Knox College (Illinois)

Knox College is a private liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois. It was founded in 1837 and offers more than 60 courses of study.

Knox College
Former name
Knox Manual Labor College (1837–1857)
MottoLatin: Veritas
Motto in English
TypePrivate liberal arts college
EstablishedFebruary 15, 1837; 187 years ago (1837-02-15)
Endowment$170.2 million (2019)[1]
PresidentC. Andrew McGadney
Academic staff
Students1,058 (Fall 2022)[2]
CampusSmall city, 82 acres (33 ha)
Colors   Purple and gold
Sporting affiliations
NCAA Division III
Midwest Conference
MascotPrairie Fire (nickname), Blaze (mascot)


George Washington Gale (1789–1861), founding father of Knox College
Old Main, the oldest building on the campus of Knox College

Knox College was founded as Knox Manual Labor College by Presbyterians and Congregationalists from New York state organized by George Washington Gale, who previously had founded the Oneida Institute.[3] Gale in 1836 released a "Circular and Plan" for the founding of a manual labor colleges which described a subscriber- and land purchase-based method of funding.[4] His plan resulted in the founding of at least one school when in 1837 subscribers settled in what became Galesburg and began to build the college.[3] The first President was Hiram Huntington Kellogg Sr., who went on a book-buying trip to England; the books he acquired form the Knox Manual Labor College Collection. Knox opened to students in 1843 and was one of the earliest colleges to admit Black people and women.[5] Like Gale, many of the founders of Knox College and residents of Galesburg were abolitionists and actively supported the Underground Railroad.[6]

Knox has been known by its present name since 1857.[7][8] The name came about as a compromise among its founders. Though founded by a colony of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, the county where the college stands was already named Knox County, after Henry Knox, the first United States Secretary of War. Arguments have also been made that the college was named for Calvinist leader John Knox. It is not certain for which Knox it was named (if not both). George Candee Gale, a great-great-grandson of two of the founders, explains that

Contrary to general belief, Knox was not named for either General Knox or the Scottish Presbyterian Knox, according to my father.... Some wanted the college named for one Knox, some for the other; so they compromised on KNOX. Certainly most of them were pious enough to want the churchman and fighters enough to want the soldier as well.[9]

Jonathan Blanchard's presidency led the school out of debt, but ignited a controversy about whether the school was loyal to the Congregational church or the Presbyterians. Gale and Blanchard were forced out of the school as a result.[10] Knox was the site of the fifth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. The Old Main building is the only extant site of the debates. Two years after the debates, during his presidential campaign, Lincoln was awarded Knox College's first honorary doctorate—a Doctor of Laws degree, announced at the commencement exercises of 5 July 1860.[11]

In 1841, a Female Seminary was built. The building burned down in 1843, but the college continued to provide classes for women, first in co-ed preparatory classes, then, by 1850, in the Female Collegiate Department. In 1857, a new 5-story Female Seminary building was constructed which accommodated up to ninety women. In 1867, the Knox College president William Curtis assaulted the Principal of the Female Seminary, Ada Howard. Curtis resigned after students protested and conducted a sit-down strike. In 1872, women were awarded college degrees for the first time at the college. As more women began to attend, the building was expanded in 1885. The addition was named Whiting Hall in recognition of the Principal of the Female Seminary Mrs. M. H. Whiting. In 1891, the college became fully co-ed. In 1892, the building was expanded again, and the entire building became Whiting Hall. It remained the sole women's dormitory until after WWII.[12]



Knox employs a 3–3 academic calendar rather than a traditional semester-based approach. In each of the three 10-week terms, students take three courses. Faculty members teach two courses each term, giving them more time for one-on-one mentoring.[13]

All courses of study at Knox contain common elements, including an educational plan that students design.[14]

With the implementation of Renewed Knox, the 2003 curriculum overhaul, the school expanded its academic offerings to meet the needs of a 21st-century liberal arts education. In 2003, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the school $1 million to create a new major in neuroscience; in 2005, the college signed agreements with The George Washington University to create an early admission program into the university's medical school,[15] and with the University of Rochester to create a direct admissions program into the university's Simon School of Business's MBA program;[16] in 2007 the Peace Corps launched a new program at Knox, establishing the Peace Corps Preparatory Program, the first of its kind in the country;[17] Chinese language instruction, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, and Film Studies were all added;[18] and new abroad studies programs have been created: the Japan Term,[19] and Knox in New York.[20]

Knox is also known for its Green Oaks term, an interdisciplinary program at the 700-acre (2.8 km2; 1.1 sq mi) Green Oaks Biological Field Station.[21] The Green Field Station began in 1955 under the guidance of zoologists Paul Shepard and George Ward.[22]

The most popular majors at Knox, based on 2021 graduates, were:[23]

