Knox College Library
Special Collections and Archives
371 S. West Street
Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
A Look Back at Galesburg's Second Prairie College
Knox and Lombard Colleges trace their history together back to 1930, when Lombard shut its doors, and its students and alumni were welcomed into the Knox community. We honor their legacy in this short look at Lombard's history, highlights, and famous alumni.
Galesburg's Second Prairie College
Lombard College, originally called the Illinois Liberal Institute, was established in 1853 by the Universalist Church. The school's charter was granted 14 years to the day after Knox received its own charter. Lombard admitted women on an equal basis with men from the earliest days of the college. In fact, it is believed to be only the second college in the United States to grant equality to both men and women from its start (Oberlin College in Ohio being the first). This open attitude reflected the Universalist philosophy and many Lombard women entered the service of the Universalist Church as ministers. So important was the college to the church that it became the seat of Ryder School of Divinity in the 1880s and remained so until 1913, when it was transferred to the Meadville Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago.
Lombard was plagued with difficulties from its founding. A devastating fire in 1855 stalled the development of the new college, and it survived only through a significant financial gift from Illinois farmer and businessman, Benjamin Lombard (1815-1883). The school recovered and became Lombard University. The official institution name was changed to Lombard College in 1899. A period of growth and prosperity followed, but it wasn't long before this growth slowed. In 1911, a merger between Knox and Lombard was discussed in a secret meeting by the trustees of both colleges; it was defeated by one vote.
Not able to withstand the financial pressures of the Depression, Lombard was forced to close its doors, and Galesburg lost its second prairie college. The last class graduated in 1930, and many students finished their degrees at Knox, the last students graduating in 1933. In addition, Knox adopted all 7,500 Lombard alumni and their records, including them in alumni activities up until the present day.
In 1935, the bell from Lombard's Old Main, which had signaled the start of classes each period just as Knox's Old Main bell still does today, was gifted to Knox. It had been rung each day by Carl Sandburg during his time at Lombard to earn tuition. Until this past summer, the Lombard bell was housed within a red brick tower in the area where the Plomin Terrace south of Alumni Hall is now located. The bell is now located on the first floor of Alumni Hall, where it will continue to tell the story of Knox's sister Galesburg college.
The last living alumnus of record of Lombard College, Ray Trudeson, died at the age of 104 on Monday, November 10, bringing to a close an important chapter in the Knox and Lombard College histories.
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