The History of a Lutheran College: Northwestern University, Watertown WI Northwestern University can trace its beginnings to 1863, to a decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Here they determined to both raise money and erect a building for the new school. After much discussion, they chose the city of Watertown as a suitable spot. This would be the spot for one building - a building that would be paid for with funds raised both in Europe and at home. The hope was that this building would be able to accommodate both a seminary for pastors and a college. Accordingly, in 1864 a plot of about six acres was purchased from a Mr. Richards for about 600 dollars, and construction started on the first official building of Northwestern College. Despite the strain caused by the Civil War, construction was completed on October 14 of the following year. When it opened the college had three teachers: Pres. Martin, Dr. E. Moldehnke, and Johann Kaltenbrunn; as well as eight students: Pastor E. Pankow, August Gamm (now a railroad operator in Milwaukee), a Mr. Goldammer, the later teacher P. Denninger (who died in Watertown), and John Gamm (later lost from our records). There were also three Anglo-Americans: George Small, George Moreland, and Henry Enos. In the course of that first year an additional 15-16 students later enrolled, almost all of whom were of English or Irish descent. The goal of the institution was threefold. First, to give young Christians a solid education that would equip them to study theology and become capable ministers for our church body. Second, those who didn’t wish to enter the ministry would still receive a quality education founded on Christ and his Word. Third, even for those students who could only attend classes in short spurts, the aim was to give them the necessary instruction for practical life. With these goals in mind, the school was divided into three departments: a college proper, a preparatory school, and an academy. The idea was that students of the prep school and the academy could in most cases be instructed at the same time. That our synod placed such an all-encompassing goal for the institution at the very beginning reflects that she took Luther’s advice seriously. For that man of God time and again stressed the importance of starting and maintaining schools of higher learning: not only to provide the church with competent ministers, but also to bring up Christian laymen for a life of useful citizenship. He expressed himself accordingly in his Address to the Christian Nobility: “For the schools should be instructing gifted men in the Scriptures, so that they may become bishops and pastors and take their stand against the heretics, the Devil, and all the world. However, do we see this happening? I have great fear that the schools might become gates to Hell, if they don’t eagerly embrace the Scriptures and teach their students to do the same.” He also speaks in his sermons about encouraging our youth toward receiving a higher education: “You would have to be a crude and ungrateful blockhead, indeed, a pig among men, if you saw that your son was gifted - he could help an emperor maintain his kingdom and crown, he could help a prince rule his land, give counsel to cities and states, or even help someone
defend his life, family, goods, and honor - but you were too timid to invest in his education and enable him to do these things.” “What if you had a child who had the gifts for teaching, and you could direct him towards it - and yet you didn’t do it? Instead, you forgot about it and were totally unconcerned with peace, justice, good government, etc. By doing that you would visit just as much harm against worldly authority as the Turks do - indeed, as much as the Devil himself.” “It should also be mentioned here how many educated people are needed for medicine and the other sciences. A man could preach for half a year and write a giant book on just these two needs alone.” At the same time, Dr. Luther strongly cautioned against sending children to schools where the Word of God is not taught. Therefore our synod’s position on higher education has been the same since the beginning - and by God’s grace we have maintained that position up to the present day. The beginnings of Northwestern College were admittedly humble, not to mention somewhat unique. Due to the makeup of our country, as a school it was predominantly English. Not only was German treated as a foreign language in conversation, but in the classroom it was almost non-existent. It is not surprising then that the vast majority of the students were either of English or Irish descent. Obviously the school would not be able to flourish under such conditions. It was only later - when Dr. Meumann was called - that German began to be used more, at least in the classroom. In addition, our young school had to continuously struggle with financial needs. Attempts were made to increase the cash flow through tutoring, but this only helped so much. Yet in spite of these difficulties, the school was able to build a two-story dormitory for the students. (Unfortunately, it burned down on December 31, 1874.) Then, in the spring of 1869 an outbreak of smallpox hit Watertown, and the school was forced to close until that