Illinois College

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Group.png Illinois College  
Illinois College Seal.png
HeadquartersIllinois, USA
Part of the Clinton Global Initiative University Network to groom new leaders.

Illinois College is a private liberal arts college in Jacksonville, Illinois. It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA). It was the second college founded in Illinois, but the first to grant a degree (in 1835). It was founded in 1829 by the Yale Band, students from Yale College who traveled westward to found new colleges.[1][2] It briefly served as the state's first medical school, from 1843 to 1848.

Clinton Global Initiative University Network

Illinois College joined the Clinton Global Initiative University Network in 2014.[3] The network was launched in 2007 by President Bill Clinton and is closely modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative. The network helps support the work of leaders on college campuses around the world.[4] As a member of the network, Illinois College pledges a minimum of $10,000 in funding to students of the campus who become Clinton Global Initiative University student commitment-makers.[5] As of 2015, Illinois College is one of only 70 schools to be a member of the CGI University Network.[6]


The Rev. John M. Ellis, a Presbyterian missionary in the East, saw the need for a “seminary of learning” in the new state of Illinois. His plans drew the attention of Congregational students at Yale College, and seven of them, in one of the famous “Yale Bands,” came westward to help found the College.

The first president of Illinois College was Edward Beecher who left his position at the Park Street Church in Boston and firmly imbued the new College with New England traditions and academic foundations. His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was later the author of the influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a visitor to the campus. His brother, Henry Ward Beecher, preached and lectured at the college as well. Beecher Hall, named in honor of president Beecher, was the first building constructed on the Illinois College campus, and remains the oldest college building in the state of Illinois.

The first two college graduates in the state of Illinois, Richard Yates and Jonathan E. Spilman, received their degrees from Illinois College in 1835. Yates became the Civil War governor of Illinois and later a U.S. senator. A program at Illinois College for first generation college students was named The Yates Fellowship Program in his honor. Jonathan Edwards Spilman composed the familiar music to Robert Burns’ poem “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.”

William Jennings Bryan, a member of the class of 1881, is one of the most prominent alumni of Illinois College. He was a United States Congressman from Nebraska, the US Secretary of State, and the Democratic Party's presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908.

Many Illinois College graduates have gone on to have influential careers in public service. Two graduates became U.S. senators, 20 became congressmen, six were state governors and two currently serve as federal judges.

Among the visitors and lecturers on campus during the early years were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, Oscar Wilde and Wendell Phillips. Many speakers, including Abraham Lincoln, were sponsored by the college’s literary societies which still exist today.

Illinois College was a center of the abolitionist movement due to its Northern location near the Mississippi River and outspoken campus leaders such as President Edward Beecher and Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner. In the mid 1800s, a group of students at the college were indicted by a grand jury for harboring runaway slaves. Two campus buildings also have ties to the abolitionist movement; Beecher Hall is believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad, and a campus house, the Gillett House, has attained the prestigious National Park Service certification as a “National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom” site.[7]


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William Jennings Bryan19 March 186026 July 1925Lawyer
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