As settlers migrated West in the 1830s, a group of Baptists who lived along the Missouri River envisioned a college at the edge of the American wilderness in Liberty. Many towns in Missouri wanted the college, but Clay County Baptists, joined by Mexican War hero Colonel Alexander Doniphan and Dr. William Jewell, a physician, legislator and Baptist layman who donated land for a college, persevered with grassroots fundraising.
The General Association (forerunner of the Missouri Baptist Convention), approved a proposal, and the Missouri legislature granted a charter to found a college in 1849. Named for its key founder, William Jewell College became one of the earliest private, four-year men’s colleges west of the Mississippi.
Challenging times in Missouri’s frontier days forced a number of colleges to close, but strong leadership enabled Jewell to forge ahead, honoring the founders who believed in the power of education to change the world. As students entered the Civil War, classes were suspended and Federal troops occupied campus, using Jewell Hall as a lookout point, an infirmary and a stable.
When Jewell reopened, enrollment began to steadily climb. World War I and the burning of a nearby women’s college brought female students to Jewell, where they were admitted on the same terms as men beginning in 1920. The GI Bill created another influx of students post-World War II. In the decades that followed, Jewell strengthened its academic profile, adding numerous new programs. In 1982 the College invested in study abroad programs and developed partnerships with Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England to create the Oxbridge Honors Program. Jewell emerged as a national liberal arts college, garnering attention for rigorous curriculum and outstanding student outcomes.
The College’s spiritual heritage, including a longtime partnership with the Missouri Baptist Convention that has since dissolved, centers on inspiring spiritual growth, promoting Christian ideals and welcoming views from a diverse community of learners.
Jewell has been called “the campus of achievement” in recognition of students’ prestigious scholarships and fellowships, placement in the country’s finest graduate schools and contributions to their professions and communities beyond The Hill. Recognition is an outcome of Jewell’s investment in students, inspiring them to become lifelong learners, teaching them to think critically, challenging them to ask tough questions, encouraging them to pursue spiritual development, engaging them in the world and preparing them for lives of leading and serving.
Today, Jewell sits at the edge of both urban and rural landscapes. In one direction lie rolling hills and Midwestern countryside, reminiscent of the College’s rustic beginnings. From another vantage, the Kansas City skyline graces the horizon. Proximity to a thriving metropolis presents cultural offerings for students, while Jewell’s partnerships with Kansas City corporations, entrepreneurs and alumni yield internships, mentors, research programs, dynamic lecturers and career possibilities.
One direction has remained the preeminent focus for Jewell: forward. William Jewell College stays committed to its founding vision as an institution that develops leaders who shape a changing world.