The Life and Times of J.B. Grinnell

July 28, 2013
J.B. Grinnell
What do you know about Josiah B. Grinnell?

You think he founded Grinnell — but was it the College or the town? 

And you’ve heard he was (or was not) the man to whom Horace B. Greeley said, “Go west, young man, go west.”

But did you know he:

  • Signed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the U.S.?
  • Survived two assassination attempts?
  • Was more progressive than President Abraham Lincoln?

These are some of the facts unearthed by the eight students in Kesho Scott’s senior sociology seminar on J.B. Grinnell.

The students shared their discoveries on the April 23 episode of Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa,” and summarized what they learned in an entertaining and informative theatre/video performance, “J.B. Grinnell: Man, Myths, Magnificence.”

After reading dozens of primary sources — including letters, legal documents and Grinnell’s 275-page autobiography — Alison Miller ’13 says, “I was surprised. He’s much more interesting — and more complicated — than I expected. And when you look at his work with the Underground Railroad, and his commitment to social progressivism, you can clearly see how he left his mark on the College.”

Daniel Kisslinger ’14 agrees. “J.B. Grinnell was a man who looked for opportunities," he says. “He had vision — whether in business, politics, education, or the town — and that vision is very apparent in who we are as a community today.”

Scott said her seminar reminds us that local history is American history, and that interdisciplinary methods can be powerful in understanding culture and employing a social justice agenda.


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