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Great-Great-Grandpa's Alma Mater

All too often, we seem to think of college as a modern invention and mostly for urbanites. Although some of the colleges have changed names and even locations over the years, you just might be surprised where great-great-grandpa went to college. They might also provide insight into the family's migration history.


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While the pioneers were still taming the frontier wilderness, their young people left the farm for a college education, just as they do today - and often returned home to practice a profession. Knowing a little about these colleges can reveal more details about your ancestors.

While researching Christian County, Illinois, I began noticing that many residents attended college and then returned home to establish their careers in the 1800's. I also noticed I didn't quite recognize some of the names of the colleges even though they sounded somewhat familiar.

A quick glance at a collection of "Portrait and Biographical Albums. . ." of the late 1800's, showed that these same colleges were often mentioned. Always curious, I set about to decipher these colleges mentioned.

Not one, but three, physicians from Christian County attended St. Louis Medical College. This was probably what we know as the 450-year-old Saint Louis University School of Medicine founded by the Jesuits. Taylorville physicians Dr. Charles Victory Rockwell graduated in 1857 and Dr. Daniel K. Cornell graduated in 1877. Dr. Melville W. Staples graduated in 1884 before becoming a physician in Grove City, Illinois, a village so small it does not even appear in the census reports today.

A number of physicians earned their degree studying homeopathic therapeutics at the Hahnemann Medical College. Dr. Andrew F. Hammer, of Taylorville, graduated from Hahnemann in 1877, six years after the college became co-educational.

Shurtleff College, in Alton, Illinois, is no longer in existence. It was founded in 1827, a mere nine years after Illinois gained statehood and was originally known as the Alton Seminary. The school closed in 1957 when it became part of the Southern Illinois University system.

The owner of a Pana general store, Elias P. Sanders, had attended Shurtleff as a young man. Since he was born 1833, he probably would have attended around 1850. But he was not the only Christian County resident to attend Shurtleff. As of 1893, Joseph Irving Owen, son of a local farmer, had graduated from Shurtleff College and was "now at home on the farm, but expects to secure a professorship soon." His brother, Jesse Bell Owen, was still a Shurtleff student.

W. R. Beaman was born in 1833 in Owen County, Indiana. At age 19, he attended Franklin College for two years. After several years spent elsewhere, he became a farmer and teacher in Christian County.

Franklin College, in Franklin, Indiana, was established by Baptists and was considered to be quite progressive. In 1842, it became the first college in Indiana to admit women.

After Sylvester Schrantz was discharged from the army during the Civil War, he attended Greensburg Seminary [now Albright College] for about a year. In 1866, and migrated to Christian County and became a farmer.

The Evangelical Greensburg Seminary, in Ohio, merged with Albright Seminary in Berlin, Pennsylvania, in 1853. Today the Greensburg Seminary is known as Albright College, located in Reading, Pennsylvania.

In 1853, two women named Frances Ann Wood Shimer and Cinderella Gregory founded this private high-school in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. By the late 1880's, daughter Mary F. Taylor attended the Mt. Carroll Seminary. She was the daughter of Taylorville attorney James Muirson Taylor, born in New Byth, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on December 2, 1839.

Mt. Carroll Seminary was one of the first preparatory schools to include women in the United States with courses ranging from etiquette to electricity. By the end of the Civil War, the seminary restricted admission solely to women. It did not become co-ed again until 1950.

Over the years, the school has been affiliated with the Episcopalian and Baptists churches. Eventually Mt. Carroll Seminary became the Frances Shimer Academy of the University of Chicago. The campus moved from Mt. Carroll to Waukegan, Illinois.

Another physician, Dr. James Henry Dickerson, of Taylorville attended the Philadelphia Medical College. This was probably the Medical College of Pennsylvania which eventually became Drexel University College of Medicine. Drexel was actually formed when the aforementioned Hahnemann Medical College and Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania merged.

Dickerson also attended the State Normal School, a common term used for Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. Searching yearbooks at ISU can prove disappointing since the university discontinued yearbooks decades ago. But early yearbooks are archived in Milner Library.

Other ISU graduates included high school principal Arthur Clark Butler, who lived in Ohio until he was fourteen, when his family later moved to Macon County, Illinois. The supervisor of the Christian County Poor Farm, L.S. Gardner was born in Fayette County and attended ISU until 1862. He intended to become a professor but left college due to ill health.

Today Palmer, Illinois, has a population of 248. But in 1893, Benjamin H. Hailey, owned a grocery store in Palmer. He was also a graduate of Illinois State University --- but back when the State Normal was located in Springfield. The Illinois State Normal was located in the state capital from 1852 until 1867.

Taylorville physician James Henry Dickerson, attended Rush Medical College before taking the "Bellevue" course. This was probably a course offered by Bellevue Medical College of New York City. Today Bellevue is known as the New York University School of Medicine.

Another Bellevue alum was Dr. Jacob Huber, of Pana. He was born and raised in Ohio and did not arrive in Christian County until after the Civil War.

Albion Commercial College was Taylorville attorney William M. Provine's alma mater. He was born in McDonough County, and grew up in Virginia, Illinois.

He went off to college in Albion, Michigan, to attend what was then known as Mayhew's Business College. Mayhew had penned "Mayhew's Practical Book-Keeping Embracing Single and Double Entry, Commercial Calculations, and the Philosophy and Morals of Business." Mayhew moved the college to Detroit in 1868, meaning Provine would have attended prior to that time if he was a student in Albion, Michigan.

Provine's daughter, Bertha, graduated from Oxford College of Ohio. Today Oxford is known as Miami University.

Arthur Clark Butler, a principal of the Taylorville high school attended Blackburn University in Carlinville. Today we know this campus as Blackburn College. Blackburn was founded in 1837 by the Presbyterian Church.

Today Morrisonville, Illinois, is home to a little over 1,000 people. In 1893, William Edgar Morrison was an attorney in Morrisonville and second-generation family. Morrison was educated at the Christian Brothers' College in St. Louis, established in 1855. This was a historic college: it was the first college established by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

The list goes on. From such college information you might be able to learn more about your ancestors based on the college they chose. Some colleges are faith-based. Some are more liberal than others. Sometimes students attended college before moving westward. Sometimes might have gone back East to attend a family college.

Don't overlook little genealogical tidbits hidden away with great-great-grandpa's diploma. A few of you might even find great-great-grandma's diploma preserved among the photo albums!

Armed with that information, you might be able to find more information about your ancestors in college archives, newspapers, and yearbooks. Nearly every college library maintains an archive of records, including those from schools that merged.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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