin broke the will, which reduced Mrs. Shimer's share in the estate.
In her first interview with William Rainey Harper, President of the University of Chicago, she had named $150,000 as a possible sum she hoped to leave at her decease as an endowment for the school, provided her life and health were spared long enough for her to retrieve the great losses she had sustained in the terrible freeze.
Referring to that interview in a subsequent letter, Dr. Harper wrote, "You will pardon me if I say that in my interview with you -- I was most forcibly struck with your own character, the work which you accomplished and the purpose which you had in mind. -- I felt that if in some small way I could help carry out this purpose it would give me the greatest possible pleasure to do so." Here were two dynamic personalities, two creative minds, two great souls sharing with strong purpose a dream of accomplishment that was to be Shimer College.
In July 1896, after much consultation and correspondence, Mrs. Shimer effected the orderly transfer of her school property to a corporation chartered in May 1896, as the Frances Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago, its affairs to be administered by a Board of fifteen trustees, eight of whom should be drawn from the University of Chicago faculty, the remaining seven from Mount Carroll citizenry, and alums; two-thirds of the Board, as well as the Principal of the Academy, were to be members of the Baptist church. (However, almost every other Protestant denomination has been represented among the other one third of Board members.) The principal office of the corporation was to be in Chicago.
The Executive Committee of the Board was made up of Alonzo K. Parker, President of the Board, Dr. Henry S. Metcalf, Vice President, John M. Rinewalt, Treasurer, Thomas W. Goodspeed, Secretary, William R. Harper, University of Chicago, Mrs. W. Ross Hostetter, a leading alumna, L.A. Crandall and Frank Miller, of the university faculty.
Mrs. Shimer's interesting life ended November 10, 1901. Her last resting place is in the quiet cemetery at Mount Carroll, on a height bordering the Waukarusa and overlooking the town which was the scene of her labors. Every Founder's Day the students, faculty and many alums make a pilgrimmage to her grave and, with a fitting tribute, lay a spray of flowers there.
With the opening of Frances Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago September 15, 1896, there opened a new era in the history of Shimer College. When the Board took over the management of the Academy, there was no money forthcoming from either Mrs. Shimer or from the University, though the school's educational policies were to be directed by it, so the Board was obliged to borrow $3,000, in $500 installments, secured by a mortgage on the Academy property, for the buildings had to be put in order for the opening of school and a modest catalogue issued during the summer. They elected Prof. Frank J. Miller, University of Chicago Examiner in the Department of Affiliations, to serve as Principal of the Academy without pay, in no way altering his relations to the University. Miss Ida M. Gardner, formerly Principal of Warren Academy, was elected to serve as Resident Principal and Dean of the Faculty.
During that trying first year under the new regime, with Mrs. Shimer's strong hand no longer on the reins, the situation, under a Board of Trustees the majority of whom resided in Chicago, absorbed in responsibilities there, who met only infrequently with their Mount Carroll colleagues, most of them busy business men, was not conducive to a smoothly functioning administration. Then there was the painful, at times embarrassing, shortage of ready money for meeting current expenses. Miss Gardner was often perplexed as to how to pay for furniture she felt was needed and for other necessary school supplies, wages of workers and teachers' salaries. At every turn the real Principal, in Chicago, had to be consulted by mail, or the Board appealed to by the lady in distress in an effort to resolve her difficulties. Much was expected of her, yet little authority given her.
Since Miss Gardner was somewhat inexperienced as an executive, unable to speak with authority, and hampered in carrying out her duties, it is no wonder that confidence in the school and faith in its future sank to an all-time low, that patronage fell off alarmingly. How to get the school back on a sound basis and to restore public confidence in its excellence and stability was the paramount problem. So when Ida M. Gardner bowed herself out of a difficult, if not impossible, situation in April, 1897, Dr. Harper recommended his esteemed friend, William Parker McKee, as his choice for a new directing head of the school, to be clothed with authority to function on the ground in his own right, not by remote control from Chicago. Mr. McKee, a successful pastor for many years of Olivet Baptist Church in Minneapolis, had studied Hebrew under Dr. Harper at Morgan Park Theological Seminary and they had once toured Europe together.
One stipulation made with Dr. Harper by Mrs. Shimer had been that the school, although closely connected educationally with the University of Chicago, should be entirely independent and distinct in management. Dr. Harper believed that Mr. McKee was just the man to exercise this independence in management. His opinion carried great weight, the Board agreed, and Mr. McKee was elected and accepted the appointment.
