An important goal for Tabor pioneers George Gaston, Samuel Adams and Reverend John Todd was ensuring the community could provide a comprehensive Christian education to its children. One of the earliest projects undertaken by the village was constructing a schoolhouse in 1854 for elementary-age students, followed by the creation of Tabor Academy in 1857, which provided for secondary instruction. But the culmination of the founders’ dreams was establishing an institution of higher learning along the lines of Ohio’s Oberlin College, Todd’s alma mater. Regular town meetings provided the forum for the planning and management of the project with residents working tirelessly giving freely of their cash, labor, and material to ensure the birth of what would become the first successful college in southwestern Iowa. Cabinetmaker Samuel Adams gave $600, George Gaston donated land and $2,000 with a pledge for an additional $2,000, and Reverend Todd with a yearly salary of $800 pledged $1,000 to the school. Within three years the community raised $30,000, allowing the doors of Tabor College to be proudly opened on September 4, 1866: The new school welcomed all, regardless of gender or race.
Tabor College in 1912. From Left: Adams Hall (dedicated 1902), home of the music conservatory; Gaston Hall (dedicated 1887) which housed classrooms, a laboratory and natural history museum; and Griswold Gymnasium (dedicated 1912).
Tabor College Class of 1903, Jessie Field Shambaugh seated, second from right
The college offered four-year classical and scientific program tracks which led to award of a bachelor’s degree as well as a three-year preparatory program, departments for business, teaching, art, and a music conservatory. Men and women attended classes together which was a rarity for the era. The school also granted masters degrees and several doctorates of divinity to those who could demonstrate subject matter mastery. Tuition was kept low to ensure accessibility by all income groups and many attended part-time as “irregular students.” Over the years the school grew, allowing construction of new brick buildings, including Boarding Hall (1869), Gaston Hall (1887), and Adams Hall (1902) with a concurrent increase in the size of the student body—by the 1890s as many as three hundred part- and fulltime students were enrolled at any one time.
Candidates for admission had to be at least 14 years old, present “satisfactory testimonials of good moral character” and pass an entrance exam. The college was touted as a haven for those who wanted to “avoid evil influences” and a strict code of conduct was enforced. Accompanying the standard curriculum, students were required to enroll in Bible class each semester, attend the church of their choice on Sunday, and participate in group Bible study at least one night during week. Smoking, drinking, dancing, profanity, and games of chance were strictly forbidden.
Keeping the school financially solvent became increasingly difficult during the 1920s. With the yearly operating expenses of $24,000 no longer being met and with the goals of several endowment campaigns falling short, including an anticipated bequest from Andrew Carnegie which never materialized, the school reluctantly closed its doors in the spring of 1927. During Tabor College’s 61 years, 159 men and 201 women graduated with bachelors’ degrees. The average class size was six with the largest at 14, recorded in the years 1896, 1902 and 1910. Graduates included a U.S. Solicitor General, two U.S. Representatives, and Jessie Field Shambaugh, founder of 4-H.
Tabor College football team, 1923. Foreign students commonly attended Tabor College, most referred by Christian missions. Japanese born Jun Ninomiya is pictured standing, second from left
To learn more about the history of Tabor and Tabor College, Catharine Barbour Farquhar’s book is available for $7.50 from the Tabor Historical Society. Write to P.O. Box 584, Tabor, Iowa, 51653. Please include $2.00 for postage.