A Brief History of Millikin University
Millikin University was the result of the combined efforts of private philanthropy, community support, and spiritual fervor prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century. On May 15, 1900 James Millikin, Macon County's wealthiest citizen, issued a challenge to the citizens of Decatur and the Synods of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to raise $100,000 each by January 1, 1901 to establish a new University in Decatur.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had already established Lincoln University in February 1865. In discussions with Mr. Millikin and Presbyterian Church, they established a cooperative arrangement between the new university and Lincoln University.
The James Millikin University is Created
On April 30, 1901 an amended charter for Lincoln University was drawn up, forming two colleges, Lincoln College and the Decatur College and Industrial School, under one university, The James Millikin University. Albert Reynolds Taylor, a graduate of Lincoln University in 1872 (and since 1882, the president of the State Normal School of Kansas at Emporia) was hired as president in June 1901. In the early years he served as president, dean, registrar, business manager, teaching chair in philosophy, pedagogy, and education, often teaching 11 hours a week for a yearly salary of $5,000. In June 1901 the three governing boards were formally installed for the new institution. A Board of Trustees of the University and a board of managers for each campus were established.
On September 19, 1901 President Albert Taylor outlined nine Schools for the new Decatur College and Industrial School; Engineering, Commerce and Finance, Fine Arts (including music, drawing, painting, design), Domestic Sciences and Arts, Horticulture and Landscaping, Economics and Sociology, Pedagogy, Library Training, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. That same month, the Board of Managers selected the Chicago firm of Patton & Miller as architects. President Taylor apparently made the decision to build of semi-vitrified rough-face brick with terra cotta ornamentation in the Elizabethan style.
After considering various sites on the west side of Decatur, the Board of Managers selected the area known as Oakland Park as the site of the Decatur College and Industrial School. Mr. Millikin had purchased this property in 1874. The Board of Managers authorized President Taylor to engage faculty members in November 1901.
Contracts for the construction of the Decatur College and Industrial School were let in February 1902 with hopes that the school could open in September 1902. Numerous delays, due to difficulties in procuring materials and unsatisfactory construction, caused the opening date of the school to be moved to September 15, 1903. On June 12, 1902, with walls up to the first floor, a cornerstone laying ceremony was held with Masonic rites.
Dedication of the School by President Roosevelt
On June 4, 1903 the dedication ceremony of the Decatur College and Industrial School was held. President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the dedicatory address.
Opening exercises and classes began on September 15, 1903. The west wing was the home of the Economics, Finance, and Engineering departments. This included machinery and woodworking classes where the Business Office is today. The drafting room was where the Tabor School offices were in 2000 (in 2005, home of the Department of Theatre and Dance). A chemistry lab was on the third floor. The entire building (east, west, and center) used to be called "L.A." In the center of the building, art classes were located on the upper floors, as was the School of Music. The office of Career Development in 2000 was the campus bookstore and the president's office was English professor Davida McCaslin's office. The library was housed in the center as well, staffed by Eugenia Allin, who served from 1903-1910, 1914-1947. The library had a spiral staircase to the lower level where books were received. The offices of Student Life and Academic Development were located in the former library space in 2000.
A small gymnasium was placed beneath Albert Taylor Theater. A basketball court was set up on the upper floor of Mueller Hall during the early years. Regulations of the University stated that ladies were not allowed to cross campus dressed in gym clothes.
The Assembly Hall or auditorium was housed in the center of the building. An east box was for Mr. and Mrs. Millikin, and the west box was for the president of the University. These boxes were removed in the 1952-53 renovation. The hall was renamed for President Albert Reynolds Taylor in 1939, and was the site of required daily chapel services and convocations until 1970.
The east wing was the home of the Domestic Economy Department, including the cooking section. Formal dinners were required as part of course work. The area occupied in 2000 by the Mathematics Department was a sewing room. The basement housed the ceramics workshop.
The school year was a quarter system until 1904-05, when semesters were adopted. In the early years, classes were held on Saturday and recessed on Monday. Saturday morning classes were held until 1952-53.
A preparatory school, named the Academy, was operated on campus from 1903 to 1920. The last Academy class entered in 1916.
In October 1903 the first issue of the school newspaper, named the Decaturian, upon the suggestion of Dr. Taylor, was distributed. The name was suggested to be in harmony with the Lincoln College newspaper, the Lincolnian.
The first commencement (for graduates who entered Millikin by transfer from other colleges) was held on June 7, 1904. There was one undergraduate, Edward Luther King.
In the autumn of 1904 the first football game between Millikin University and Illinois Wesleyan was held. Millikin won 34 – 0. The first local Greek organizations, two sororities, Delta Theta Psi and Chi Sigma Phi; and two fraternities, Kappa Delta Chi and Alpha Sigma Theta, appeared on campus that year.
From the initiative of President Taylor, the Federation of Illinois Colleges was organized at Millikin on January 14, 1905. In May 1906 the first student annual, the Millidek, was issued. The long contemplated merger of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. was consummated that same year.
Commencement exercises were held for the first seniors who had spent all four years at the Decatur College and Industrial school in June 1907.