fall. Around this time discussions began with the Missouri Synod to cooperate more closely with our respective worker-training systems. As a result, our synod suspended its seminary operations and sent our pastoral students to St. Louis for theological training. In return, LCMS sent a new professor (Professor Stellhorn) and a number of new students to Watertown. It was also at this time that our current president, A. F. Ernst, was first called as inspector. In addition, he was tasked with implementing a plan to reorganize the college. This was to help realize two new governing principles that the synod had presented and adopted for the school. First, the German language must be given equal footing with English. In line with this was the second: the framework of the school should now be reorganized according to the German gymnasium model. Some differences would obviously have to be allowed - this was after all an Anglo-majority land. However, the gymnasium model had acquitted itself well as an educational system for nearly 600 years and was therefore appropriated for our school. The new school year opened with a greater number of students. Lewis O. Thompson became the new president, since President Martin had resigned. Pres. Thompson was a Norwegian with an English education and a thoroughly Anglicized outlook. However, in all other respects he was a virtuous, responsible man. Along with him the school boasted two other teachers: Dr. Meumann and Professor Kaltenbrunn. Two more teachers were now added to their number - Professor Stellhorn from the Missouri synod and Professor Ernst, the new
inspector. It was now that the school truly began to bloom. Soon the German students were in the majority, and the excitement was palpable. However, President Thompson decided he was not a good fit for the school and resigned after only one year. After a brief interim Professor Ernst was then chosen as president. A. W. Easterday was also called to teach mathematics, a position that Thompson's departure had left vacant. Professor Easterday had already been an assistant teacher for some time, so the choice was natural. In addition, a teacher specializing in English was soon called. By 1871 our school had reached an enrollment of 132 students: 58 in the gymnasium (the majority of whom came from the Missouri Synod) and 74 in the academy. Then in 1872 the first class officially graduated from Northwestern College. The first graduate class consisted of four students - and only E. Pankow (who enrolled in 1865) had spent his entire time at the school. It was only partway through their education that the three other graduates - J. Bading, F. Pieper, and O. Hoyer - had enrolled. However, at this point it became apparent that the joint educational venture between LCMS and WELS was simply not viable - at least from our synod’s standpoint. Therefore, both sides agreed to terminate the program. In 1872 Professor Stellhorn and most of the students from the Missouri Synod left and went to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dr. Notz was then called in his place. In spite of these departures, the school continued to grow. In 1872 the enrollment was 135 students. In 1873 - 154 students, 1874 - 172 students. By 1875 the enrollment had reached 180 students, with 93 in the gymnasium and 123 in the academy. It should be noted that at this time there was still a large number of students from the Missouri synod enrolled in the gymnasium. Around this time a movement began with the goal of erecting a general seminary for the entire synodical conference. Our synod reacted to this by recognizing the necessity of starting our own seminary. This decision was not well received by Missouri at the time. Consequently, the number of students from the Missouri synod who attended our school continued to drop. In addition, the Missouri Synod’s Wisconsin district decided to start their own college - Concordia College in Milwaukee. Also, our school lost another professor, this time due to insufficient funds from the synod. In light of all of this, the enrollment started to drop: in 1878 - 184 students, 1879 - 174, 1880 - 154. There was then a brief period when the numbers went back up: 1881 - 160, 1882 - 176. However, in 1882 the board of control decided that girls would no longer be eligible for admission1, and for the next three years the enrollment at Northwestern sank to its lowest point - 166, 131, 124. Yet, from 1885 onward the enrollment slowly began to rise: 130, 144, 146, 163, 175, 185, 178, 182. It was then decided that the department responsible for training teachers would be moved to New Ulm, and enrollment took another downturn: 168, 163, 160. When the science teacher then resigned, the downturn continued: 136, 134, 151, 141. However, in 1902 Professor Ernst took over as inspector, and this marked the beginning of another period of growth: 1902 - 143, 1903 - 155, 1904 - 161. Then in 1905, when Inspector Eickmann was installed, the number jumped to 206. But the greatest jump came in 1906, when by God’s guidance the enrollment at Northwestern reached 250 students. It should be noted that from the very beginning our school had had to deal with a continual hindrance: so many of 1
This decision was later reversed by the synod.
