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Knox College is a four-year coeducational private liberal arts college located in Galesburg, Illinoismarker.


Knox College was founded in 1837 by anti-slavery social reformers, led by George Washington Gale. One founder, the Rev. Samuel Wright, actively supported the Underground Railroad. The original name for the school was "Knox Manual Labor College," but it has been known by its present name since 1857.

The naming of the college is a curious story. Though founded by a colony of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, the county in which the college is located was already named Knox Countymarker, after Henry Knox, the US' first Secretary of War. Arguments have been made that the college was named for Calvinist leader John Knox, but it is not certain for which Knox it was named (if not both). George Candee Gale, a (great-)great-grandson of two of the founders, explains that "contrary to general belief, Knox was not named for either General Knox or the Scottish Presbyterian Knox, according to my father.... Some wanted the college named for one Knox, some for the other; so they compromised on KNOX. Certainly most of them were pious enough to want the churchman and fighters enough to want the soldier as well."

Knox is also proud of its past as the inspiration for the rambunctious and lively college immortalized in Knox alumnus George H. Fitch’s humorous stories about "Good Old Siwash," which were hugely popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Fitch, a Knox graduate of 1897, published his stories in the Saturday Evening Post, fondly depicting a college of high-spirited young men and women making the most out of the extracurricular, athletic and social aspects of a residential college. Knox students were delighted to find themselves parodied in stories that grew into several books and eventually a Hollywood movie (Those Were the Days, starring William Holden, filmed on the Knox campus in 1940). "Old Siwash" became a popular nickname for Knox College, and was for many years the name of the mascot as well. (It was changed to the "Prairie Fire" in 1993.)

Knox was the site of the fifth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. The Old Mainmarker building is the only site from the debates that still exists today. Two years after the debates, and during his presidential campaign, Lincoln received the first honorary doctorate ever conferred by Knox College—a Doctor of Laws degree, announced at the Commencement exercises of 5 July, 1860.



According to current U.S. News and World Report rankings, Knox is the 80th best liberal arts college in the United States. In 2008, Forbes Magazine ranked Knox the 16th best Liberal Arts college, and the 46th best college overall from among over 500 public and private colleges and universities in the United Statesmarker. Forbes' first ever rankings for academic institutions uses a ranking system based on evaluations, notable alumni, student debt, percentage of students graduating in four years, and the number of students or faculty receiving prestigious awards.The Princeton Review consistently cites Knox on its "Best of" lists, most recently in 2008 as one of the Best 368 Schools, and one of the Best Midwestern Colleges. Kiplinger has placed Knox 43rd on its list of the top 50 values in private Liberal Arts colleges, measuring academic quality and affordability. And in 2007 the Washington Monthly named Knox the 36th best Liberal Arts college, calling their list "a guide not just to what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country."

Academic Program

Knox employs a 3-3 academic calendar to provide depth and flexibility to academic pursuits. In each of the three 10-week terms students take only three courses, giving students time and energy for a deeper level of study than they might have with a heavier course load. Each course is the equivalent of a semester's worth of work. Faculty members teach only two courses each term, giving them more time for one-on-one mentoring. The long break between the fall and winter terms lets students engage in career and graduate school exploration, pursue an independent research project, or take advantage of an internship or one of the school's off-campus study opportunities.

No matter what course of study students decide to pursue, education at Knox contains three common elements: an educational plan that students design, a selection of courses that ensures a broad foundation in the liberal arts, and a chance for students to apply what they learn through internships, independent research and other "experiential learning" opportunities.

Knox College introduced the school's Honor Code in 1951. All students are held responsible for the integrity of their own work, and students are required to abide by the code. Because of this policy, tests are not proctored, and in many cases students may take their exams in any open, public place within the same building. Any cases of students caught disobeying the system are evaluated by their peers through the Honor Board, a committee consisting of three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and two faculty members.

With the implementation of Renewed Knox, the 2002 curriculum overhaul, the school has expanded its academic offerings to meet the needs of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. In 2003 the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the school a $1 million grant to create a new major in neuroscience; in 2005 it signed agreements with The George Washington Universitymarker to create an early admission program into the university's medical school, and with the University of Rochestermarker to create a direct admissions program into the university's Simon School of Business's MBA program; in 2007 the Peace Corps launched a new partnership with Knox establishing the Peace Corps Preparatory Program, the first of its kind in the country; Chinese language instruction, Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, and Film Studies were all added; and new abroad studies programs have been created: the Japan Term, and Knox in New York.

