Kansas City University
Kansas City, Kansas
I stopped by the old Kansas City University campus in August 2013. The Central States Conference kindly allowed me to take photographs. Internet Archive contains digital copies of the catalogues of Kansas City University from 1896 through 1921. I have just purchased the 1917 University Log-Book of Mather College.
Kansas City University is the product of the planning and endowments of Samuel Mather, who contributed the land for the location of a college in western Kansas City. In it several small independent schools were brought together to form a university: Mather College (arts and science), the School of Theology, the College of Music, Kansas City Normal School, and Kansas City Academy—all in Kansas. In addition, the School of Oratory and Elocution and Hahnemann Medical College were located in Missouri. Classes began in September 1896.
Under terms of Mather’s will, Kansas City University was owned by the Methodist Protestant Church. In 1914 Campbell College, a Church of the United Brethren school, merged with Kansas City University. The new entity was operated jointly by the two churches until 1926, when the Methodists sold their share to the Brethren. In 1930 the Brethren withdrew their support, leading to a 1933 closure.
Philomathian Literary Society. Note the variety of clothing styles. (1917 University Log-Book).
A “distinctly Christian” school, KCU had required chapel four times weekly. The religious life was supported by active chapters of the YMCA, YWCA and Volunteer Band. Student life was enhanced by four literary societies. Also open for students were the Debating Society, sponsor of one of “the best debating teams in the Middle West.” With a Conservatory of Music KCU sponsored both the Choral Society and the Concert Company.
Enrollment at KCU was never robust. In 1907, before the merger with Campbell, listed enrollment was 413. Of these, only 32 were enrolled at Mather College; 99 were academy students, 190 were enrolled in the School of Oratory and Elocution, and 84 were medical students. By 1921 listed enrollment was down to 159, of which 73 were enrolled at Mather and 84 were academy students. Hahnemann Medical School had closed after 1912.
Bricks and Mortar
Thanks to the generosity of H. H. Heinz of Pittsburgh, Mather Hall was completed on schedule. Measuring 40 X 120 feet, it contained the administrative offices, the college classrooms, the library, and the literary society rooms. Wilson Hall, built in 1908 at a cost of $35,000, contained the academy rooms as well as the gymnasium. Union Hall, built in 1914, served primarily as the women’s dormitory and university dining hall; it was also home to the Conservatory of Music. KCU envisioned a ten-building campus in the future when it would become “the” university of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
In 1935 the Campus was purchased by the Recollet Augustin Fathers for use as a monastery. Mather Hall became St. Augustine Hall; Wilson Hall became St. Nicholas of Tolentine Hall; Union Hall became St. Thomas of Vilanova Hall.
At present, the Central States Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church uses the campus as a conference and retreat center.
Mather Hall in 2013
School Colors: Purple and Gold
KCU’s first sports references are from 1904 when the football team played both Park College and Washington University of St. Louis. With the construction of Wilson Hall, KCU had a gymnasium which allowed the basketball teams to play in the Kansas City Collegiate Conference against the two dental colleges, Huff’s School of Business and the larger high schools.
KCU was a charter member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and maintained membership through 1923. But their teams played football against rivals on both sides of the state line: Maryville Normal, Kansas City Veterinary, Rockhurst, Kirksville Osteopath, Kemper and Wentworth in Missouri; Emporia Normal, Pittsburgh Normal, Ottawa, Haskell, Highland, St. Benedicts and St. Mary’s in Kansas.
KCU played a 12 game football schedule in 1914 and at one point was trying to schedule up to Missouri Valley Conference level. But overall, KCU teams were unsuccessful in sports.