1876 : Calvin College Founded

August 4, 2022 all-day

 Calvin College Entrance

The Christian Reformed Church in North America founded the school on August 4, 1876, as part of Calvin College and Theological Seminary (with the seminary becoming Calvin Theological Seminary) to train church ministers. The college and seminary began with seven students, in a rented upper room on Spring Street, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The initial six-year curriculum included four years of literary studies and two years of theology. In 1892, the campus moved to the intersection of Madison Avenue and Franklin Street (Fifth Avenue) in Grand Rapids. In September 1894, the school expanded the curriculum for those who were not pre-theological students, effectually making the institution a preparatory school. In 1900, the curriculum further broadened, making it more attractive to students interested in teaching or preparing for professional courses at universities. In 1901, Calvin admitted the first women to the school.

In 1906, the literary department of the college became known as John Calvin Junior College and the college held its first commencement. The student newspaper Chimes was first published in 1907. Around 1910, the West Michigan cities of Muskegon and Kalamazoo fought to have Calvin relocate to their respective cities. Muskegon offered US$10,000 (approximately $260,000 in 2015 dollars) and a tract of land to attract the college. The city of Grand Rapids countered with its own $10,000 offer and the junior college chose to stay in Grand Rapids. In time, the two-year college became a four-year college, and the preparatory department was discontinued. In 1917, John Calvin Junior College moved to the Franklin Street Campus, which was the southeast edge of Grand Rapids at the time. Two years later the college appointed its first president, the Rev. J.J. Hiemenga. Then a year later, in 1920, the college officially transitioned into a four-year college following the liberal arts philosophy of the Free University in Amsterdam as laid out by Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper] The next year the college awarded its first bachelor’s degree. In 1924, with the opening of Grand Rapids Christian High School, the college offered its last year of preparatory education, turned its focus exclusively to higher education, and opened its first dormitory. In 1925, the college began a teacher training program and, in 1926, appointed its first female faculty member, Johanna Timmer, as Dean of Women. The college dedicated its library, the Hekman Library on March 8, 1928. The college later dedicated its seminary building at the Franklin Street Campus on October 29, 1930. Still under the leadership of Rev. Hiemenga the college faced significant trouble during the Great Depression as financial hardship beset the college.

Although the school grew slowly in these early years, by 1930 it had reached its pre-World War I size of 350-450 students. Like many colleges in the United States, the end of the war led to the fastest enrollment increase in Calvin’s history. By 1950 the enrollment had climbed to 1,270 and Calvin joined the M.I.A.A.. The post-war enrollment increase was not without its challenges, however. During this period, the college experienced severe space limitations at the land-locked Franklin Campus. As the college grappled with its inadequate campus, William Spoelhoef became president of Calvin.

In 1956, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church authorized the college to purchase the Knollcrest Farm from J.C. Miller for $400,000 (approximately $2.9 million in 2007 dollars). Located beyond the Grand Rapids city limits at the time, the Knollcrest farm increased Calvin’s campus from approximately one large city block to 390 acres (1.6 km2) with a 100 acres (0.40 km2) nature preserve. Many were reticent about the project and the college’s ability to finance it. Under the bold leadership of President Spoelhof, the college moved forward nevertheless. The Theological Seminary was first to move to the new campus since it did not need to be in close proximity to the rest of college. The seminary built a new academic building on the Knollcrest farm and began holding classes there in 1960. As space constraints became more noticeable on the Franklin campus, the college built its first academic building on the Knollcrest Campus and first held classes there in 1962. For the next 10 years, the college continued to operate at both the Knollcrest and Franklin campuses, until fully transitioning to the Knollcrest Campus in 1973. During the latter decades of the 20th century, Calvin grew to around 4,200 students. In 1991, the seminary and the college established separate boards of trustees.

At the turn of the millennium, Calvin began several new construction projects. Among these were a new communications and political science building, a conference center and hotel. In 2006, Calvin announced an expansion of the Fieldhouse which was completed in the spring of 2009.[6] Shortly after, in 2010, Calvin completed an extensive renovation and expansion of the Fine Arts Center, thereafter rededicated as the Covenant Fine Arts Center.

The curriculum has expanded to include professional training in a variety of fields, but the college maintains a strong commitment to a liberal arts curriculum, which the college views as a means to develop students’ understanding of God’s world and their place in it.

Source: Calvin College Wikipedia Entry.

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