Kalamazoo College

Lower Hall

Source: Kalamazoo Public Library Photographs P-283 and P-284

The Michigan and Huron Institute was granted a charter from the territorial legislature of Michigan on 22 April 1833. Now, over 170 years later, Kalamazoo College is known far and wide as one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the nation. The school was founded upon the efforts of Thomas W. Merrill and Caleb Eldred as a coeducational Baptist institution. It served a short stint as the Kalamazoo Library Institute and as a Branch of the University of Michigan before 1855, when it comfortably settled into the simple name by which it is known today.

Men's Dormitory

Source: Kalamazoo Public Library Photographs P-283 and P-284

The Stone Era

The first distinct era in the history of Kalamazoo College began in 1843 with the arrival of Dr. J. A. B. Stone and his wife Lucinda Hinsdale Stone. The Stones' twenty-year tenure was characterized by their liberal attitudes and the progressive mark they left on the college that has persisted throughout the years. Under the leadership of Dr. Stone, the college began to build its reputation as a liberal arts institution with a high quality of instruction. Financial problems loomed, however, and the little college was often in the red. The Stones left Kalamazoo College in 1863 amidst a controversy that eventually led to the resignation of many of the students, faculty members, and trustees.


Between 1863 and 1892 the college continued to struggle with its finances. The departure of the Stones and the Civil War were immensely disruptive factors in the history of Kalamazoo College. As a result, the administrations during this period were brief, and the general cohesiveness of the institution suffered. Strong consistent leadership finally arrived with Arthur Gaylord Slocum in 1892. During his twenty-year administration the endowment was doubled, the quality and quantity of both the students and faculty steadily increased, and a new building program was begun that improved the dormitories, classrooms, and library.

Kalamazoo College Faculty, c. 1890

Faculty, Kalamazoo College, ca 1890

Student Life

From its inception in 1877 the student newspaper at Kalamazoo College, The Index, has catalogued the interests and concerns of the student body. During its early years a significant amount of the Index's space was dominated by news of the campus's three literary societies. Membership amongst the Eurodelphians, the Sherwoods, or the Philolexian Lyceum was an important mark on a student's record and vital to their social calendar. The Euro Society was founded in 1856 by Lucinda Stone and was the first literary society for women on campus and in the state of Michigan. Like their male counterparts, they would host meetings each Friday evening for their members that consisted of literary discussion, extemporaneous speaking, and refreshments.

As student life changed so did the focus of student societies and the newspaper. After the turn of the century, the Index changed from simply a literary publication to a boutique of information valuable to the twentieth century college student. Athletics, film reviews, fiction, and criticism of the administration and its policies were favorite topics in the new century. It seems likely that student life at Kalamazoo College underwent a dramatic shift sometime after 1900 as the institution as a whole became more confident in itself and its place in the educational future of Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo College Baseball Players, c. 1900

Baseball Players, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, ca 1900

Raising the Bar

In 1911 Herbert Lee Stetson took over as president of the college, and during his administration many positive changes took place. "The emphasis of the administration was on increasing faculty salaries, raising the scholastic standard of instruction, adding to the number of faculty members, strengthening the financial structure on which the scholastic program depended, building a curriculum by which to maintain first rank in academic standards." Eleven years later Allan Hoben became president and continued many of the Stetson administration's policies. Dr. Hoben was especially concerned with the academic reputation of Kalamazoo College and once said, "We do not want a college here that is as good as any one of a hundred similar schools. We intend to have a small college that is better than any of them."

It was during the 1930s that Kalamazoo College began to physically resemble the institution that lines Academy Street today. Mandelle Library was built in 1930, and Stetson Chapel quickly followed in 1932. The depression adversely affected the college, just as it did the rest of the nation, but thanks to a generous gift by Mr. And Mrs. Enos A. DeWaters, Hoben Hall was completed in 1937. Later they funded a new women's dormitory, which was dedicated in 1964 and was named for Mrs. DeWaters. It was also during the thirties that the Bureau of Municipal Research was created. This organization was the brainchild of political science professor Dr. Robert F. Cornell and was a legal part of the city government established by ordinance. It gave students a chance to observe and to participate in the real-life workings of city government, and forged a strong link between the campus and the community.

Kalamazoo College Logo

The K-Plan

Another major factor in the history of Kalamazoo College that helped secure its place as a premiere liberal arts institution was the development of the "K-plan" under president Weimer Hicks in the 1960s. The two underlying principles of this strategy, yearlong instruction and foreign study, revolutionized the educational process at Kalamazoo College and attracted notice from the rest of the world. The plan was conceived and backed by Weimer Hicks, Richard Light, and Laurence Barrett and went into effect in 1962. The new plan was featured in national magazines and newspapers. The first class of students to return from study abroad appeared on "Calendar" with Walter Cronkite to talk about their experiences.

In recent years Kalamazoo College has continued to grow and prosper. In 2005 the school appointed its first female African-American president, Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran. A large addition to the Upjohn Library was completed in 2006. "K" College is many things to many different people. For its students, it is a place where learning is central. The lessons learned may vary from the origin of the liberal arts, to how to slide down a hill on a cafeteria tray, to how to get along with people much different than yourself. To the city of Kalamazoo, the college is like a sibling. The two bodies have grown from their birth in the 1830's through infancy and adolescence together, and now, as both accept the challenges of the 21st century they will develop into maturity together.



The Effect of the Civil War on Kalamazoo College

  • Hartl, Adrienne
  • History Seminar of Kalamazoo College, typescript, 1962
  • H 378.774 H331

A critical look at how Kalamazoo College has interacted with the Kalamazoo Community 1940-1975

  • Kisslinger, Frank E.
  • Kalamazoo College, typescript, 1976.
  • H 378.774 K61

History of the Women's Literary Societies of Kalamazoo College

  • McCarthy, Dorothy
  • History Seminar of Kalamazoo College, typescript, 1951
  • H 378.774 M12

The Kalamazoo College Story

  • Mulder, Arnold
  • H 378.774 M95

Reflections of college life as seen through the Kalamazoo College Index

  • Rutherford, Catherine A.
  • H 378.774 R97


Kalamazoo College History