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Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter

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Black and white photograph of Old Main, the first building at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1877.

Old Main, the first building at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1877.

Gustavus Adolphus College, the dream of Swedish immigrants, began as a humble secondary school in Red Wing with one student in 1862. Relocated to St. Peter in 1876, it has flourished as one of Minnesota's private liberal arts colleges.

In 1862, Swedish Lutheran immigrants donated twenty dollars to establish a church school in Goodhue County. The coeducational Minnesota elementarskola—Swedish for "secondary school"—opened in a Lutheran Church in Red Wing that fall. Reverend Eric Norelius served as the sole instructor of a single pupil.

The school moved to East Union in Carver County in 1863. It expanded in 1865 and became St. Ansgar's Academy. The churches within the Augustana Synod provided funding for the school, but resources fell short. In 1873, the Lutheran Minnesota Conference considered moving the school to Minneapolis in the hope of increasing church support. A financial panic that year caused the conference to move it to St. Peter instead.

The school reincorporated as the Gustavus Adolphus Literary and Theological Institute (later Gustavus Adolphus College), named for King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. Educating teachers and clergy remained the school's primary focus. Classes began October 16, 1876, in a new stone building (later "Old Main") with fifty-one students and two teachers. Eight male students received the first bachelor's degrees awarded by the school in 1890.

Rising enrollment and more course offerings prompted ongoing construction. By the 1920s the college had added dormitories, an auditorium, a central heating plant, a student union, and a gymnasium. The post-World War II housing crunch called for temporary living space for veterans and more residence halls. The first coed dorm, later called Norelius Hall, welcomed students in 1967.

The Alfred Nobel Hall of Science, completed in 1963, hosted the first annual Nobel Conference two years later. During the 1970s–1990s the college renovated several older buildings, expanded student housing, built the Schaefer Fine Arts Center, enlarged the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, and much more. More recent additions include the Curtis and Arlene Carlson International Center and Beck Academic Hall.

Extracurricular activities in the early years consisted of literary and forensic societies. In the 1920s, these groups became fraternities and sororities with social and service functions. The Greys and the Reds, secret societies once banned from campus, became fraternities with official recognition from the college. In the wake of a harsh hazing incident in 1988, the Board of Trustees voted to revoke the charters of all Greek societies. Most frats and sororities were reinstated in 1993, with stricter rules governing activities.

Sports teams at Gustavus gained popularity in the early 1900s. The Golden Gusties football team won their first official game in 1902 against Mankato Normal School. The college's first basketball team—a women's team—lost its first game to Mankato in 1903. Admission to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1920 prompted the construction of a football stadium and fieldhouse. Newer athletic facilities include the Lund Center for Physical Education and Health, the Swanson Tennis Center, and a new football stadium.

Gustavus has been closely identified with the Lutheran Church throughout its history. To appeal to a more diverse student population in the 1960s, the church connection became just one part of the school's mission. Student attendance at daily chapel services, formerly held in the old auditorium, became optional when Christ Chapel opened in 1962. Religion classes, reduced in number, reflected a variety of beliefs.

International students started coming to Gustavus in the 1940s. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s highlighted the need to further diversify the student body. School officials worked to recruit black students in southern states. The Black Student Organization, started in the late 1960s, provided a welcoming community for African American students and encouraged others to enroll. A Diversity Center opened on campus in 1999. ACT and SAT scores became optional for admission in 2006 partly to encourage diversity.

During spring break in March 1998, an F3 tornado devastated the St. Peter community. The storm downed more than 2,000 trees on campus and caused serious damage to many buildings. The college rebounded quickly, resuming classes within three weeks.

Gustavus celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2012. A visit from King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Sylvia of Sweden kicked off the event in October 2011.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Anniversary Souvenir, 1862–1907. St. Peter, MN: Gustavus Adolphus College, [1907?].

Barth, Frank R. A Place Called Gustavus: The Protest Years: Selected Anecdotal Memoirs. Minneapolis: Primarius Promotion, 2006.

