100 Years Later

Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 4:18 pm

One hundred years ago, in November 1913, the College’s president, John Main, visited New York. The Times ran an extensive interview under the headline, “The Big Work that is Done by a Small College,” which began:

"President Main of Grinnell in Iowa Explains Why Courses of Large Institutions Cannot Take the Place of Those of Smaller.”

The article gives a glimpse of our history, and what makes Grinnell the place it is now. 

The More Things Change…

Some aspects of Grinnell have certainly changed since the article was published.


  • “If the members of Senior Class of Grinnell College ever defied President John Hanson Thomas Main, he would spank them. …  Perhaps he would not spank the Senior Class, but he could if he desired to.” 
  • No one talks about presidential spankings now.

Residence halls: 

  • 100 years ago: “We are planning to have a commons soon and also to build a dormitory for men.  We have a dormitory now for women, accommodating 50.” 
  • Today: President Main oversaw the construction of what we now call North and South Campus, and the campus has transformed several times since then. The beautifully renovated women’s dormitory of Main’s time now houses academic offices.

Eating clubs:

  • “We have eating clubs.”
  • The eating clubs of yesteryear, which brought together students from several boarding houses, have been replaced with a single dining hall serving the entire campus.

Daily chapel:

  • “…the main thing [in daily chapel] is the discussion of some current problem—political, economic, whatever may be attracting the attention of the world at the moment.”
  • Current problems are now more likely to be discussed in town hall meetings, symposia, and classrooms.

Number of students:

  • “…we have between 600 and 700 students.”
  • Now we have approximately 1,600.


  • “We have compulsory gymnasium work for men and women for two years…”
  • We have only one course required of all students — First Year Tutorial. Our students still take advantage of the state-of-the-art Bear Center and campus fitness options.

Cost of an Education:

  • “No student … spends more than $500 a year for tuition, food, lodging, clothing, everything.”
  • Education costs considerably more.

The More They Stay the Same.

Some parts of the story could describe Grinnell today.

  • One hundred years ago, and today:
  • Grinnell was and is “a co-educational college.”
  • Grinnell College was and is “a small college — small, that is, in the number of its students, but large in ideas and potentialities.”
  • “…the traditions and ideals of such a college as Grinnell unify the students. Every student is a member of the college; inevitably he acquires a social consciousness.”
  • “We have no fraternities. … Grinnell cultivates among its students the fraternal spirit, which is a very different thing from the ‘frat’ spirit.”
  • “Famous people who are passing through the State make addresses to us—Senators, Governors, prominent men [and women] in various walks of life.”
  • Our “chief aim at Grinnell, [is] to make our students in the fullest sense … citizens of the world.”

The details may have changed, much about  Grinnell still is the same.