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Highland Park College

Des Moines, Iowa



The Des Moines Public Library has two entries on the history and present use of the Highland Park campus. has placed the 1916 and 1918 Highland Park College yearbooks online. Souvenir of Des Moines contains a history of the college.


Highland Park Normal College opened in September 1890, the product of a business syndicate, who felt that a college would enhance the value of Des Moines real estate holdings in the Highland Park suburb.  According to Souvenir of Des Moines, the founding businessmen believed that the ordinary college experience was “a poor preparation — and even a disqualification — for the serious business of life.”   Therefore, they wanted Highland Park to be a college that offered young men and young women a practical education, by providing small classes that emphasized reading, discussion and the application of knowledge.   An additional goal was to make college affordable for those with limited means.


The 1916 Piper, the school yearbook, shows that under the aegis of Highland Park College were the “seven standard colleges”: engineering, liberal arts, music, oratory, pedagogy, business, and pharmacy.  There were also an academy and an extension department. That year 120 students received degrees or diplomas from the colleges.  With colleges of music and oratory, Highland Park was strong in drama and musicals, performing three plays and a minstrel show that year.  H.P.C. debate teams won 31 of 37 debates during the academic year.  Co-curricular activities included both men’s and women’s glee clubs.





















In addition to professional fraternities such as Mortar and Pestle for pharmacy students and AIEE for electrical engineering students, Highland Park College sponsored two literary societies—Athenian and Kitchi Gammi—and six social organizations.  Highland Park had chapters of both the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A.


In its first three years the school’s enrollment reached 1500.  But the number fell drastically following the panic of 1893.  In 1911 the school was purchased by the Presbyterian Church; however, it also failed  to operate the school profitably.  In March of 1918 the Baptist Church purchased Highland Park College and merged it with Des Moines College, ending its 28-year history as an innovative force in higher education.


Beginners orchestra.  Image from the 1914 Catalog.  (;view=1up;seq=29)  Accessed 3-2-2018


Bricks and Mortar

Highland Park College was located at Second and Euclid Avenues in northern Des Moines, a site described as “one of the most beautiful spots in Iowa.”  When the school opened in 1890, its buildings were in place—or nearly so.  Work was still being completed on the administration building.  In addition to the Administration Building and dormitories, the campus contained Science Hall, Humbolt Hall, and the Engineering shops.  


After the merger with Des Moines College, the resulting university moved to the large, well-equipped Highland Park campus.  When Des Moines University closed in 1929, the campus remained unused until decay, fire and destruction closed the buildings.  When David Wiggins returned to the campus in the 1980’s, he found only one building remaining—the Hall of Physical Education, now a disused garage.  The rest was “mostly an empty sea of parking places and a shabby shopping mall.”


Highland Park Campus in 1914.  From the left are a Men’s Dormitory, one of the cottages, the Administration Building, the Engineering shops, Humbolt Hall and Science Hall.  (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)  Accessed 3-2-2018


       Team name and Colors:  Purple and  White


Highland Park played football from 1897 until the merger with Des Moines in 1918.  For the most part H.P.C. met with only sporadic success.  The school’s most successful team was that of 1915.  That team compiled a 5-1-1 record.  The Purple and White defeated Central, Drake, Des Moines, Leander Clark and Simpson.  The team lost to Coe and played a scoreless draw with Cornell.


Highland Park played baseball (Iowa Conference Champions in 1915) and had a track team.  The school played basketball only at intramural level.  In 1918, at least, H.P.C. also played women’s basketball with a game against the alumni.

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