Miss Harriet G. Blaine, a capable faculty member, temporarily assumed the Principal's duties until the close of the school year, continuing to serve as Lady Principal until 1902.
Mr. McKee, given the University title of Dean, assumed his new responsibilities in August, 1897. Coming to Mount Carroll a widower, who had lost his wife some years before, he was accompanied by his mother, Mrs. Hattie Parker McKee, and his little son, Harper, named for Dr. Harper. His mother, a robust, strong-minded woman with clear-cut opinions expressed with forthrightness, was a strong character, resembling one in "David Copperfield," called the "old soldier." She had been a tower of strength to her son from his infancy and had passed on to him many of her strong traits.
When the new Dean took office the outlook was anything but encouraging -- old buildings with run-down equipment, antiquated plumbing -- none in the oldest building and no money to pay current bills. Only a few students showed up in September. After the school went out of the hands of Mrs. Shimer, considered by many a kind of miracle-woman, there were some who looked upon the change from a six-year Seminary curriculum to a four-year preparatory course as a decidedly backward step. With the school finances in a precarious state, Dean McKee was faced with great difficulties and serious problems. But he tackled them with a will. Dr. Harper's confident trust in him buoyed him up. Forthwith, the affairs of the Academy took an upturn; the school began to emerge from the uncertainties of the transition period. Through Dean McKee's faith, demonstrated by his works, faith in the school and its future was restored, the tide of public opinion turned, students and dollars began flowing into the Academy and the crisis was passed.
At this time the youngest and most attractive member of the faculty was Miss Florence Turney, a graduate of the Seminary, who had been retained as an instructor. She was a young woman of fine sensibilities, sympathetic insight, highest integrity, and unswerving loyalty. A romance bloomed quietly between these two superior people. His marriage to Miss Turney proved to be a fortuitous turn of fate for the Dean both personally and career-wise. His wife was a precious link with the school's past, cherishing its ideals and traditions, beloved by its alumni and trusted by its Mount Carroll supporters. Throughout the thirty-three years of his headship, she was an invaluable help-meet, helping to shape this school policies and to improve his public relations.
Dean McKee was primarily a builder, -- not only a builder of buildings -- though all twelve Georgian colonial structures ranged around the campus quadrangle were erected through his initiative and resourcefulness. He was also a builder of faith in the school's future possibilities. He organized a comprehensive, well-coordinated curriculum of academic studies, supplemented by strong departments of music and art, courses in domestic science, plus a well-rounded program of physical education, including outdoor sports, tennis, hockey and golf, all of which provided superior opportunities for cultivating the latent powers of a young woman. He surrounded himself with a capable, devoted faculty who shared his hopes and dreams and gladly helped to translate them into reality. An elevated moral and spiritual tone pervaded the school throughout the thirty-three years of his administration, attributed by some to his inspiring chapel talks and Sunday evening vesper thoughts.
Knowing that his projected building program called for a large amount of money, he first borrowed a little in 1899 so as to start tearing down the old south wing, antiquated, dilapidated and wholly inadequate for dormitory purposes with its little stoves, lamps, candles and absence of plumbing. Then, making use of money-raising techniques, he secured the needed funds from friends of the school who responded liberally. The obsolete south wing was replaced by the new South Hall which provided an auditorium seating 400, three recitation rooms, twenty dormitory rooms and a modern gymnasium.
In 1900 the Dean started to raise a $100,000 endowment. Again the school's friends responded. Dearborn Hall, named for Isabelle Dearborn Hazzen, was built to house the music department. In 1905 Hathaway Hall, a new dormitory, was dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Mary L. Hathaway Corbett ('69), a sister of Mrs. Hattie N. LaPelley, a former trustee, who gave liberally toward the erection and furnishing of the building.
About this time generous bequests from Mrs. Shimer's will and Miss Joy's also, added considerably to the school's endowment.
