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Our History

Abraham Lincoln inscription on Old MainConsider the principles upon which the College was founded, and it's no wonder Knox is a place of great debate and action.

Founded on Principles of Equality
Established in 1837 by a group of religious missionaries and social reformers, Knox's founders strongly opposed slavery and believed deeply in the potential of every human being -- regardless of gender or financial means -- to grow, learn, and contribute to the greater good of the community.

This philosophy was spelled out in Knox's original Circular and Plan, written by the Reverend George Washington Gale and adopted by the founders of the College, embracing a commitment to better the world through higher education.

Opposing slavery in all its forms -- physical, spiritual, intellectual -- they made it clear that the College would be accessible to students regardless of their financial means and regardless of their gender or race. As a result, Knox was one of the first colleges in the U.S. open to both women and people of color.

Knox's early administrators lived out their commitment to social justice:

  • Our founder, Rev. George Washington Gale, was indicted for harboring fugitive slaves.
  • Our first president, Hiram Kellogg, stood up in opposition to discrimination against women.
  • Samuel Wright, a trustee of the College, was an active participant in the Underground Railroad, sheltering and aiding runaway slaves for more than a decade.

The pervasive spirit of equality on campus motivated Abraham Lincoln to use the occasion of his fifth U.S. Senate debate with Stephen Douglas, held on the Knox campus in 1858, to denounce slavery on moral terms for the first time.

True to Tradition
This egalitarian spirit thrives on campus even today. Our students come from many different ethnic groups, from a wide variety of economic backgrounds, from the biggest cities as well as the smallest farming communities, from all across the country and nearly 50 other nations around the world.

Our students lift their voices in a free exchange of ideas both inside and outside the classroom. They have a place at the table when decisions are made on a wide range of academic and community issues, and they spearhead reforms that contribute to the evolution of the College.

And our students put their ideas and principles to the test in the real world. Logging more than 7,000 volunteer hours per year in Galesburg and beyond, they make a statement and make a difference-doing everything from harvesting the community garden on campus to helping young girls in India learn ways to avoid exploitation and assert their human rights.