Knox also boasts many distinctive academic programs. The Honors Program is a year long, in-depth independent research program in which one in seven seniors participates. It culminates in a major thesis or creative portfolio that is presented to and defended before an honors committee that includes Knox faculty and a specialist from outside the College.

Also unique to the school in the Green Oaks term, an interdisciplinary program at the Green Oaks Biological Field Station, during which students and faculty spend an entire term conducting research and creative projects and participating in courses in biology, anthropology-sociology, and English, as well as workshops in outdoor skills, first aid, and photography.

Knox is also a leader in promoting top-notch undergraduate research, annually awarding students more than $200,000 in grants to support research and creative projects. Among the programs are the Ford Foundation Research Fellows Program, which funds the scientific, scholarly, and creative projects of 20 students each year, and the summer research program at Knox's Lincoln Studies Center. More than 10 percent of Knox students receive support for independent research and study from the Richter Memorial Foundation Program and the Pew Research Fellowships, which offers Knox students support for off-campus research in science and mathematics. In addition, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supports student research in ecology and environmental studies and the AAAS/Merck Grant funds interdisciplinary scientific research.

And almost 50 percent of Knox students take advantage of the many opportunities for off-campus learning, studying theatre in London, history in Barcelona, French immersion in Besançon, mathematics in Hungary, social development in Tanzania, language and culture in Japan, political science in Washington, D.C., and a host of other subjects in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the U.S.


Knox is more selective than many institutions. They receive at least six applications for every space in the entering class. Typically about 50 percent of the applicants come from the top ten percent of their high school classes, 75% from the top quarter. They have taken advantage of all their secondary schools and community colleges have to offer including honors, Advanced Placement.


Knox College has 42 academic and residential buildings on its campus. Knox boasts electron microscopes, a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a Celestron telescope, access to the Inter University Consortium for Political & Social Research, the Strong Collection of 18th and 19th century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions from Hemingway and his “Lost Generation” contemporaries, and a natural prairie reserve, the Green Oaks Field Station. In 2006 the new E. & L. Andrew Fitness Center was dedicated. The , $2.4-million facility features state-of-the-art equipment, and is significantly larger than the former fitness center, Memorial Gymnasium.

Built in 1928, the handsome Seymour Library is the soul of the campus and was ranked 3rd "Best Library" in the nation by the Princeton Review in 2001. Inside its leaded glass windows and oak paneled reading rooms, the library houses more than a quarter of a million books and subscribes to more than 700 periodicals. Its special collections include the Finley Collection of Midwest History, the Strong Collection of 18th- and 19th-century maps and photographs, the Hughes Collection of manuscripts and first editions from Hemingway and his “Lost Generation” contemporaries, and an original Diderot Encyclopédie.
Seymour Library in March
Famous professor and newspaperman Christopher Morley delivered a three-week-long series of lectures on "Literature as Companionship" at Knox in March and April 1938. In one of these lectures, entitled "Lonely Fun" he describes the Standish Alcove in the library as modeled after a "gentleman's library," and praised the opportunities the library offered for solitary leisure. In addition, Knox offers the Kresge Science & Math Library, which houses the scientific and technical collections of the college, and the Center for the Fine Arts Music Library (CFA), which has collections of compact discs, vinyl record albums, printed music scores, and a core reference collection.

Knox's radio station is WVKC. It is located on the fourth floor of George Davis Hall, a former science building that now houses social science and language departments. Its frequency in Galesburg is 90.7. It is ranked #9 in the nation for "great college radio station" by the Princeton Review in their 2008 Best 368 Colleges rankings.

Four public computer laboratories are accessible to students, with several more departmental labs available and a dedicated language laboratory. The largest, Founders Laboratory (a converted smoking lounge from many years ago), which is located in Seymour Hall (the student union), is open 24 hours a day throughout the school year. Scanning (including film-scanning and optical character recognition) is available freely to student users, and printing and copy services are available for a fee. In a move to become more environmentally friendly beginning fall of 2005 recycled-content paper is being phased in for use in all college printers, addressing the issues of paper waste.