In the midst of the Dean's building program, on the night of February 9, 1906, fire, supposedly caused by a short circuit, destroyed all of the old buildings as well as new South Hall. A teacher, awakened by crumbling plaster falling on her face, rose, saw flames reflected on the surface of the snow outside, grabbed her violin, and hurried to arouse the girls of South Hall who rushed from their rooms in night clothes and bathrobes, each trying to save something; one girl running back to rescue her belongings had to be led down a second time. Outside a brisk winter wind fanned the flames; the volunteer fire brigade, unable to get sufficient water pressure from a frozen pond, hose faulty and frozen, couldn't cope with the fast-spreading fire. So, after saving all the precious things they could, they just stood by watching the school go up in smoke, the buildings completely gutted. Pictures of Mrs. Shimer and Miss Gregory, a few other treasures and all student scholastic records from 1896 were saved. Fortunately, no lives were lost. As Dean McKee stood looking at the smoking ruin he spoke the word Sir Christopher Wren had inscribed on the cornerstone of the new St. Paul's after the London fire, "RESURGAM," -- "It shall rise again."
While the buildings were yet smouldering the Trustees met and decided to rebuild at once. The insurance, plus gifts from loyal townspeople and alums, as well as from friends near and far, aided in meeting this emergency. Andrew Carnegie gave $10,000 to the good cause. The students were sent home for a week. Upon their return recently completed Hathaway Hall had been hurriedly furnished and was ready to receive them, while the basement of Dearborn Hall became the temporary commissary.
Dean McKee met the exigencies of this situation with quiet confidence and complete devotion. Slowly, one new building after another rose Phoenix-like from the ashes of the tragic fire. The work of building continued for years, -- first a dream, then a plan, next the gathering of funds, and soon, behold! one more beautiful building. Each one answered a special need. 1906 -- West Hall built, a dormitory with dining hall and meeting rooms; 1907 -- Metcalf Hall, named for Mrs. Sarah Metcalf, lifelong friend of the school, whose son, Dr. Henry S. Metcalf, an alum, long President of the Board, gave liberally to help construct this impressive building, housing a new chapel, library, and administration offices. The old bell of Seminary days hangs today in its "Lantern" belfry; 1909 -- College Hall completed, to house young women taking the two year junior college course added to the school curriculum a year or two before, and providing a large reception room for social functions. In 1937 this hall was redone through the generous gift of the children of Mrs. Myrtie Stevens Bennett ('80), and named Bennett Hall in her honor; 1911 -- Central heating steam plant built, laundry added; 1913 -- Infirmary completed, with resident nurse installed; 1914 -- Science Hall made ready to house science labs, mathematics classes and the Domestic Science Department; 1922 -- Dedication of William P. McKee Hall, so honoring the successful completion of twenty-five years of significant service by the Dean, the building partly financed with fund contributed by the Baptist Board of Education, a modern dormitory with a spacious new dining room, kitchen adjoining; 1925 -- Dedication of Campbell Memorial Library, named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Campbell, long friends of the school, financed largely by generous gifts from their daughter Jessie Miles Campbell and from Messrs. George and Samuel J. Campbell, Trustees; 1926 -- Sawyer House, a commodious residence on campus for the President, the gift of Mrs. Winona Branch Sawyer ('71), an outstanding alumna, who at her death, left a generous legacy to the school; 1929 -- Dedication of the new Gymnasium and Swimming Pool twelfth building of the series of brick structures, costing $85,000, providing facilities, also, for the Department of Drama and Speech. These buildings form a harmonious group on the green campus.
The capstone of Dean McKee's achievements was his forward-looking introduction of two years of liberal arts college work superimposed upon the four-year academy course. Shimer was one of the first institutions to undertake the Junior College Plan and graduated its first college class in 1910. This plan was a boon to young people unable to take a full college course, and for those who could go on, junior college work at Shimer was, and still is, credited for advanced standing in regular colleges and universities. About 80 per cent of Shimer graduates transfer to institutions of higher learning.
The Board, at this time, authorized use of the name "Frances Shimer Junior College and Preparatory School." To old alums this seemed like a revival of the "Collegiate Course" of Mrs. Shimer's day.
In 1920 the school fully met the requirement standards of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and by 1927 there were 250 students in attendance and 22 teachers on the faculty.
In 1929 Frances Shimer was one of 57 institutions which co-operated in a study of revision of standards for the accreditation of colleges being made by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
The seal of Frances Shimer Academy bears the Latin motto, "Non ministrari sed ministrare," -- "Not to be ministered unto, but to minister." The spirit of that motto was not only exemplified by the devoted service of Dean McKee, but came to permeate the faculty, the student body, the Board and the far-flung alumni, particularly in the years just following the devastating fire, which, at the time, seemed a major catastrophe, but later proved to be a blessing in disguise, the prick of necessity that urged the school on to greater things. For, thereafter, occurred the greatest demonstration of love for and loyalty to the school, a veritable outpouring of gifts, services and creative activity. In addition to the substantial gifts of large sums for buildings, referred to hitherto, there were hundreds of alums, Mt. Carroll and Carroll County citizens and well-wishers in distant places who gave liberally as they could afford to further the work of reconstruction.
