Thursday, December 1, 2016

The "Old" University of Chicago (1857-1886).

The first University of Chicago (first called Chicago University and, after it closed, Old University of Chicago) was established in 1857 by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas as a Baptist mission school. Though not himself a Baptist, Douglas was willing to support an institution of higher learning that could promote the cultural and commercial growth of Chicago.
The Old University of Chicago. (1857-1886)
The land used to build the University of Chicago was originally part of a lakefront tract owned by Senator Douglas. Douglas had offered the 10-acre plot, worth $50,000 and located at Cottage Grove Avenue and Thirty-Fifth Street, to the Presbyterian Church for a seminary. When the church group failed to raise the $100,000 Douglas set as a precondition of his donation, he offered the site to a group of Baptists, who accepted. The property was directly across from Douglas's “Oakenwald” estate.
Old University of Chicago group photograph of students,
The university offered college courses as well as programs in medicine and law. The newly formed Baptist Union Theological Seminary held its first classes there too, but moved to suburban Morgan Park in 1877 after a series of financial setbacks. The University of Chicago could not meet its growing debt, and was forced to close in the spring of 1886.

The Old University of Chicago: Toward Integration
The views of Stephen Douglas and Baptist ministers like Drs. Hague and Howard were only one side of an argument about race and education to be heard on the old University of Chicago campus in the 1860s and 1870s.

General S. A. Hurlbut, an important Union officer, who worked closely with Lincoln in a variety of roles, gave a speech in the chapel of the Old University on April 24, 1867, arguing for the importance of educating all "the children of the Republic," including those who had recently been slaves.

And in 1868 Judge Henry Booth would be appointed as Dean of the Law School. Booth, a proponent of ethical humanism, which is a philosophical and religious doctrine committed to human equality, would also serve as an early president of the Chicago Ethical Society. His collaborations with Jane Addams would ultimately lead to one of Chicago's settlement houses being named the Henry Booth House in his honor.

Dean Booth would admit to the law school the first woman and African American to receive degrees from the old University of Chicago.

The Old University of Chicago: Idiosyncratic Advocacy and Matters of Policy
On June 30, 1870, Mrs. Ada H. Kepley and Mr. Richard A. Dawson received bachelor of law degrees from the old University of Chicago. Mrs. Kepley and Mr. Dawson were probably the first woman and first African American, respectively, to receive degrees from the old University of Chicago.

Although Mrs. Kepley would be thwarted in her effort to pursue a legal career, she would eventually become a Unitarian minister and prominent suffragette. Mr. Dawson had a successful legal career in Arkansas where, in addition to his basic practice, he launched at least one civil rights suit concerning the right to be served in restaurants. He also served in the Arkansas state legislature.

On June 2, 1872, the faculty of the old University of Chicago voted to recommend Miss Alice R. Boise, the daughter of a faculty member, for the degrees of BA and MA. She may be the first woman to have received an undergraduate degree from the old University of Chicago. Three months later, faced with two more requests for admission by women, the faculty decided to consider the question of whether women should be admitted as a matter of policy.

On Friday September 13, 1872, they voted as follows:
Resolved that we recommend to the Board of Trustees that young ladies who wish to take either the regular classical or the regular scientific course in the University and such as are found on examination to give evidence of fitness and an earnest desire to complete special courses of study, be allowed to join the classes of the institution, either in the preparatory department or in the college, motion carried.
From this point forward, the old University of Chicago was integrated with respect to both race and gender, although the numbers of African American students would remain small for years to come.
Corner Stone of the Old University of Chicago, mounted in the Chicago Tribune Building.
The present-day University of Chicago, which was established in 1890, is legally a separate institution but the new school eventually recognized Old University alumni as its own. The lone remaining stone from the older school's building, which was destroyed by fire, is preserved on the present school's main quadrangle, where it is set into the wall of the arch between the Classics building and Wieboldt Hall.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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