  • Business Administration and Management (28)
  • Psychology (28)
  • Creative Writing (23)
  • Biology (21)
  • Computer Science (17)

Lincoln Studies Center


Rodney Davis and Douglas L. Wilson established the Lincoln Studies Center in 1998. The center deals with issues relating to Lincoln's life and legacy by fostering new research, publishing monographs, hosting annual lectures and occasional symposia. Students are often employed as assistants in the various projects at the center. In August 2009, the National Endowment for the Humanities "We the People" initiative awarded Knox $850,000, "a grant that will provide the base of a permanent endowment for the Center."[24]



According to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, Knox is considered a more selective institution, with a lower rate of transfer-in students.[25] In the fall of 2018, 2,738 students applied, 2,500 students were admitted, and 345 chose to enroll.[26] Of the class of 2017, 34% of students were in the top tenth of their class and 66% in the top quarter. The ACT composite Mid-50% range was 24–30 and the SAT mid-50% Range 1190–1380.[27]

Student body


1,258 students were enrolled at Knox in September 2019. They came from 45 states and territories and 49 countries. Forty percent of U.S. students are of color and 19% are international students. Women make up 57% of the student body, men 43%.[27]



The comprehensive cost (tuition, room, board and fees) of an academic year at Knox was $60,144 in 2019–2020.[28] According to the U.S. Department of Education, the median federal debt of Knox College graduates who received student loans was $27,000. In addition, only 63% of students who attended Knox earned, on average, more than those with only a high school diploma.[29]

Student life


Greek organizations


Knox College is home to nine Greek-letter organizations, the oldest of which has been on campus since 1855. Providing a network of alumni to enhance job and life connections, fraternity (men's) and sorority (women's) chapters provide Knox students with living, organizational and learning opportunities. Through their respective inter-Greek governance organizations, chapters conduct a formal recruitment process during each winter term to ensure first-year students have a chance to adjust to college life and classes before joining. Most offer residential housing for members. Some chapters formerly present have closed; of these, alumni members are often still active with the college's alumni association, and recolonization of dormant chapters remains an opportunity for potential new founders.



These organizations are governed by Knox's Panhellenic Council.



These organizations are governed by Knox's Interfraternity Council .



Pumphandle is an annual tradition dating back to 1885 during which new members of the community are welcomed to Knox. On the afternoon before the start of the academic year, all members of the Knox community gather on the south lawn outside Old Main. The president of the college "leads the welcoming line, shaking each person's hand in turn. Everyone shakes the hands of those who have gone before, and the line grows, snaking around the campus."[30]

Flunk Day is an annual spring carnival that allows students, staff, and faculty to mingle and have fun. Classes are canceled for the day as the student body turns its attention to a joke issue of the student newspaper, live music, inflatable bounce rooms, petting zoos, a mud pit, a paint fight, and a seniors vs faculty softball game. The date of Flunk Day changes every year and is a secret until the entire student body is awakened at around 5am on the day.[30] Flunk Day is of particular significance since Knox College does not close for reasons other than winter break and spring break. Flunk Day is a time that students, staff, and faculty can all come together.

Student media

  • The Knox Student — a weekly student newspaper
  • Catch — a prize-winning literary magazine
  • Cellar Door — Knox College's workshop magazine
  • The Common Room — online journal of literary criticism
  • Quiver — a literary magazine of genre fiction
  • X — a visual arts journal

The Knox Student has won numerous awards as one of the best college newspapers in the state of the Illinois, including numerous first-place category awards and general excellence awards from the Illinois College Press Association.[31]

Knox's radio station is WVKC. It is on the fourth floor of George Davis Hall, a former science building that now houses the social science and language departments. Its frequency in Galesburg is 90.7. The Princeton Review ranked it #7 in the nation for "great college radio station" in its 2011 Best 368 Colleges.[32]


A Knox baseball player at bat in a 1908 game versus DePaul University

The Knox College mascot is the Prairie Fire, a name it adopted in 1993 due to sensitivity about its previous nickname, the Old Siwash. The word Siwash is a corruption of the French term "sauvage." This was a derogatory term used by European traders to refer to the indigenous people, with the French explorers experiencing Native American warfare tactics as barbaric and savage.[33] The term Old Siwash was popularized by George Helgesen Fitch[34] (Knox Class of 1897) in his Saturday Evening Post articles and a book At Good Old Siwash, and was adopted as the school's nickname. The term was widely used to denote small midwestern liberal arts colleges because of the popularity of Fitch's writings. In 1992 a college publication urged the school to reconsider the name given its additional previously unknown pejorative implications.[35] The Prairie Fire refers to the annual spring burning of the prairie lands at Green Oaks. First conducted in the 1950s by Knox professor Paul Shepard, the burn protects prairie grasses from intrusions of woodland scrub and competition with "exotic" species. These invasive species have been introduced to Illinois from other regions or countries to the detriment of organisms that have evolved over millions of years in delicate balance with the environment and each other.[36]