Gifts of money for scholarships included $10,000 from the Hathaway family plus $1,000 for the Hathaway House Repair Fund, $2,000 from Dr. W. Lichty honoring the memory of his wife, Mary E. Webb Lichty ('71); the $2,500 D.N. Greeley Endowment Fund; the Hissom Annuity Fund, given by Dr. Metcalf, alumnus and President of the Board, in honor of his ward, plus the residue of his estate to be given one-half for laboratory equipment and one-half to be used for the school's best interest as the Trustees should decide; the Susan E. Colver $1,000 Lectureship Fund, given by Mr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Rosenberger in memory of Mrs. Rosenberger's mother who had attended Mount Carroll Seminary.
Mr. T.J. Llewellyn, one of the Trustees, financed the layout out of a 7-hole golf course in what once was the school's orchard; Mrs. S.J. Campbell gave the beautiful mosaic fountain installed in the Campbell Memorial Library; through the efforts of instructors, students and friends of the Music Department a Steinway Grand was purchased for the assembly hall; scores of alums donated to the fund for equipping Metcalf Chapel with opera chairs, and presented an oil painting of Dean McKee, which now hangs over the fireplace in McKee Hall dining room. Mrs. Harriet Nase Connell ('89) wrote, costumed and directed the presentation of a 75th Anniversary Pageant, entitled, "Frances Shimer's Gift to Education." This was an open air performance with music at commencement time in 1928, participated in by 150 students, alums and townfolk, many portraying their own grand-parents.
During these years there were May Fetes with a May Queen, a traditional event staged on the lawn against a sylvan background, the audience seated on a grassy slope forming a natural amphitheater. These dramatic presentations were put on by students who composed the plot, wrote the lines, arranged the music, designed and constructed the scenery, designed and made the colorful costumes, danced and acted -- a triumph of creative, artistic talent.
During fall and winter, entertaining plays were staged by the Green Curtain Dramatic Club. Then there was the Diversion Club, that arranged delightfully diverting programs. Branches of the Frances Shimer Alumni Association were organized in various metropolitan centers to help maintain interest in the school and to make some helpful contribution to it. These groups sponsor a Shimer Scholarship Fund.
The Shimer Record and Alumni News reported noteworthy school happenings and items of interest about alums. The cultural life at Shimer was elevated by lecture and recital courses at modest cost. Not only were outside speakers and artists brought to the campus, but the Dean himself gave a "Riley Evening" of readings from the Hoosier Poet that was so much enjoyed it became an annual affair.
November 29, 1929, Dean McKee, not in the best of health, tendered his resignation. May 19, 1930, Floyd Cleveland Wilcox was elected president to succeed him, and Mr. McKee was given the title of President Emeritus. On June 10 a Testimonial Luncheon, honoring Dean and Mrs. McKee was given by the Board of Trustees as a farewell gesture of appreciation for the Dean who "did not build the institution around himself, but built himself into the institution." Three years later death claimed this man of quiet courage, breadth of vision, firmness of decision, tenacity of purpose, great tolerance, and the strength of conviction of his Scottish forebears. His greatest contribution to Frances Shimer Academy was the unconscious influence of his cultured personality.
Dr. Wilcox came to the presidency of Frances Shimer following thirteen years' experience in China as teacher and principal of a private school, and as instructor and dean at Shanghai College. He was a graduate of Kalamazoo College and Union Theological Seminary, received his masters from Columbia and had worked on his doctorate in Education at Stanford, specializing in the field of Junior College education. He had a genial, likeable personality and during his five years at Shimer gave a good account of himself.
In 1931 the Board authorized a reorganization of the school to provide for a four-year junior college course (grades 11 through 14). In 1932 Beta Sigma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, Junior College Scholastic Honorary, was installed at Frances Shimer. And during his term of office Dr. Wilcox brought about the evaluation of the music and art courses to give them standing in the educational world. He also introduced a modern system of grading, making use of educational tests and measurements.
In 1935 Dr. Wilcox returned to return to Stanford to complete his doctor's thesis and receive the degree of Ph.D.
