Academic journal article Church History

Nature and Revelation: A History of Macalester College

Academic journal article Church History

Nature and Revelation: A History of Macalester College

Article excerpt

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Institutional histories as a genre have an often deserved reputation as accumulations of information situated in a self-congratulatory narrative. Jeanne Halgren Kilde, well known for her work on religious architecture, has here produced a refreshing exception in her history of Macalester College. Macalester, which still maintains a Presbyterian affiliation, is typical of most of the many denominational colleges founded in the wave of optimistic Protestant expansionism in the nineteenth century but, like all, has its own unique story. Kilde tells this story engagingly and ably and, perhaps not surprisingly, devotes particular attention to its religious dimensions.

Macalester owes its existence to Edward D. Neill, a mid-nineteenth century Presbyterian missionary to the Twin Cities region who had a vision of a college that was at once Protestant Christian and nonsectarian. (Interestingly, Neill later joined the Reformed Episcopal Church as a vehicle for this ecumenical vision.) Because of, or despite, his at times eccentric leadership, the school grew into a respectable and stable institution whose mission began to shift with the theological tides of the era from a training program for clergy into one emphasizing a religiously nurtured educated laity. By the early twentieth century, Macalester embodied what Kilde calls a postmillennial "militant evangelicalism with a progressive bent" (104). In addition to serving the local community, students began to enter the foreign mission field, adumbrating what would become a distinctive internationalist emphasis within the Macalester ethos.

A distinctive particularity of Macalester's history was the prominence of the Wallace family. James Wallace was a rather tradition-minded religion faculty member who served as president at the turn of the twentieth century. Even more influential was his son, DeWitt Wallace, whose vast wealth from the Reader's Digest was for decades the primary financing that helped turn Macalester into a nationally ranked liberal arts college--at the cost of the exercise of an unhealthy dominance over internal affairs by the wealthiest of donors. …

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