Labor's Millennium: Christianity, Industrial Education and the Founding of the University of Illinois

By Scott, David | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Labor's Millennium: Christianity, Industrial Education and the Founding of the University of Illinois


Scott, David, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Labor's Millennium: Christianity, Industrial Education and the Founding of the University of Illinois. By Brett H. Smith. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Pp. xi, 188, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Paperback, $23.00.)

In Labor's Millennium, Brett Smith provides a case study of the pervasive and somewhat startling influence of evangelical Christianity in the early years of the University of Illinois, established in 1867 as the Illinois Industrial University. Smith, Pastor of the University Baptist Church in Champaign, shows that the evangelical Protestant founders believed that agricultural and mechanical education would bring about an era of agricultural abundance, economic prosperity, and vocational dignity for the wider society. Such benefits were explicitly related to the Biblical concept of the building of the Kingdom of God and the hoped-for "millennium" in the book of Revelation. The book focuses on two clergymen: Jonathan B. Turner, whose writings and speeches provided the practical justifications and theological basis for the early character of the I.I.U. and sister institutions in other states; and John M. Gregory, the university's first president.

This book should attract those interested in the history of the University of Illinois and those interested in the role of religion in nineteenth-century public institutions. Those interested in the theological positions of evangelical Protestantism of the era will find a wealth of material, including Gregory's preaching at the required chapel services. Gregory's concern for students focused on cultivating a Christian character, nurturing a commitment to public service, and encouraging pious living (including especially abstention from alcohol). Student activities encouraged by Gregory had religious purposes as well. They included the student newspaper, literary societies, YMCA and YWCA activities, and military drilling for men. Males were to be vigorous Christian men, not monks. In regard to the curriculum, engineering and architecture came to have higher enrollment than agriculture. Domestic science courses were developed for women although early on female enrollment was higher in the arts and sciences. …

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