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Humboldt College

Humboldt, Iowa

1872-1880 and 1895-1914

E-Travel has the 1874 catalog. The Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican covered some school events, as did Our Midland Schools.  The 1899 Report of the Iowa Department of Public Instruction has a school history written by President Patterson. The 1897 College and Public School Directory has an illustrated advertisement for the school.
















Taft was present for the reopening of Humboldt College by J. P. Patterson in 1895, providing continuity.  This rendition of Humboldt College featured several innovations.  Advertised as “practical, progressive, popular,” it attracted a large enrollment.  With a calendar of six sessions of eight weeks each, it never closed. The 30-40 course offerings were spread among 14-17 departments to meet differing student needs.  While it continued the traditional scientific and classical departments, along with teacher training, it added commercial courses; courses in elocution, art and music; courses in telegraphy, manual training, and domestic science.  As a result, enrollment reached 380 in 1898 and graduating classes reached 41 in 1904.


Music students now had a glee club and a quartette.  The debate team participated in the Iowa Debating League.  A debate with Tobin College attracted a train full of rooters from Fort Dodge.


In 1914, Patterson moves his school to Minneapolis, where it continued until the 1970's.





Bricks and Mortar

Humboldt was advertised as a town without “lager bier saloons.”  The cornerstone for the main building was laid in 1870.  The three-story marble structure over a basement cost $40,000.   Most funds came from the East with Henry W. Longfellow, Edward Everett Hale and Henry Ward Beecher among the contributors.   


In 1895 the city donated the property to J. P. Patterson to reopen the college.  East Hall, a three-story frame dormitory/dining hall, was added that year. A matching West Hall came a year later. Advertisements in 1902 note a fourth “great” building.  The school boasted of electric lights and central steam heat for all buildings.


By 1907 Paterson was seeking to move the school to a larger town and was negotiating with Des Moines.  In 1914 he sold the campus to a Grand Forks investor and so moved the school to Minneapolis.  Ultimately campus buildings were razed in 1926.  A dairy farm occupied the site at the time of the 1928 alumni meeting.

In 1962 Reverend Stephen H. Taft brought his congregation from New York to Iowa, founding the village of Humboldt.  One of his goals was to found a college “of university importance.”  On September 13, 1872 that school became a reality, beginning with three teachers and forty students, attracted in part by the free tuition.


The catalog shows 111 students in two levels—the English course and the Preparatory course.  The three-year preparatory course features Latin, Greek, history, algebra, geometry, chemistry, botany, zoology, and physics.  There was also a normal course to train teachers. About a third of students were “partial course” students, taking whatever classes interested them. 


Famously, Humboldt had only one graduation, in 1879, with three graduates.  Taft resigned as president that year, and the school was “hopelessly closed” in 1880. 

Image from  History of Humboldt and Kossuth Counties, Iowa;view=1up;seq=591

The Humboldt campus apparently after the addition of the fourth building in 1902.  Note what appears to be football goal posts to the left. (


The catalog boasts of  a gymnasium “well supplied with apparatus.”  The first newspaper account of a football game was 1895, when Humboldt lost to Ellsworth College 56-4.  In 1901 Humboldt “has the best team they have ever had.”   A year later Humboldt had “one of the best football teams in this part of the country.” In 1904 the team lacked “some husky boys.” Still results are few, and while Ellsworth was a regular opponent, most opponents seem to have been high schools and town teams.  The college often lost to Humboldt High School.    The last reported game in 1907 was a loss to Buena Vista College.


Humboldt College seems to have had a representative baseball team, the 1904 team called the best in history.  Newspapers reported a track team in 1902. 

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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