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A History of Mac

Methodist Beginnings

Photo of a group of students from 1878.
Group of students from 1878.

The Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church established the Illinois Conference Female Academy in Jacksonville in 1846. The institution provided "for the intellectual and moral education" of women in the interests of government and society. The school would provide for teachers, benevolent workers, and missionary workers. The early founders were comprised of devout and erudite clergymen, Peter Cartwright and Peter Akers, as well as several of Jacksonville's prominent men. Along with the Conference's Committee on Education, these men solicited funds, located teachers, selected five acres on East State Street for purchase to erect a building, and chose the first president: James Frazier Jaquess, a Methodist minister educated at what is now DePauw University in Indiana.

Photo of James Jaquess.
James Jaquess

The first classes opened in the basement of the East Charge MEC (now Centenary UMC) in 1847 with a modest enrollment of 117, divided into preparatory and academic departments. Jaquess taught chemistry in addition to full-time solicitation of funds and students.

The first building, Main, was completed in 1850, which provided housing for Jaquess and the students and classroom space. Before Main, out-of-town students lived with local Methodist families.

In 1854, Jaquess discontinued the primary department to engage students in more challenging and expanded curriculum that included economics, political discourses, and additional sciences. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the College experienced an increased enrollment requiring wing additions to Main. Even through financial setbacks, specifically the Civil War and three fires occurring over ten years to Main, the school flourished and continued to attract students. The first literary societies, Belles Lettres and Phi Nu, were organized in the 1850s. Two presidents rechartered the academy under new names: Illinois Conference Female College and Illinois Female College.

IWC and Continued Expansion

Photo of a workman setting the cornerstone of Mac Hall while a crowd watches.
James MacMurray, President McClelland,
Dr. Joseph Harker, and many others watch
as a workman sets a stone in place on top
of the cornerstone of Mac Hall.

In 1893, the College's fortunes changed when the trustees chose Dr. Joseph Harker as the seventh president. Harker changed the College's name in 1899 to Illinois Woman's College (IWC), envisioning a standard college with an enhanced college campus. With successful capital campaigns conducted by the Methodist Episcopal Church and Dr. Harker, a large endowment was established and in 1909, the College granted baccalaureate degrees. In 1915, as evidence of the improved curriculum elevating the College to a higher rank of academics, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools granted accreditation. In 1920, the Association of American Universities placed IWC on the "accepted" list and a year later, the College became a corporate member of the American Association of University Women. During Harker's administration, the College added the Fine Arts Building, Harker Residence Hall, a powerhouse, and Hardtner Gymnasium and Pool.

Photo of James MacMurray.
James MacMurray

Following Harker's retirement in 1925, the next president, Dr. Clarence McClelland, wanted to continue Harker's plan. McClelland, previously a successful president of Drew Seminary for Young Women in New York, continued the work of Dr. Harker, following his vision of an expanded curriculum and campus. Expansion was accomplished easier with the significant financial contribution and support of trustee board chairman, James MacMurray, a wealthy, prominent Chicago businessman and former Illinois state senator. In 1926, the two Scotsmen launched a twenty-year campus expansion, adding a science building, dining hall, and three residence halls. In recognition of MacMurray's generosity, IWC's name became MacMurray College for Women in 1930. Before McClelland retired in 1952, the College had gained a new chapel and library at the benevolence of Henry and Annie Pfeiffer and purchased a building for a college theatre, which also housed the radio show.

MacMurray Legacy

Photo of students in period dress lighting the candles on the centennial celebration cake.
Students in period dress light the candles
on the centennial celebration cake.

In the 1930s, McClelland relaxed many of the rules governing academic and social life. During World War II, student activities supported the war effort, but social functions, such as dances and theatre performances, continued as much as possible. In 1946, the College celebrated its centennial anniversary with week-long activities.

In 1955, the trustees established MacMurray College for Men under the leadership of President Norris. He encouraged the co-educational institution foreseeing the looming baby-boom population beginning college life in the 1960s. In less than ten years, the campus facilities included a redesigned curriculum and four additional residence halls to accommodate the men. Men and women remained in separate colleges and even ate separately until 1967 when the dining hall served both sexes. In 1969, the College became one again.

Photo of the founding class of male students.
The founding class of Mac Men.

MacMurray experienced much of the turbulence of the 1960 and 1970 decades as did other college campuses across the country with students' concerns over Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and individual freedoms. The old buildings were razed and replaced. By the 1980s, the curriculum had changed to prepare students for careers and graduate school. Academic emphasis returned to liberal arts in MacMurray's Core Curriculum.

In 1996, MacMurray proudly celebrated 150 years of education, and Dr. Lawrence Bryan became MacMurray's 14th president soon after. In a few years he added a combination music and art building. In 2007, Dr. Colleen Hester became the first female president in the College's history.

More Photos from the Archives

Photo of Main Hall.
Main Hall (1860), the first building on campus.

Photo of Belles Lettres members.
Belles Lettres, along with Phi Nu, has been active on campus since beginning in 1850.

Photo of the MacMurray Stables.
Horseback riding with the MacMounties was a staple of the MacMurray College experience.

To see and learn more of MacMurray's history, visit the College archives on campus or online.