Collection of the Iota Beta Sorority, undated and 1941–1967
Gustavus Adolphus College and Lutheran Church Archives, St. Peter, MN
http://libguides.gustavus.edu/GACA018
Description: Invitations and programs for the Iota Beta sorority's events between the 1940s and 1960s, and an informal constitution of an organization listed as the I.B. Society of G.A.C., an early literary society on campus.

Gustavus Adolphus College.
https://gustavus.edu/

Gustavus Adolphus College and Lutheran Church Archives.
https://gustavus.edu/library/archives/college/

Gustavus Adolphus College Campus Map.
https://gustavus.edu/about/maps/gustavus_adolphus_map.pdf

Kenney, Dave. Gustavus Adolphus College: 150 Years of History. Stillwater, MN: Peg Projects, Inc., 2011.

Lund, Doniver A. Gustavus Adolphus College: A Centennial History, 1862–1962. St. Peter, MN: Gustavus Adolphus College Press, c. 1963.

Magney, Fredolph H. The First Student of Gustavus Adolphus College; From the Diaries of Jonas Magny, D.D. Duluth, MN: privately published, Arrowhead Printing Company, 1969.

Records of Nu Upsilon Gamma Fraternity, 1910–1981
Gustavus Adolphus College and Lutheran Church Archives, St. Peter, MN
http://libguides.gustavus.edu/GACA099
Description: Minutes, constitutions, programs, clippings, newsletters, member lists, and a wood plaque for the Nu Upsilon Gamma Fraternity, known as "The Greys."

Pamphlets Relating to Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, 1887–
Pamphlet Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Pamphlets and printed ephemera relating to the college's history, purpose, financing, campus, study programs, student life, and related topics.

Peterson, Conrad. A History of Eighty Years, 1862–1942. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1942.

Waldhauser, Steve. "Songs of Thy Triumph": A Short History of Gustavus Adolphus College.
https://gustavus.edu/about/campushistory.pdf

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Old Main, the first building at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1877.
Black and white photograph of Old Main, the first building at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1877.
Black and white photograph of Rev. Eric Norelius, founder of the school that would become Gustavus Adolphus College.
Black and white photograph of Rev. Eric Norelius, founder of the school that would become Gustavus Adolphus College.
Black and white photograph of Red Wing Gamla Sv. Lutheran Kyrka (Old Swedish Lutheran Church), birthplace of what would become Gustavus Adolphus College in 1862. [Undated image]
Black and white photograph of Red Wing Gamla Sv. Lutheran Kyrka (Old Swedish Lutheran Church), birthplace of what would become Gustavus Adolphus College in 1862. [Undated image]
Black and white photograph of St. Ansgar's Academy, predecessor of Gustavus Adolphus College, located in East Union, Carver County from 1863–1876.
Black and white photograph of St. Ansgar's Academy, predecessor of Gustavus Adolphus College, located in East Union, Carver County from 1863–1876.
 Cartoon showing the tug-of-war between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Peter for the location of the new Gustavus Adolphus College, from Manhem: Gustavus Adolphus Annual, 1904.
 Cartoon showing the tug-of-war between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Peter for the location of the new Gustavus Adolphus College, from Manhem: Gustavus Adolphus Annual, 1904.
Black and white photograph of the women's basketball team, 1904.
Black and white photograph of the women's basketball team, 1904.
Drawing ofGustavus Adolphus College buildings (Old Main and Auditorium), St. Peter, c. 1908.
Drawing ofGustavus Adolphus College buildings (Old Main and Auditorium), St. Peter, c. 1908.
Black and white photograph of seven charter members of a secret society known as "The Greys," 1910. The group became the Nu Upsilon Gamma fraternity in 1920, disbanded in the 1990s and reactivated in 2001.
Black and white photograph of seven charter members of a secret society known as "The Greys," 1910. The group became the Nu Upsilon Gamma fraternity in 1920, disbanded in the 1990s and reactivated in 2001.
Black and white photograph of members of Independent Blessings, the first chartered limited literary society on campus. The group became the Iota Beta sorority by 1922, which became in active in 1968. It was reactivated briefly from 1980 to 1988.
Black and white photograph of members of Independent Blessings, the first chartered limited literary society on campus. The group became the Iota Beta sorority by 1922, which became in active in 1968. It was reactivated briefly from 1980 to 1988.
Black and white photograph of a new gymnasium at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1922.
Black and white photograph of a new gymnasium at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1922.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus, 1940. Photograph donated by Bob Olson.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus, 1940. Photograph donated by Bob Olson.
Black and white photograph of the Gustavus Adolphus College campus, St. Peter, c. 1945.
Black and white photograph of the Gustavus Adolphus College campus, St. Peter, c. 1945.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1954. Photograph by Minneapolis Start Journal Tribune.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1954. Photograph by Minneapolis Start Journal Tribune.
Black and white photograph of 26 Nobel Laureates take part in the dedication of the Alfred Nobel hall of Science at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1963.
Black and white photograph of 26 Nobel Laureates take part in the dedication of the Alfred Nobel hall of Science at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, 1963.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus Adolphus College, 1947. Photograph by Bruce Sifford Studio, Minneapolis, MN.
Black and white aerial view of Gustavus Adolphus College, 1947. Photograph by Bruce Sifford Studio, Minneapolis, MN.
Color erial view of the College, 1972.
Color erial view of the College, 1972.
Black and white photograph of the black student chorus performing in Christ Chapel, [undated].
Black and white photograph of the black student chorus performing in Christ Chapel, [undated].
Black and white photograph of the bust of King Gustavus Adolphus, sporting a mortar board cap, [undated]. Photograph by Paul Markland.
Black and white photograph of the bust of King Gustavus Adolphus, sporting a mortar board cap, [undated]. Photograph by Paul Markland.
Color aerial view of Gustavus looking east, 1984–1990.
Color aerial view of Gustavus looking east, 1984–1990.
Color image of tornado damage in St. Peter, Minnesota, 1998. Image shows trees down and damage to a number of buildings.
Color image of tornado damage in St. Peter, Minnesota, 1998. Image shows trees down and damage to a number of buildings.
Color view toward Old Main following the 1998 tornado.
Color view toward Old Main following the 1998 tornado.

