I once had part of a job interview at Bellevue College (now Bellevue University), before a sudden ice storm brought the process to a halt. That present school has no relationship with the 19th Century college of the same name. The Omaha Public Library has the 1903 Old Elk Hill, the college yearbook, along with several bulletins and catalogs.
Bellevue College was organized in 1880 by the Nebraska Synod of the Presbyterian Church, with classes opening in 1883. Local merchant and Presbyterian elder Henry T. Clarke was both a financial and moral force behind the founding of the college. In 1892 the school officially became the University of Omaha (Note the seal); however, newspaper references continued to use “Bellevue College.” The 1903 Old Elk Hill shows 55 college students enrolled in the classical, scientific or philosophical degree programs. In addition, the academy enrolled 77 students in four high school classes. A normal program attracted 13 students; there were 31 “special” students, many in music. The faculty numbered 25.
Students belonged to one of the two literary societies—the Adelphians or the Philomatheans. Teams from these societies engaged in interschool debate, oration, declamation and essay writing contests. Bellevue College also sponsored chapters of the YMCA and YWCA.
After a tornado damaged the campus buildings in 1908, the synod began to withdraw support, forcing the college to rely on local fund raising. Following the 1919 graduation, the school trustees closed the college and converted the campus to a military school. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the trustees cited the failure of the synod to support Bellevue College and the competition from state-supported schools as factors in the closure.
Bricks and Mortar
Clarke Hall, the administration/classroom building was erected atop Elk Hill, burial site of Omaha chief Big Elk. The 1904 bulletin describes the Elk Hill site as the “most healthful and attractive to be found in Nebraska.” Clarke Hall was dedicated in 1884 and survived a tornado. Finley Hall, the women’s dormitory, was added in 1890. Ranken Hall, the president’s residence, was built in 1896 and Philadelphia Hall, the men’s dormitory, in 1897. Finley, a wood frame building, burned in 1902.
In 1946 Clarke Hall was razed. The dormitories were converted into apartments to handle the post-World War II population boom. Three buildings--including Philadelphia Hall--still stand.
Colors: Royal Purple and Old Gold
Team name: The World-Herald refers to the team as the Redmen
Bellevue College fielded teams in football, women’s basketball and baseball. The World-Herald noted that Bellevue was “about the second college in the west to accept basketball as a pastime of skill and endurance for girls.”
College Football Data Warehouse shows that Bellevue played football between 1898 and 1916. Despite low enrollment, Bellevue had seven winning teams. From 1905 to 1907 teams compiled a 17-3-1 record, with the 1907 team going undefeated. Early teams played schedules including high school and independent teams. Through the years, the most consistent opponents were Hastings College, Doane College, Grand Island College, Creighton University and Cotner University.
The 1906 Bellevue College football team had a 5-1 record. (Old Elk Hill,
"Leading Lights" of the 1909 Adelphian Literary Society. Image from Old Elk Hill