Miss A. Beth Hostetter, an alum, who was then a member of the faculty and filled the post of registrar, was asked to serve as Acting President during the interim while the Board was seeking a successor to Dr. Wilcox. Miss Hostetter was a graduate of the University of Chicago, had later done graduate work there, at the Sorbonne in Paris and at Columbia, and had travelled extensively in Europe. She had served her apprenticeship as a teacher at Central College, Pella, Iowa, Annie Wright Seminary, Tacoma, Washington, and Christian College, Columbia, Missouri, before joining the faculty at Frances Shimer.
Miss Hostetter's life has been linked with the life of the school ever since the day old Dr. Shimer ushered her into the word. Her parents had both attended Mount Carroll Seminary, where, following her graduation from St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y., Elizabeth Barber, later Mrs. W. Ross Hostetter, had taught piano. Mrs. Hostetter was also a graduate in 1878 from the Mount Carroll Conservatory of Music. As a wedding present, her husband presented her with a Chickering piano, one of those instruments Mrs. Shimer sold on commission.
As a child Beth Hostetter knew Mrs. Shimer and the Hazzens, who were frequent guests in the Hostetter home at Grouseland Farm. On reaching high school age she entered Frances Shimer as a day pupil, graduating later with highest honors and so winning a scholarship at the University of Chicago. During her many years of faithful service at Shimer as an instructor in the Humanities, Acting Dean, Dean of Students, Registrar, Acting President and sponsor of alumni activities, she has gone quietly and calmly on her way, carrying her responsibilities with modesty and efficiency, and with a scrupulous attention to detail, realizing the truth of Michael Angelo's maxim, "Trifles make up perfection, but perfection is no trifle." She has been the custodian of the school's traditions, the one who does her utmost to locate and keep in touch with the school's alumni, inspiring them to unite their efforts in behalf of their Alma Mater, and she has been the punctilious keeper of records, both scholastic and historical.
Toward the close of her year as Acting President the Board felt they had located the right man to succeed President Wilcox, and elected Dr. Raymond B. Culver, Ph.D., to the position. He had for some years been connected with the Student Christian Movement and later taught at Linfield College, McMinnville, Oregon, where he had received two of his degrees. He also had received four degrees from Yale.
During his second year the National Alumni Association was organized and made the raising of a Centennial Fund their first objective. This same year the "Frances Shimer Half Hour" went on the air weekly over WROK, Rockford.
While carrying on the work that customarily devolves upon a college president, in the second year of his administration Dr. Culver developed a serious illness that forced him to withdraw from all his duties and go away for a rest. His symptoms becoming increasingly alarming, he was advised by his physician to resign, which he did toward the close of 1937.
At this juncture Miss Hostetter was again called upon to come and hold the fort as Acting President. The torch of learning at Frances Shimer never so much as flickered as it passed from hand to hand during these "inter regnums," when Miss Hostetter took over.
During 1938 the McKee Hall dining room was reconditioned and refurnished, through the gift of Mr. W.E. Goodman, trustee, and his wife, Adeline Howkinson Goodman, a former member of the Shimer music faculty. That year, for the first time, a complete College Sophomore Testing program was instituted.
Miss Hostetter, now retired from her faculty post, retains only her alumni duties and the editorship of the Alumni News. Nevertheless, her close connection with Shimer College continues, for she now holds a new position of trust and honor, serving as secretary of the Board of Trustees, a fitting finale to her many years of usefulness at the school.
Toward the close of the 1939 school year the Board appointed to the Presidency, Dr. Albin C. Bro, who came from the Visual Education Division of the University of Chicago Press. He took over the reins July 1 and was soon immersed in his new duties.
Dr. Bro received his A.B. from Northland College, Wisconsin, where he returned as a teacher ten years later, meanwhile having studied at the College of Missions, Butler College, and the University of Chicago, and having served as Principal of a mission school at Hofei, Anhwei Province, China.
