History & Heritage

A Long Way Home

Japanese Americans at Elmhurst

In 1942, the government sent Himeo Tsumori and Seiji Aizawa to a Utah “relocation center.” The next year, the College liberated them.

The Clock Tower

A 100-Year Tradition

The signatures of students, faculty and staff on the walls of the Old Main clock tower will echo for years to come.

Our History

H. Richard Niebuhr, president of Elmhurst College from 1924 to 1927

'Nothing Short of Excellence'

That was the goal of H. Richard Niebuhr, who transformed a rural seminary into Elmhurst College. Here's the story.

Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr

Esteemed Alumni

The influential theologians who graduated from the College a century ago left a deep impact on Elmhurst and the world.

A Brief History

Since 1871, Elmhurst College has prepared students for lives of expanding service, opportunity and achievement. That year, Thomas Bryan, a leading Chicago businessman, gave a substantial parcel of land 16 miles west of the city to a reform-minded group of Protestants, the German Evangelical Synod of North America. The land was intended for a school to prepare young men for the seminary.

The Elmhurst Proseminary opened that year with 14 students and an “inspektor,” the Reverend Carl Kranz. The original students studied music, mathematics, science, history, geography, religion, German and English—all disciplines that remain in the curriculum today. They also studied Latin and Greek. For decades, all courses, including English, were taught in German.

In 1924, the school formally assumed the name Elmhurst College (it had been called that colloquially for years), and began offering the bachelor of arts degree. The first leader of the new four-year college was a 1912 alumnus, H. Richard Niebuhr, who would become one of the premier theologians of the 20th century.

“Niebuhr brought to Elmhurst a first-rate mind and a vision of what the College could be,” the College historian Melitta Cutright wrote. He envisioned Elmhurst as “an ever-widening circle,” opened the school to students from beyond the German Evangelical Synod and worked to build an intellectual community where young people might develop “an effective individuality.” He oversaw the development of a long-range campus plan that included a proper college quadrangle, and that largely was realized over the next 40 years. What’s more, he set standards that challenge and inspire the institutional leadership to this day. As Cutright wrote, Niebuhr sought “nothing short of excellence.”

In the years after Niebuhr’s brief but transformational presidency, Elmhurst’s “ever-widening circle” came to include women, adult students, graduate students and persons with an astonishing variety of passions, backgrounds and beliefs.

The College Today
Elmhurst is in the midst of the most dynamic period in its history. In the 1990s, the College began a sustained period of purposeful investment in institutional quality. It added faculty, expanded enrollment, raised admission standards and enhanced the campus. Its academic reputation grew substantially. Today, Elmhurst is attracting students who are much better prepared academically than their counterparts were just ten years ago. From every sector of our society, these students are eager to engage avidly in learning—in the classroom and in the laboratory, in the city and around the world.

The campus leadership is committed to advancing the institution’s recent progress. In June 2014, the Board of Trustees endorsed the Elmhurst College Strategic Plan 2014-2020. The product of an intense process of engagement and debate—on campus and beyond—this Strategic Plan offers clear direction for the next steps we will take together to strengthen our College academically, as a community and financially.

As the Elmhurst College circle has widened since 1871, our basic belief in the powerful combination of the liberal arts and professional preparation has remained constant, even as it has been expressed in new forms to meet the needs and opportunities of the times. Our Core Values have remained constant and we articulate them today as Intellectual Excellence; Community; Social Responsibility; Stewardship; and Faith, Meaning and Values.

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