Survival of the Methodist

Were it not for two train wrecks, some heated arguments and one darwinian methodist minister, NWU might never have existed.

Rev. Allen Bartley Were it not for two train wrecks, some heated arguments and one darwinian methodist minister, NWU might never have existed.

If an ambitious, mustachioed Methodist minister named Allen Bartley had had his way in December 1886, your life would have played out differently. Toss out that NWU sweatshirt. You’d instead be a proud graduate of Mallalieu U.

It was Bartley’s dream to bring Nebraska’s premier Methodist university to the banks of Dry Creek in Bartley—the infant southwest Nebraska town named after, you guessed it, an ambitious, mustachioed Methodist minister. Rev. Bartley had already established a Methodist university there and named it after Bishop Willard F. Mallalieu. Bartley’s vision for Mallalieu University was described in the June 30, 2011, edition of the Southwest Star, an addition to the Cambridge Clarion.

Bartley brought his ambitions on the train to Lincoln on December 15, 1886, where a group of ministers and laity were to determine the future of Methodist higher education in Nebraska.

There, he shook hands with his opposition. There were representatives from Nebraska Central College in Central City and Methodist Episcopal College of Nebraska in York. The city of Omaha sent representatives with the hope of attracting a consolidated school there.Rev. C. F. Creighton

While they all agreed that a Nebraska Methodist university’s survival hinged on consolidated support, they didn’t agree on where to place that support. They came to Lincoln as part of the Joint University Commission of the Annual Conference of Nebraska to settle things once and for all.

“The different interests and localities represented, the various opinions held and views advocated made the end sought one of extreme delicacy and difficulty,” wrote Rev. C. F. Creighton, who served as the commission’s secretary. (He’d also serve as Nebraska Wesleyan’s first chancellor.)

He wrote about the struggle in Darwinian terms in his frank preface to the commission’s minutes:

The multiplicity of schools and colleges has divided our strength, and the only relief in older States has been that which time has brought by the survival of a few stronger institutions and the final extinction of weaker ones. The ideal University is barely reached by those corporations richly endowed and of unlimited patronage, and if we would meet the reasonable demands of higher education, even to a limited degree, we must unify our interests and concentrate our efforts to that end. We trust that this great new West… will save us the expense and experience of fostering institutions to be killed off, and that those we have may be assimilated into one University that they will contribute to the strength of the head and share in its honor, usefulness, and prosperity. The founding of a university is an event of such magnitude that, should it prove worthy of the name, those engaged in these proceedings will have no reason to regret that a minute record has been preserved, and they may commend the plan of their action to those localities already too abundantly supplied with institutions of learning.

Before that founding could happen, heated arguments would extend through the following day and late into the second night.

Creighton’s minutes suggest those arguments did not begin smoothly. “Under this item,” Creighton wrote of the opening afternoon session, “the question arose as to the prerogatives of this commission and whether authority was vested in this body to found a university.”

Some wanted to wait for the tardy Bishop C. H. Fowler to arrive and settle the question of the commission’s authority. (Unbeknownst to them, Bishop Fowler would not be coming. His telegram arrived the next day: “Chicago, Ill. Dec. 16, 1886. Two days lost by two derailings. Baggage just in from wreck. Cannot reach you. Very sorry.”) The commission, in the plodding fashion of commissions, eventually granted itself the authority to proceed.

That afternoon and into the next day, it heard appeals to locate a consolidated Methodist university in York, Lincoln, Central City, Omaha and Bartley. Rev. Creighton delivered Lincoln’s presentation himself after 8:30 p.m. on December 16.

While his minutes relay precious little about the nature of his presentation arguing for a campus near Lincoln, they do suggest the Omaha proposition never truly had legs. “Efforts in that city had been delayed to a late day and if further time were allowed by deferring the location, it was urged that the offers of that city would be greatly augmented.” Judging by the initial vote, the commission was in no mood for delay. Omaha received no support. Nor did Central City.

Unnamed members maneuvered to strip Bartley and Mallalieu University’s other representatives of their power to vote for reasons Creighton’s minutes didn’t fully explain. The chair overruled this motion, allowing Bartley’s representatives to vote. That night’s first ballot went as follows.

This result effectively sealed the fate of Mallalieu University’s campus. Bartley, Neb., would not be a college town. But since neither Lincoln nor York received a majority, nothing was yet settled.

Bartley and his cohorts wouldn’t be king. But they would be kingmakers. If a single Bartley voter joined Creighton’s plurality, a new university would be built near Lincoln. But if they sided uniformly with York, Methodist Episcopal College of Nebraska would carry on there.

You know how this story ends.

On the second ballot taken late that night, three of Bartley’s four votes moved to the Lincoln column, giving Lincoln 14 votes and York nine.

With a majority in hand that night, the Lincoln camp seemed the sure winner. But the York cohort wasn’t quite finished. Rev. R. N. McKaig, president of the college in York, demanded that a third ballot be taken. He did this, however, not to spark dispute, but to eliminate it. On the third vote, the commission spoke with a single voice. Wrote Creighton, “Motion [to consolidate near Lincoln] carried unanymously [sic] by a rising vote.” In 10 short months, Old Main’s cornerstone would be laid just a short ride northeast of the city.

Creighton’s minutes from the following morning, December 17, 1886, read, “Rev. J. W. Shauk moved that the name of the university be ‘Nebraska Wesleyan University.’ Adopted unanymously. On motion, the secretary was requested to edit and publish the minutes of the Commission in pamphlet form.

“The Commission then adjourned sine die.”

See more photos and learn more about NWU’s history at nebrwesleyan.edu/125