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History of Augustana College

An Historical Perspective on Augustana College

Augustana College was founded in 1860, to "provide an education in the arts and sciences for young people of their church as well as for all other qualified persons." Like many colleges of its generation, Augustana's early years were itinerant. In the 1850s, its founders attempted two schools in southern Illinois (the Literary and Theological Institute for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Far West and The Illinois State University). Neither thrived. With the creation of the Augustana Lutheran Synod in 1860, they assayed a third attempt and founded Augustana College and Seminary in Chicago. The college moved to rural Paxton, Illinois, in 1863 and finally to Rock Island in 1875.

Its founders brought two traditions which have shaped the institution throughout its history. The first concerned governance. The faculty, following long northern European tradition, governs the academic life of the College. This commitment has powerfully influenced the shape of the college and its programs. Augustana's presidents have frequently been drawn from its faculty. Both the presidents and the Board have given great deference to the faculty's collective judgment. The faculty, in turn, has created an extensive system of committees through which to exercise its responsibilities.

The second tradition was Lutheranism. Augustana's founders were educated Scandinavian Lutherans, both pastors and laypersons. They were concerned for the vitality of the Lutheran Church in America and sought to create a college and seminary which might propagate the Lutheran faith on the frontier. Lutheranism affirms the value of the intellect and encourages wide-ranging intellectual debate. Alone among the world's faiths, it was founded at a university in response to a faculty debate.

That early commitment to diversity and debate has shaped the college's perspective for more than a century. Within the three days of its founding, the college formed a debating society. By the end of the 19th century, it hosted five competing debate programs. Women joined the student body by the end of its first decade, residents of Asia by the end of the 19th century, African-Americans by the time of the First World War. Catholics outnumber Lutherans in the student body. And the college's decision (2004) to adopt an "Affirmation of Welcome" as part of the Reconciling in Christ movement formally recognizes its welcome of gays and lesbians.

The College has thrived in its Rock Island home. In its early years, it explored the rich diversity of ways in which it might serve its community. It aspired, early on, to become a university. In addition to a college and seminary, Augustana hosted a preparatory academy, music and art conservatories, and a teacher-training school. As the college matured, it turned its attention evermore to its core mission of educating young people in the liberal arts. By the time of the Depression, it had shed or subsumed everything except its seminary and college. In 1948, the seminary was recognized as a distinct institution from the college and, in 1967, it relocated to Chicago where it operates now as the Lutheran School of Theology. In 1985, the College ended its last graduate program (in Regional Studies) and in the early 1990s eliminated two of its three bachelor’s degrees (of Music and of Music Education). With each change, the college reaffirmed and strengthened its core commitment.


Augustana College, 639 38th St. Rock Island, IL 61201Tel: 800-798-8100webmaster@augustana.eduGo to Augustana.edu