In 2002 a major curriculum revision entitled "Renewed Knox" was launched. With this revision came the creation of six new academic centers: The Center for Research and Advanced Studies, The Center for Global Studies, The Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development, The Center for Community Service, The Center for Teaching and Learning, and The Center for Intercultural Life.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Knox is consistently cited for the value and quality of its education, whether by the Princeton Review, Forbes, or Kiplinger. Knox earned those rankings by offering an outstanding liberal arts education, a nationally recognized faculty, a 12:1 student-faculty ratio that encourages close interaction and personal attention, and a wealth of opportunities for independent research and off-campus study. And the school is committed to ensuring cost is not a barrier to that education. Over the past seven years, the annual increase in the comprehensive fee has ranged from 3.3 to 4.9%. A wide variety of merit-based scholarships and need-based financial aid packages are offered to help students meet their college expenses. As recently as 2004 the Princeton Review named Knox #1 for "Students Happy with Financial Aid" and #7 for "Best Academic Bang for Your Buck."

Campus traditions

Pumphandle is an annual tradition that occurs at the beginning of each new school year. Most of the entire campus population - including students, faculty, staff and visiting alumni - gather on the south lawn of Old Main. A line is formed beginning with the President of the College. Everyone else then moves down the line, shaking hands as they go by. In this way, everyone in the line shakes the hand of everyone else.

Flunk Day is an annual spring carnival that allows students, staff, and faculty to mingle and have fun. Planned by a number of senior students and a small number of administrators, the date of Flunk Day is kept secret from the campus. Much speculation occurs among the students as they try to predict when Flunk Day will occur. When Flunk Day occurs, the bell in Old Main rings and a cadre of seniors known as the “Friars” are gathered together (said Friars are normally inebriated). The Friars run across the campus, ringing bells, blowing whistles, and making noise in order to announce the arrival of Flunk Day. All of this occurs between 5:00 and 6:00 A.M. In years past, Friars were taken the evening before Flunk Day for a night of merriment and then they were returned to campus to wake everyone up.

Classes are canceled for the day as the student body turns its attention to a joke issue of the student newspaper, mud-pits, live music, inflatable bounce rooms, petting zoos and a senior-faculty softball game.Flunk Day is of particular significance due to the fact that Knox College does not close for reasons other than Christmas Break and Spring Break. This one day, Flunk Day, is the only time that students, staff, and faculty can all come together.



The current Knox College mascot is the Prairie Fire, a name it adopted in 1993 due to controversy surrounding the former mascot, the Old Siwash. The word Siwash is rooted in the language of the Chinook Indians of the Pacific Coast of Canadamarker. It was a derogatory term used by European traders to refer to the local people. The term Old Siwash was popularized by George Finch (Knox Class of 1897) in his book At Good Old Siwash, and was soon adopted as the school's mascot. However, in 1992 a college publication urged the school to reconsider the name given its pejorative and derogatory implications. The Prairie Fire refers to the annual spring burning of the prairie lands at Green Oaks. First conducted in the 1950s by Knox professor Paul Shepard, the burn protects prairie grasses from intrusions of woodland scrub and competition with "exotic" species that have been introduced to Illinois from other regions or countries—to the detriment of organisms that have evolved over millions of years in delicate balance with the environment and each other.

Knox is a member of the Midwest Conference of the NCAA at the Division III level. The school offers 21 men's and women's varsity sports, as well as club sports in such things as water polo, fencing, and ultimate frisbee.

Knox College is part of the sixth-longest college football rivalry in the United States with Monmouth College. The Bronze Turkey trophy, awarded annually to the victor of the football game, was created in 1928 and is the brainchild of Knox football alum Bill Collins. The Bronze Turkey was named the fifth "most bizarre college football rivalry trophy" by ESPN.

Recent Commencement Speakers

Since 2005, Knox has had an impressive list of commencement speakers:

  • Then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama, the commencement speaker for the class of '05.
  • Stephen Colbert was the speaker in 2006 and received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, which he attempted, in complete sincerity, to burn on his show. (Also receiving an honorary degree in 2006 was Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales).
  • In 2007 former President Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address, advising students: "Always be rooted in the unifying humility which Abraham Lincoln exhibited when he said we must proceed with malice toward none."
  • In 2008 former Secretary of State Madeline Albright delivered the 163rd commencement address. Referring to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate at Knox 150 years ago she declared, "like Stephen Douglas, we look for temporary solutions and search for an easy way out and we are very good at finding words to justify our failures — slavery is a special institution, women are the weaker sex, global warming is not really happening and torture is not torture if it is being done to somebody else."

