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Des Moines University

Des Moines, Iowa



I am indebted to David Wiggins’ book An Iowa Tragedy: the Fall of Old Des Moines U and to for including digitized copies of Des Moines College and Des Moines University yearbooks in the online collection.


The forerunner of Des Moines University was a school created by the Baptist church in 1865, using buildings abandoned by the Lutherans.  In the early years, the school was primarily an academy.  In 1884 sufficient stability existed for a new campus to be built; In 1889 the school took the name of Des Moines College, reflecting the move to a college-level curriculum.  Des Moines College had seven schools: bible, education, music, business, oratory, fine arts and preparatory.  Enrollment had reached 238 by 1910, and was further augmented when Central College of Pella, IA merged in 1916, followed by Highland Park College in 1918.  The new structure adopted the name Des Moines University. 


The 1923 Tiger shows an enrollment of 330—124 in liberal arts, 51 in pharmacy, 49 in education, 24 in engineering, 24 in the business institute, 12 in fine arts, 8 in the Danish Theological Seminary and 8 in the academy.


Due to financial difficulties, the college was sold to the Baptist Bible Union, an “uncompromising fundamentalist” branch of the Church in 1927.  Faculty members were forced to sign the Baptist Bible Union confession of faith, causing many to leave. In 1929 Students rioted against the B.B.U. trustees and administration, running the president of the Board, Reverend Thomas Shields, out of town.  Law enforcement officials closed the campus at that point, and Des Moines University passed into history.


Des Moines University offered a variety of extracurricular opportunities for its students.  No fewer than four social fraternities and three social sororities had chapters on campus.   There were five literary societies.  The music department sponsored an orchestra, a band and a choral club.  The College of Engineering had an Engineers Club and the College of Pharmacy had a Mortar and Pestle organization.  As a Baptist school, D.M.U. had a Ministerial Association, a Y.M.C.A .and a Y.W.C.A. 

(Above) 1913-14 Y.W.C.A. Cabinet (Orange & Black,

Bricks and Mortar

After the 1918 merger, Des Moines University moved to the Highland Park campus.  The original Des Moines College Campus at College Avenue and 9th Street was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese in 1918, which opened a high school and junior college there.  Dowling College/High School occupied the campus until 1970, when a new campus opened in West Des Moines.  The old campus appears to be a correctional facility today.













(Above) Nash Hall, the 1884 Administration Building, was called the “most complete college building in Iowa." (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)


For a number of years after D.M.U. closed, the Highland Park campus had only a caretaker, as the banks and the insurance carriers forbade other use.  The Administration building burned in 1939.  When David Wiggins visited the campus in the 1980’s he found only one building remaining from the campus—the Hall of Physical Education, then a disfigured and empty hull of a building.  Park Fair Shopping Mall now occupies the site.



            Team name: Tigers

            Colors: Black and Orange


Des Moines University fielded teams in four sports in 1922—football, basketball, track and baseball.  The 1922 Tiger notes that the 1920 basketball team had participated in the national AAU tournament in Kansas City.  The 1919 football team shutout five of six opponents, while the 1920 team compiled 7-2 record, shutting out opponents in all seven victories..


The 1921 team had a 5-3 record.  Victories came at the expense of Still College of Osteopathy, Parsons, William Penn, Dubuque, and Haskell Institute.  The Tigers fell to Creighton, Lombard and Morningside.

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