our students didn’t come from our own synod. But thanks be to God! In the past few years this situation has been reversed, and now almost all of Northwestern’s students come from a WELS background. When we now turn our attention to the campus, it should be said that God has given us much cause to rejoice. Despite the fact that from the very beginning our college has had to deal with almost constant financial difficulties, the campus has continually improved. Already in 1869 a large tract of land - consisting of about 30 acres and lying adjacent to the original plot - had been purchased and completely paid for. Although six of these acres were later sold, the school was still in possession of the other 28. This was more than enough room for later building expansions. It also provided the student body with plenty of recreational space. The president's house was built in 1872 but needed to be enlarged in 1896 due to a fire. It was a wooden structure and had caught fire on New Year’s Eve 1873. To expand the school’s living quarters, a new three-story brick building was constructed. Lying in the spot where the old inspector’s dwelling was, it had room for perhaps 60 students. A year later the students erected a Turner Hall. They did this from their own means, receiving assistance only from their friends. This building has been a great blessing for their physical well-being, especially in winter! With the growth of the student body the kitchen had become far too small, and the eating space far too cramped. So in 1888 a new cafeteria was built, which also contained a small infirmary. This was a major advancement, and added much to the comfort of the students. However, on July 30, 1894, the school received a serious setback. The original main building was struck by lightning and almost completely burned down. It just so happened that at the same time, our synod’s new seminary had just been built and debts had been incurred. Consequently the financial situation was extremely grim. However - as he so often does - our gracious God stepped in and gave our little church body the courage to construct a new building in place of the old one. The new building was 50 percent larger and dedicated completely to educational purposes - and paid for completely through the offerings of our synod’s loving congregations. With this new construction our college now looked the part. Although the buildings were small, the campus now included a teaching hall, a dormitory (with room for perhaps 100 students), and a two-story cafeteria. A separate building had also been constructed for the inspector’s living quarters; however, this was deemed somewhat unpractical since the inspector then lived separately from his pupils. In 1902 two more houses were built for the professors. This meant that, apart from the inspector’s house, our campus now included four houses for our teachers. However, since in the last few years the number of students has happily continued to increase, our synod determined in 1904 to greatly enlarge the cafeteria, so that it had room for 200 students. The kitchen would also be correspondingly enlarged. Construction then began on this building, which contains the inspector’s living quarters and connects with the old dormitory. It has room for over 200 students. This new building was constructed with practical considerations in mind. It allows for sufficient supervision of the students, yet at the same time offers enough room and comfort for the students to study unperturbed. From every standpoint it was constructed with the well-being of the students in mind.
For the first time since it opened its doors, our college is now in command of the necessary space and facilities. This is a great blessing. Its true impact can only be measured by those men who have been directly answerable for the physical and spiritual well-being of the students. They know firsthand the kind of worries, cares, and needs the school has had to go through and can really appreciate the current state of our campus. The educational materials are also sufficient. Things have improved little by little - and that in spite of the fact that the synod and board of control were unable to give much assistance. Sometimes even the necessary funds were lacking. The library now contains 7,000 volumes, most of them newly minted and of considerable value - and this in spite of the loss suffered by a fire in 1894. All of the most important reference books are present, to the great aid of the teachers. There is adequate scientific apparati for the instruction of physics and chemistry. The map collection is extensive, and there is also present a number of powerful visual aids for learning in geography and history. Professor Ott deserves special praise for many of these things, especially for the establishment and administration of the library. Our faculty now includes ten reputable professors: President A.F. Ernst, Dr. F.W.A. Notz, Dr. J. Henry Ott, D.A. Otto Hoyer, Albert Kuhn, Karl Bolle, Dr. Arthur Hoermann, Hermann A. Franck, Inspector Martin Eickmann, and Wilhelm F. Notz. Sadly, Professor Hoyer has been ill since January of 1905 and has been unable to teach. In his place Edmund R. Bliefernicht has been temporarily called from our seminary in Wauwatosa and has now worked with us since January of 1905. When we now look back on the 40-year history of our school, we must confess that we have gone through many difficult and trying times. Problems have arisen and mistakes have been made. However, more could still be said of the grace and mercy of our God, whose support we’ve experienced through many difficult times. To him be eternal praise and glory for all his goodness and faithfulness! We also have much to say about the love and generosity of our churches, who have never left us in the lurch, and the newly completed building reflects that commitment. And thanks be to God - our work has not been in vain. Two hundred and thirty-six students have graduated from Northwestern College, most of whom have gone on to notable positions of employment. However, that is far from all. Many have completed the six-year gymnasium course and have become either virtuous pastors, professors, and teachers, or mature Christian laymen. Finally, over 3,000 young people have either gone through the academy or at least spent some time at our school and received a solid educational foundation. Almost without exception all of them have fond and thankful memories of our college and have made their thanks known from time to time. However, thanks be to God for everything. May he always make us the more faithful and competent to know more and more the high calling which he had given to us. May he make us more capable to fulfill both this calling and the corresponding expectations that our churches have placed upon us. And we know he will continue to do all this in his grace.