Notable alumni

Notable honorary degrees



  • "Now will saying 'yes' get you in trouble at times? Will saying 'yes' lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying 'yes' begins things. Saying 'yes' is how things grow. Saying 'yes' leads to knowledge. 'Yes' is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say 'yes.'" Stephen Colbert to the 2006 graduating class.

  • "In South Africa, where Mandela and I started a biracial youth service program like AmeriCorps that works in the townships, the kids adopted as their motto the Xhosa term 'Ubuntu,' which means, roughly translated into English: 'I am because you are.' If we cannot meaningfully exist without one another, then by definition what we have in common is more important than our differences. I think all of you should think about that as you leave. I think nobody in this graduating class has a racist bone in their bodies. You don't have an elitist bone in your body either. I could tell that the way you clapped for the grounds staff that put the chairs up. That meant a lot to me. But you have gifts. And it is very important that we make the most of our gifts without falling too much in love with them. North of Mandela's home, in the central highlands of Africa, where we also do our AIDS work, there's a fascinating tradition of greeting. When people meet each other on a path, the first person will say, 'Hello. How are you?' But the answer is not, 'I'm fine.' The answer, translated into English is, 'I see you.' Think of that. Think of all the people in this world today who will not be seen. The reason I was so happy that you clapped for the grounds staff is that every place there's a commencement exercise in America, we'll all get up and leave, and somebody will have to come in and clean up after us. And they'll have to fold up the chairs and clean off the litter. Some places the sod will be torn up and it will have to be resodded. And enormous numbers of the people who do that work feel like they are never seen." Former President Bill Clinton to the 2007 graduating class.


  1. Forbes Rankings - Knox website
  2. Forbes Rankings
  3. Princeton Review Rankings - the Princeton Review website
  4. Princeton Review Rankings - the Princeton Review website
  5. Kiplinger Rankings - the Kiplinger website
  6. Washington Monthly Rankings - the Washington Monthly website
  7. Washington Monthly Rankings Intro - the Washington Monthly website
  8. Academic Calendar - the Knox College website
  9. Curriculum - the Knox College website
  10. Early Admissions - from Knox College website
  11. Business and Management - from Knox College website
  12. Peace Corps Program - from Knox College website
  13. Courses of Study - from Knox College website
  14. Japan Term - from Knox College website
  15. Art Special Programs - from Knox College website
  16. Honors Program - from Knox College website
  17. Green Oaks Term - from Knox College website
  18. Undergraduate Research - from Knox College website
  19. Off-Campus Study - from Knox College website
  20. Green Oaks - from The Wiki Fire
  21. Andrews Fitness Center - the Knox College website
  22. Diderot Encyclopédie - from The Wiki Fire
  23. Kresge Science-Mathematics Library - from The Wiki Fire
  24. Music Library - from The Wiki Fire
  25. Best College Radio Station - from The Princeton Review
  26. Founders Computer Lab - from The Wiki Fire
  27. Centers of Learning - from Knox College website
  28. Cost and Financial Aid - from Knox College website
  29. Flunk Day - The Wiki Fire
  30. Origins of Siwash
  31. Etymology of Siwash -
  32. North American Society for Sport History - Siwash - NASSH Proceedings
  33. Prairie Burn - via
  34. Bronze Turkey Trophy - via
  35. [1] - via
  36. Colbert Commencement - the Knox College Website
  37. Clinton Commencement - the Knox College website
  38. Albright Commencement - the Knox College website
  39. Knox College Honorary Degrees, via
  40. Stephen Colbert, Commencement Address to Knox College, June 3, 2006, via
  41. Bill Clinton, Commencement Address to Knox College, June 2, 2007, via


  • Knox College 2004-2005 Catalog
  • Knox College Student Handbook 2004-2005
  • Calkins, Earnest Elmo. (1937) They broke the prairie, University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06094-6
  • Muelder, Hermann R. (1959) Fighters for freedom, Columbia University Press. ISBN 1-58152-409-9

External links

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