Baker University.In the fall of 1856, the Kansas and Nebraska annual conference of the Methodist Episcopal church held its first session in a tent at Lawrence. The interest of the Methodists in education is manifest in the report of the committee on education, a paragraph of which reads: "Your committee are of the opinion that the Kansas and Nebraska conference should avail itself through its members, of the earliest opportunities to secure favorable sites for seminaries of learning or universities under our own immediate management and control, and to take such preliminary measures as may be necessary to secure titles to the same and to secure the passage of such legislative acts as may be necessary to constitute boards of trustees, who may hold such property, real estate, personal or mixed, for the use and benefits of such seminaries or universities; and to secure grants of land and other property to aid in building and endowing such institutions of learning within our bounds."
LIBRARY, BAKER UNIVERSITY.
In March, 1857, an educational convention of the Methodist Episcopal church was held at Palmyra, 15 miles south of Lawrence on the Santa Fe trail. At this meeting a school was located at Palmyra, and the name Baker University was chosen in honor of Bishop Osman C. Baker, who presided over the first session of the Kansas and Nebraska annual conference. At this time the Kansas Educational Association of the Methodist Episcopal church was organized, and on Feb. 3, 1858, obtained a charter from the territorial legislature with the privilege of locating an educational institution at or near the town of Palmyra, since called Baldwin. On Feb. 12, 1858, the institution was chartered under the name planned (Baker University). A stone building for the university was commenced at once and was ready for occupancy the following autumn. This building is now known as the old castle; it passed out of the hands of the university but has been repurchased and will be preserved as a memorial of early days.
School opened in Nov., 1858, with Prof. R. Cunningham as principal, until the arrival of the first president, Rev. Werter R. Davis, in 1859. The first meeting of the board of trustees was held at Omaha in April, 1859, the conference having met there. The Methodist church by its representatives passed the following resolution: "Resolved that this conference pledge its best efforts to build up and sustain Baker University as the one great university in Kansas."
The drought of 1860 and the Civil war retarded the progress of, but did not annihilate the school. The first catalogue was published for the year 1862-63. In 1863-64 the increase in enrollment created a demand for a new building, and an agent went east to collect funds. The result of his efforts was the beginning of a cut stone building, 60 by 80 feet and four stories high, which was not finished until 1870.
In 1866 the first class of three members was graduated. During the period from 1858 to 1870, the college had the following presidents: Rev. Werter R. Davis, 1858-62; Rev. George W. Paddock (nominal); Rev. Leonard L. Hartman (acting), 1862-64; Rev. Leonard L. Hartman, 1864-65; Rev. John W. Locke, 1865 to March, 1866; John W. Homer, March, 1866, to Aug., 1867; Elial J. Rice, Aug., 1867, to Dec., 1868; Rev. Werter R. Davis, Dec., 1868, to March, 1869; Rev. John A. Simpson, March, 1869, to Dec., 1869; Rev. Werter R. Davis, Dec., 1869, to March, 1870; Rev. Patterson McNutt, March, 1870, to June, 1871. The growth of the institution during these years had been fitful and precarious, but continuous. A library of 2,000 volumes, a scientific collection, and enough apparatus to conduct the school had been accumulated.
In 1873 the Kansas conference appointed educational commissioners to investigate the financial and legal status of the university. Reports of its involved conditions agitated the question of its removal. The report of the commissioners helped to restore confidence, and the conference pledged itself anew to support the school and pay all indebtedness, regardless of legal flaws in the claims. In the next few years conference endowment funds were started, and subscriptions solicited but the poverty of the state made the debts decrease slowly. Frequent changes were made in the president's office. Rev. Robert L. Hartford served from 1871-1873; Rev. S. S. Weatherby (acting), 1873-1874; Rev. Joseph Dennison, 1874-1879; Rev. William H. Sweet, 1879-1886; Rev. Hillary A. Gobin, 1886-1890.
The decade from 1880 to 1890 witnessed a change for the better in the struggle for prosperous growth. The catalogue of 1880-81 stated that in the literary department alone the average attendance throughout the year had been more than double that of any year for the past twelve years. In 1885, Centenary Hall, a stone and brick building 62 by 82 feet and two stories above the basement, was completed. In 1890 William A. Quayle became president of Baker. With the beginning of the school year 1889 proper and continuous work on endowment was commenced. Up to that time little had been done toward creating a permanent fund, but from that year to 1911 the university has systematically solicited and received gifts until it has an endowment fund of $400,000. Mr. Quayle resigned in 1894 and was succeeded by Lemuel H. Murlin.
With the betterment of financial conditions the size and quality of the curriculum increased. Almost at the beginning two courses of study were givenclassical and scientific. These have developed into eight schools, including the summer school which is held each year during the months of June and July.
The government of the institution is vested in a board of trustees, elected by the Kansas and South Kansas conferences of the Methodist Episcopal church. The university issues three publications, The Baker University Bulletin, "The Baker Orange," and The Baker University News-Letter.
Baker University stands seventh in rank among the fifty or more Methodist colleges of America. The campus contains about 20 acres in the heart of Baldwin. The buildings number six and the corps of instructors 40. The university has seven departments, the college of liberal arts has 378 students; the normal school 35; the academy 152; the school of art 13; the school of oratory 99; the school of business 55; making a total of 732.Pages 129-132 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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