Turning Point

In 1876 the Lutheran Minnesota Conference votes to move St. Ansgar's Academy to St. Peter and rename it Gustavus Adolphus College.

Chronology

May 1862

Swedish Lutheran immigrants in Red Wing, Minnesota, donate twenty dollars to help set up a parochial school.

Fall 1863

The Minnesota Elementarskola opens in Red Wing under the auspices of the Augustana Synod with one student and Reverend Eric Norelius as the only instructor.

1865

Scandinavian soldiers serving in Company H of the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment purchase a five-acre plot in East Union, Carver County, for a larger school to be known as St. Ansgar's Academy.

1873

The Lutheran Minnesota Conference decides to move the school to Minneapolis and is reincorporated as Gustavus Adolphus Literary and Theological Institute, named for Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, a strong proponent of education.

1874

A delegation from St. Peter makes a bid to have the school moved to their town, which is accepted by the Lutheran Minnesota Conference.

October 16, 1876

Classes convene at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter in what would become known as "Old Main" with an enrollment of fifty-one students and two instructors.

1890

The first bachelor's degrees are awarded to eight men.

1913

Gustavus begins to offer majors and minors in its curriculum, and students are required to complete two majors and three minors.

1946

World War II veterans swell enrollment from 529 in the spring to 1,127 in the fall, creating an urgent need for additional housing.

1962

Gustavus celebrates its 100th anniversary with the dedication of Christ Chapel, and Sohre and North residence halls are completed.

1963

The Alfred Nobel Hall of Science is dedicated, with twenty-six Nobel laureates in attendance.

1965

Gustavus hosts its first Nobel Conference in January.

1983

Gustavus is awarded a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in April.

1998

In March, the Gustavus campus is devastated when a tornado roars through St. Peter, breaking windows in campus buildings, uprooting trees, breaking off the chapel spire, and destroying Johnson Hall. Damages total $50 million.

2012

Gustavus Adolphus College celebrates its 150th anniversary.