Knox is a member of the Midwest Conference of the NCAA at the Division III level. The school offers 21 men's and women's varsity sports, as well as 11 club sports, including water polo, fencing, and ultimate frisbee. 21st century athletic highlights would certainly include a string of conference championships for the men's and women's soccer teams from 2014 through 2021 and All-American baseball player Drake Sykes' outstanding 2016 season. In addition, two-time All-American wrestler Jaran Rutledge placed in the NCAA Division III National Tournament in 2007 (3rd) and 2008 (8th), high-jumper Austin Rauch finished sixth at the 2019 NCAA Division III Indoor track national championships, and track stars Tyrell Pierce and Derrick Jackson were NCAA Division III All-American runners multiple times in the early 2020s. Most recently, the conference champion women's basketball team competed in the national tournament in 2023.

Knox College football holds a 1-1 lifetime record against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football team, defeating them by a score of 12-5 in 1902.

Knox College and Monmouth College have the sixth-longest college football rivalry in the United States. The Bronze Turkey trophy, awarded annually to the victor of their game, was created in 1928 and is the brainchild of Knox football alumnus Bill Collins.[37] ESPN named the Bronze Turkey the fifth "most bizarre college football rivalry trophy".[38] Monmouth has dominated the rivalry in recent years, with Knox last winning the game in 1998.



Galesburg Transit provides Knox College students and faculty with free public transit within Galesburg.[39]


Seymour Library

Knox College has 45 academic and residential buildings on its 82-acre (330,000 m2) campus.[27] It has electron microscopes, a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a 17-inch (0.43 m) Corrected Dall-Kirkham reflector telescope manufactured by Planewave Instruments, a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer, access to the Inter University Consortium for Political & Social Research, the Strong Collection of 18th- and 19th-century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions from Hemingway and his "Lost Generation" contemporaries, and a 700-acre (2.8 km2) natural prairie reserve, the Green Oaks Field Station.[40] In 2018, a phased plan to renovate the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC) was announced with classes being taught in the renovated space beginning with the winter term of 2020, with additional phases of renovations to follow.[41] In 2006, the new E. & L. Andrew Fitness Center was dedicated. The 13,000-square-foot (1,200 m2), $2.4-million facility features state-of-the-art equipment, and is significantly larger than the former fitness center, Memorial Gymnasium.[42]

The centerpiece of campus is Old Main, "the oldest building on its campus, and the best preserved site of one of the 1858 senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas", a National Historic Landmark and part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1928, the Seymour Library was ranked third "Best Library" in the nation by the Princeton Review in 2001. Inside its leaded glass windows and oak-paneled reading rooms, the library houses 350,000 books and more than 14,000 periodicals.[27] Its special collections include the Finley Collection of Midwest History, the Strong Collection of 18th- and 19th-century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions of Faulkner, Hemingway and his "Lost Generation" contemporaries, and an original Diderot Encyclopédie.[43]

In 2002, a major curriculum revision called "Renewed Knox" was launched. With this revision came the creation of six new academic centers: The Center for Research and Advanced Studies, The Center for Global Studies, The Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development, The Center for Community Service, The Center for Teaching and Learning, and The Center for Intercultural Life.[44]

Students established the Knox College Community Garden in 2007 as an independent study project.[45] It continues to be tended by student volunteers, and produces a variety of annual and perennial vegetables and flowers.[46]

U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard


According to the U.S. Department of Education, 18% of students who started college at Knox College later transferred to another school.[47] This compares to the national average of over 30% of students transferring colleges.[48] 16% of the entering class did not return after their first year.[47] This compares to a national average of 30% of college students who do not return after their first year.[49] African Americans make up 13.4% of the U.S. population in general, about 8% of surrounding area,[50] and they are 8% of the Knox College student body.[47] Knox College graduates typically earn between $18,300 and $33,100, less than the average starting salary paid to college graduates, about $50,000,[47] although there is great variation in both of these figures based on chosen majors and career paths. Knox alumni go into fields ranging from literature to neurosurgery.[51] Furthermore, published earning data is skewed by the fact that a significant number of Knox students do not seek full time employment immediately after graduating from Knox, instead going on to pursue graduate degree programs, including PhDs, medical school, and law school,[52] during which time work is delayed or only part time.



Knox College has over 16,000 living alumni. The alumni giving rate was 24.5% in the 2019-20 giving year, with nearly 7,000 individuals contributing to the college.[53]

Notable alumni



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40°56′35″N 90°22′16″W / 40.942953°N 90.370982°W / 40.942953; -90.370982