Among my earliest memories is one of seeing Robert Wadlow’s shoe on display at Williams Shoe Store in West Plains, MO. That memory formed a connection with Shurtleff College when I discovered that he attended there. Fortunately, SIU-Edwardsville, which occupied the campus for a time, has made digital copies of Shurtleff yearbooks available to the public.
Shurtleff College was founded as Rock Springs Seminary by Reverend John Mason Peck in 1827. It is the oldest Baptist college west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1832 the school was moved to Alton and was known as Alton Seminary and Alton College until 1836. After Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff gave the school a $10,000 gift, the school was renamed for him. Initially Shurtleff had dual tracks of college studies and seminary studies, but gradually the emphasis shifted more to the academic side. Still, in 1877, the school boasted that a fourth of graduates were ministerial.
The 1917 Retrospect, the college yearbook, shows a college enrollment of between 50 and 60 students with a faculty of around a dozen. The curriculum emphasized the traditional course of study—Latin, Greek, history, philosophy, science and mathematics. But the faculty included two music instructors and a professor of “Household Arts.” Like most private schools of the time, Shurtleff included an academy of 30-40 high school students. The 1954 Retrospect shows a college enrollment approaching 200 with a faculty of 21. About one third of the graduates that year were in business administration. Biology and physical education were also strong.
In 1936 Shurtleff lost its accreditation, but by 1950 it had a peak enrollment of 700 students. However, it fell on financial difficulties later in the decade and was forced to close in 1957. Southern Illinois University purchased the campus, allowing the last Shurtleff students to graduate in 1958.
Bricks and Mortar
Located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Shurtleff College was originally a one-building campus. Loomis Hall, built in 1832, housed administration, classrooms, and the library. It is one the oldest college building in Illinois still in use. At present it serves as the site of the Alton Museum of History and Art.
In1910 the campus received a Carnegie Library.
After Shurtleff College closed in 1957, the campus operated as a residential center for Southern Illinois University until 1972, when SIU opened a branch at Edwardsville.
Loomis Hall in 1935. Today it houses the Alton Museum of History and Art. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
Teamname: Earlier Bison, later changed to Pioneers
Colors: Maroon and gold
This Game of Games shows that Shurtleff College had a baseball team as early as 1867. The earliest yearbooks show both men’s women’s basketball teams. .
College Football Data Warehouse shows football results from 1897 into the 1950’s. Despite a low enrollment, Shurtleff early on lined up against much larger schools. Their schedule often included schools such as Washington of St. Louis, St. Louis University, and Southern Illinois. Because of their location on the Mississippi River, just above St. Louis, Shurtleff regularly played Missouri opponents such as Culver-Stockton, Missouri School of Mines, Westminster, Hannibal-LaGrange, and Missouri Wesleyan.
Shurtleff College had three runs of very good teams. The 1897 team went undefeated; the 1919-1920 teams had only a loss between them. From 1940 through 1942, Shurtleff went 8-0, 6-1, and 5-0; only a 7-6 road loss to Ottawa(KS) separated Shurtleff from three undefeated seasaons.
From 1910 to 1937 Shurtleff was a member of the Illinois Collegiate Athletic Conference, called the Little Nineteen., a conference which included both state schools such as Northern Illinois and private school such as Eureka. In later years they were a member of the Prairie Conference.
The 1908 team won its final five games in a 6-2 season, shutting out six opponents. Losses were to St. Louis University and Washington University. National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Guide https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.319510014155381;view=1up;seq=114;size=75