In 1821, Missouri became the twenty-fourth state in the United States, and twenty years later the University of Missouri opened as the first state university west of the Mississippi River. In 1849, with the discovery of gold in California, the Missouri towns of St. Louis, Independence, Westport, and St. Joseph became points of departure for emigrants bound for California, making Missouri the “Gateway to the West.” (The town of Kansas, which later became Kansas City, was not incorporated until the following year.)
On February 27, 1849, the Missouri legislature granted a charter which created the first four-year men’s college west of the Mississippi. The college was begun with a significant financial contribution by Dr. William Jewell, a Columbia (MO) physician, legislator, and Baptist layman. Consequently, the new school named William Jewell College and located in Liberty (MO), at the edge of the American wilderness.
Rev. Robert James, a nearby Baptist minister, was one of the members of the first Board of Trustees. According to the WJC website, his sons, Frank and Jesse, eventually made good on their father’s financial pledge to the college when Rev. James left the area to follow church members to the California Gold Rush. (Robert James died in California in 1850 when Frank was seven years old and before Jesse turned three.)
Last week Dr. David Sallee, the current president William Jewell College, spoke at the first Founders Day chapel service, and it was a fine talk. He reminded the college community that “what we do now and must always do, is provide an experience that reminds us daily that our inspiration is grounded in the Christian faith of our beginning.” He also declared that the college “cannot allow its students to be intellectually lazy because of their religious beliefs.”
Dr. Sallee also emphasized that education “is supposed to open our minds, to make mirrors into windows (Sydney J. Harris), to help us see the possibilities, all influenced by one’s spirit. It is about integrating the intellectual and the spiritual to inform and guide our lives.”
After the chapel address, those in attendance sang “God of Truth and Joy,” a hymn written by Dr. J. Gordon Kingsley, president of the college from 1980-1993. The words of the first verse are:
God of truth and joy, / Teach us how to learn.
Grant us strength of mind and will, / Thy glory to affirm.
Let us servants be, / To lead Thy world aright.
Guide us through our onward years, / Thy will our inner light.
At the close of the service, I felt a sense of pride that 110 years after its founding, I graduated from William Jewell College. And I am happy to be living now in Liberty where I can have constant contact with WJC and its intellectual and spiritual vitality.
Picture of me with Dr. Sallee last fall after I received the 50-year medallion from William Jewell College.