Under his leadership Shimer continued to prosper. Hathaway Hall was renovated in 1939 an the lounge refurnished through the generosity of Miss Zell Corbett, an alumna and later trustee; the college became a beneficiary of Mrs. Winona B. Sawyer's will; in 1940 the Carnegie Foundation made a grant of 600 notable musical compositions, the set valued at over $1,000; and that summer the school held its first summer session -- a six-weeks Summer Workshop in drama, art, creative writing, secretarial studies and crafts. In 1941 the Carnegie Foundation allotted a Carnegie Art set to the College which included 130 volumes on art and 900 classified reproductions. The fall of 1941 marked the opening of Georgian Colonial Glengarry Farm Stables for the classes in equitation that had been accommodated previously at the Colehour Stables. Made available through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel James Campbell, these were the finest facilities for riding in this region, and equitation became a regular art of the school's physical education program. A summer theater again offered five plays in a six weeks' period and instruction in music and art.
Dr. Bro promoted a cooperative student-faculty government for Frances Shimer. After Pearl Harbor the school promptly organized for Civilian Defense, each dormitory a unit; girls enrolled for Red Cross work, First Aid and Home Mechanics, Nutrition classes and an Ambulance unit. In these days Shimer girls were chaperoned to U.S.O. dances at the Ordnance Training School in Savanna and the Medical Training school in Clinton, Iowa. Service men were also invited to dances in the Shimer gym. Many alums joined the WAVES, WACS, SPARS or Women Marines.
Dr. Bro sponsored the International Relations Club, and in 1948 instituted "Dad's Day" on the campus. That year foreign students were welcomed to the campus and have shared life at Shimer ever since. The Y.W.C.A. that had flourished at Frances Shimer, gave place to the Student Christian Service League, a religious and service organization, some of its members returning to school early every fall to help in the orientation of new girls.
Toward the close of Dr. Bro's administration, Dean L.A. Wilson introduced the "Shimer Plan" of a general education curriculum, including the greatest writings in the various fields of knowledge, with the help of teachers who shared a common sense of purpose and vision. A literary outlet for the students was the Shimer Record, a magazine in which appeared original poems, sketches and essays by the students The Green Curtain Club went merrily on its way year after year putting on very ambitious stage productions such as "Oedipus Rex," "Stage Door," "Ladies in Retirement," and "Taming of the Shrew." There was a "Charm Clinic" series in which, through talks and demonstrations, the girls learned just what a well-bred young lady should be, do and wear.
There were poetry readings, Dickerson Art Gallery exhibits -- the gallery on the top floor of the library, named for the trustee who most enthusiastically promoted and supported it. There were delightfully festive Thanksgiving weekends, Christmas Nativity Plays, Easter pageants, concerts, lectures, and every spring a more beautiful May Fete than the last.
Substantial gifts made possible new tennis courts, redecorating "The Grill," the popular student social center and snack bar in the basement of Hathaway Hall, a Hammond organ for the chapel, the gift of Dr. Culver's wife as a memorial to him, more scholarships and increased endowments.
Through the inspired leadership of Mr. W.A. McKnight, a trustee and father of Ann McKnight, a Shimer graduate who has distinguished herself in the operatic world, a big fund-raising campaign was launched in behalf of the school, now in need of a new dormitory. With the help of alums and other friends of the school the campaign was pushed with a fair degree of success. Several friends like Miss Lillian Tomlinson, left the school generous bequests in their wills. In 1949, Dr. Bro resigned to take a position overseas with the government.
John Hamilton Russel, who had been called to the school as Dean of the College in 1948 was asked to serve as Acting President while the Board sought a successor to Dr. Bro. Dean Russell received his A.B. from Illinois College, Jacksonville, and his M.A. from Harvard. He did further study at the Sorbonne and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. For six years he was on the faculty at Blackburn College and served two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Dean Russel carried his responsibility very capably and prepared the way for the coming of the new president, Aaron John Brumbaugh.
Dr. Brumbaugh, who had served for some time as a very helpful member of the Shimer Board of Trustees, received his A.B. from Mount Morris, his A.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and has received honorary degrees from Albion, Manchester, Bethany, and Mount Union Colleges. Previous to his call to the Presidency of Shimer College he had served as Dean of the College and Dean of Students at the University of Chicago and as vice president of the American Council on Education. The Trustees had come to know him at close range, while serving with him, and were well acquainted with his superior qualifications.
With the coming of Dr. Brumbaugh the affiliation with the University of Chicago was renewed and strengthened. Under his leadership the trustees and faculty of Shimer College laid plans for significant educational developments. It is the hope of those associated with the College that these new developments will be, in the worlds of the Psalmist, that are indicated on the Shimer seal, "When our sons shall be as plants grown up in their youth; and our daughters as cornerstones hewn after the fashion of a palace, happy is the people that is in such a case."