Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Creating Hamline, Minnesota's First College

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Creating Hamline, Minnesota's First College

Article excerpt

In 1854 a group of Methodist ministers founded Hamline University in Red Wing. It was the first college established in Minnesota Territory.

William Pitt Murray, a St. Paul attorney and a leading Methodist layman, became an early supporter of a "Minnesota Academy" for the territory. He was influential in getting the territorial legislature to grant a charter for such a school on March 3, 1854.

Although St. Paul appeared the most likely university site, William Freeborn, one of the new school's trustees, lobbied for Red Wing. Freeborn believed the town had a strong future. The new school named for Methodist bishop Leonidas L. Hamline, opened in Red Wing on November 16, 1854. Classes for the thirty-three students were held on the second floor of the Smith-Hoyt building.

The school enrolled women students from its beginning. Co- education of women and men was still a rare occurrence in 1854, but the idea was taking hold. Hamline served largely as a preparatory school at first and was operated by a small staff. Jabez Brooks, a thirty-one year old Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Connecticut's Wesleyan University, became principal and lead teacher. Miss Louisa Sherman was instructor of modern languages, painting and drawing. Mrs. Frances L. Dunning, a music instructor, completed the staff.

Emily and Elizabeth Sorin, daughters of the Red Wing Methodist churchman Matthew Sorin, also taught. The Sorins studied for their collegiate degrees while working with newer scholars.

Hamline opened a three-story brick building on donated Red Wing land in January 1856. Enrollment increased with scholars from Minnesota as well as Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin taking classes. However, a damaging national economic recession, the Panic of 1857, soon brought hard times. Fund raising withered and student enrollment slipped. Jabez Brooks resigned claiming his heavy workload was affecting his health. Unfazed by the bad news, school officials voted to add a college department to the prep school's organization.

The addition of the Reverend Benjamin F. Crary as Hamline president in 1857 helped stabilize the program. A well-known preacher from Indiana, Crary had taught school previously. …

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