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In the 1800’s it was difficult for colleges to succeed because of economic crisis. For colleges that were just beginning, it was even more of a struggle because they were not bringing in the necessary funds for maintaining a proper university system. Oskaloosa College is a good example, in that, they were attempting to create a successful college and almost failed. Oskaloosa College was located in Oskaloosa, Iowa. It relocated to Des Moines, Iowa and was renamed Drake University. Despite the fact that Drake University had to move in order to thrive, there were small town colleges that succeeded. For example, William Penn University was established in Oskaloosa, Iowa shortly after Drake relocated. Although Drake University may have almost failed as a University, it was not impossible to run a college during this time period.

Drake University started out as Oskaloosa College located in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Oskaloosa College was a Christian school affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. It originally began because the churches of Christ wanted to create a Christian college. The churches wanted a college that was based off of religion and maintained a close affiliation with the Church and Christ. The Oskaloosa College had their first session of courses in 1858. According to Benjamin Bushrod Tyler in The History of the Disciples of Christ, “Financial reverses and the Civil War, have conspired to make the course of Oskaloosa College stormy and sometimes perilous…” (Tyler 149). The College began to fail because of the financial situation. The staff of Oskaloosa decided that because of the economic conditions, they should move it to a different location. In 1881, George Thomas Carpenter led a group of people to Des Moines, Iowa where they were given a $20,000 pledge from General Francis Marion Drake. Because of the pledge, they changed the name from Oskaloosa College to Drake University after Francis Marion Drake. He was a Civil War general, Iowa governor, banker, railroad builder and attorney ( The founders of the University then created the following statement,

“This University has been designed upon a broad, liberal and modern basis. The articles of incorporation provide that all its departments shall be open to all without distinction of sex, religion or race. In its management and influence, it will aim at being Christian, without being sectarian” (

The University decided that they wanted to base their education system wanted to aim at Christianity without being sectarian. Shortly after this statement, the commercial affiliation with the Disciples of Christ was terminated because Drake did not want discrimination towards students ( The University became an integral part of the community and succeeded because it was established in the world’s richest agricultural community ( Drake University continued to grow and thrive and eventually grew into a highly successful, well-established University.

William Penn University, on the other hand, was established in 1872 in Oskaloosa, Iowa. It is ironic that William Penn was established in 1872, in the same place that Drake University had to move from in order to prevent failing. William Penn University was fortunate in that they had been a previous organization that was created by Quakers from Pennsylvania. The Quakers believed that religion went hand in hand with religion, and during their travels, they decided to set up churches and schools. Two communities of these Pioneers during 1850-1860, were created. One was called Cedar Grove and it was located a few miles north of Oskaloosa. The other was called Spring Creek and was located a few miles east of Oskaloosa. Rosa Lewis states, “Both (communities) fostered the spirit of education and culture” (Lewis 5). The Cedar Grove community came in and opened a private school in 1855. During this, the Spring Creek community was also building a small three-story school, which had a more direct correlation with Penn College. When the Spring Creek school opened, it had 75 students. The following spring, the name was changed to Spring Creek Institute. In 1863, the Spring Creek Institute building was burned down. The citizens raised a total of $6,000 to rebuild a new school. Lewis says, “Two years later in 1866, Iowa Yearly Meeting…took steps to unite all the educational interests of the Friends in Iowa” (Lewis 6). The Friends in Iowa were the citizens of the city, they were the people involved in the Spring Creek community. The Iowa Yearly Meeting decided that it was time to build a suitable school.

The Yearly Meeting decided to establish a school called Iowa Union College Association. In 1872, the College opened under the name of Friends High School. In September of 1873, the name of the college was changed to Penn College. Penn College was fortunate in comparison to Drake University, in that Penn went through a few challenges but they continued to press through and they did not have to pick up and move as Drake did. Both colleges began in Oskaloosa, but the difference is the kind of founders that each university started with. Not only this, but how the founders decided to establish the schools. In the book, History of Penn College, Lewis states, “Penn College was certainly fortunate in the character of its early founders and teachers. President Woody was the kind of man to establish the right traditions and to give the right tone to a Quaker College…His nature and personality fitted him to become a college pioneer. He was a man of vision (Lewis 8).” Because of the drive and intitative that the teachers and founders had, the school was able to succeed and people wanted to go there.

Unfortunately Drake University, formerly known as Oskaloosa College, began during the time that the Quakers were moving from Pennsylvania. The Quakers were interested in starting their own schooling system where they could incorporate religion and teach their kids what they wanted them to learn. Drake had to move because Oskaloosa is a small town and there were not enough people attending. Penn University was fortunate in that they moved to a place and started with just creating little communities. They started with small school houses and prepared for when they would be ready to create a University. Another issue that Drake University had, was that the professors gave up. Instead of trying to stay in one location and trying to figure out ways of improving their number of students, they just picked up and moved. Penn University on the other hand, went through a fire and a storm that knocked down the frame of what was going to be the new college. Through all of their problems, the founders kept pushing through because they knew that they were not going to stop until their vision came true. Because of this drive and motivation, a school that could have failed became a prestigious school that is still active to this day.

Although Drake University managed to make it through their hard times, they could have potentially stayed where they were located and gotten started quite a bit earlier. There is proof that they could have made it because William Penn University was able to make it and they are still teaching students to this day. Penn was fortunate in that it was began by Quakers whose main focus is school and religion. They were looking to begin schooling systems that could teach people their ways. The Quakers also had a very strong belief that higher education was important. Because of this, they had a strong drive and motivation to create a school that would succeed. There were problems along the way, but as soon as a problem would come their way, they were already having a meeting on how to solve it so that they could reach their goal. Drake, was not quite as motivated as Penn University was. Drake looked for the fastest way out of their problem by going to their senator for money so that they could move the school. Another difference is that the founders of Penn University did a lot of planning and started small before they started with a large university. Drake University wanted to start out big anyways. The reason that Drake had to move was because of the financial situation, but Penn University was able to make it because they began small and did not do more than they could afford. Although it was hard for a college to be established in the 1800’s, because of the economic crisis, it was possible. This is apparent through William Penn University and Drake University, even though Drake University had to relocate in order to thrive.



Drake University, Law School in the Making


Page Author: McKaney R. Short

Saturday, 17 March, 2012 11:02



Tyler, B. B. A History of the Disciples of Christ. New York: Christian Literature, 1894. Print.

"History and Character of Drake University." Drake University. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

"Drake University Law School." Lawyers Find A Lawyer, Law Firm, Attorney & Legal Services: Martindale. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Lewis, Rosa E. "History of Penn College." Wilcox Library Digital Archives. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.



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