A Brief History of Jewell
Dr. William Jewell, physician, legislator, and Baptist layman, offered $10,000 in land to start a college in 1843. The offer was declined as the organized effort of Baptists at that time was small. Jewell renewed the offer in 1848, and by that time Baptists were eager to begin a college. On February 27, 1849, the Missouri legislature granted a charter which created one of the first private, four-year men’s college west of the Mississippi.
Many towns in Missouri wanted the College, but residents of Clay County—led by Mexican War hero Alexander Doniphan—succeeded in bringing the college to Liberty at the edge of the American wilderness. Through Doniphan’s influence the College was named to honor its initial benefactor. Doniphan was not a Baptist.
In addition to Jewell and Doniphan, one of the founding members of the Board of Trustees was Rev. Robert James, a nearby Baptist minister, whose sons Frank and Jesse eventually made good on their father’s financial pledge to the College when Rev. James left the area to follow church members to the California Gold Rush.
Dr. Jewell was engaged to supervise the construction of the first College building, Jewell Hall, which remains the centerpiece of the campus.
Throughout the Civil War, most in Clay County sympathized with the South, as many residents had migrated from Virginia through Kentucky. The campus was twice occupied by Federal troops. With Union soldiers surveying the town from the high vantage point of Jewell Hall on the college hill, Liberty was Union by day. But under darkness of night, illegal trading occurred throughout the town to help the Southern cause.
From 1873 to 1892, the College’s financial fortunes improved with higher enrollment and expanded facilities. Jewell built the first, separate college gymnasium building west of the Mississippi in 1896. Baseball began here in 1883 and football in 1888. The first intercollegiate basketball game in the state of Missouri was played here in 1899 against the University of Kansas, coached by James Naismith the inventor of basketball. At that time, Jewell’s main athletic rivals were KU and the University of Missouri.
World War I and the burning of a local women’s college brought women students into the College. Women were admitted on the same terms as men in 1920. A naval flight preparatory school came to Jewell during World War II. Following the war, the GI bill created an influx of students. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Jewell continued to grow, creating new academic and overseas studies programs.
Today, the academic flagship program of the College is the Oxbridge Honors Program, where students take one-on-one tutorials with faculty tutors and spend their junior year at Cambridge or Oxford. This is the only program of its kind in the United States. It is made possible by a substantial gift from the Hall Family Foundation of Kansas City. Through the years four U.S. presidents have spoken to Jewell audiences—Harry Truman (1946, 1959, 1964), Lyndon Johnson (1961), Jimmy Carter (1986) and Bill Clinton (by phone at the 1993 Commencement of his god-daughter Sarah Staley).
The world-acclaimed tenor Luciano Pavarotti made his international recital debut on the Jewell campus in 1973 as part of what was then known as the college’s Fine Arts Program. Pavarotti and hundreds of the world’s leading performers, orchestras, dance and ballet companies have made the current Harriman-Jewell Series one of the premiere performing arts presenting organizations in the country. Begun in 1965, the Series is named for founder and Jewell graduate Richard Harriman.