First Residence Hall is Built
Aston Hall, the first women's dormitory on campus, was opened for occupancy in September 1907. It was named after the Rev. Samuel Aston, Mrs. Millikin's father. The regulations suggested by the Millikins were drawn from their own collegiate experiences years ago, and President Taylor had to tell them they were a bit behind the times. A dining hall for the University was in the basement, where lunch cost 7 cents. The lounge and director's office were on the first floor. Lucy Valentine served as the first Dean of Aston Hall from 1907-1911. Other Aston Hall directors included Stella Fox (1911-1912), Lillian Walker, (1913-1932), and Mrs. Ruth Walker (1934-1960). Aston Hall directors also served as Dean of Women.
The Illinois Academy of Science was organized at Millikin in 1908 through the efforts of Professor John C. Hessler and President Taylor.
The earliest chapter of a national fraternity at Millikin was the Beta Chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon, chartered on April 17, 1909.
During June 1909, amendments to the charter brought it into accord with the terms of Mr. Millikin's will. The Board of Trustees of the Millikin Estate was established.
The first Student Council was organized for limited student government on May 10, 1910.
The "Old Gym" and Conservatory of Music are Built
In 1911, construction began on what is today called the Old Gym and on the Conservatory of Music, financed by the Trustees of the James Millikin Estate. A spring Homecoming was held that year. The river "Sticks", a small creek that ran behind Mueller Hall and meandered towards the Kirkland Fine Arts Center, was put underground. The Old Gym was the original site of the IHSA Basketball State tournaments, and the conservatory housed its own kindergarten in the 1930s.
President Albert Reynolds Taylor resigned on July 1, 1913. George Emory Fellows was named as Millikin's 2nd president. President Fellows resigned in June 1915, with President Taylor to serve his second term as Millikin's president from 1915 to 1919. In 1915, Millikin's first annual fall homecoming was celebrated from November 12-13.
The Students' Army Training Corps (SATC) was organized on campus in 1918. Six barracks, a mess hall, and officers' headquarters were erected behind Old Gym to help train cadets for World War I.
On February 1, 1920, Louis Edward Holden was named as Millikin's 3rd president. He would resign on September 1, 1923, with no acting president named.
Millikin suffered without presidential authority in 1924. The Board of Managers dismissed Professors William Casey and William Selvage. Professor Casey was a popular instructor and an alumnus of the class of 1916. Students voted to "walkout" or strike on May 2. Former President Taylor was called to serve as president until a successor was named.
The Board of Managers named Mark Embury Penney as Millikin's 4th president on May 24, 1924. A formal inauguration was held on February 18, 1925. The first college football game played at night under lights in the state of Illinois was held at Millikin on November 2, 1928. Millikin triumphed over Lincoln 62-0. Albert Reynolds Taylor, first president of Millikin University, died on August 12, 1929. President Penney resigned on June 30, 1930. Jesse Hayes White was named as Millikin's 5th president during the summer 1930. President White resigned in June 1934.
First Freestanding Library is Built
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Orville B. Gorin Library, financed by the Trustees of the Millikin Estate, was held on November 5, 1930. A cornerstone ceremony was held on April 17, 1931, with a dedication ceremony on November 20, 1931. The Millikin Dames, an organization consisting of women on the staff and wives of members of faculty and governing boards hosted their first Christmas tea in 1931, an ongoing tradition (today called the Cookie Party).
Wartime's Effect on Campus
John Charles Hessler, a former chemistry professor, was named as the 6th president of Millikin in June 1934. The tradition of naming an annual Homecoming Queen was inaugurated in the fall of 1932, with Charlene Levinson named as queen. World War II saw additional barracks added to campus. Two cities, named "Trailer City", located north of Aston where the former Mills Hall and the Griswold Physical Education Center stand, and "Campus City", located north of the Conservatory were erected, and provided housing for returning GI's and their families. These barracks disappeared in 1962. The lowest enrollment in Millikin's history was recorded in 1943, with a total enrollment of 303, with only 54 men! President Hessler would serve until his death on July 29, 1944. Clarence Lee Miller was then named acting president.
J. Walter Malone began his term as Millikin's 7th president on January 1, 1946. He would serve as president until his retirement on April 1, 1956. Years later the class of 1957 renovated a room in the west wing and dedicated it as Malone Chapel. The largest freshman class in school enrolled in the fall 1946- 752 students. The statue of Lincoln by Fred Torrey was placed in front of the west wing in 1947. At the end of 1952, hearings before Circuit Court Judge Martin E. Morthland were concluded, permitting the dissolution of the connection between Lincoln College and the Decatur College and Industrial School. A new charter for the corporation Millikin University (changing its name slightly from James Millikin University) was issued by the Secretary of State of Illinois on July 23, 1953.
Decades of Building and Renovating
Ground was broken for Scovill Science Hall, named after Mr. and Mrs. Guy Scovill, on May 24, 1953. The science hall was occupied in 1955. Paul Leonard McKay began his term as Millikin's 8th president on June 1, 1957. A formal installation was held on October 17, 1957. He would serve until his death in February 1971. Ground was broken for a new men's residence hall and a University Center by Professor Emeritus Eugenia Allin, former library director, and Albert Taylor Mills, former history and political science professor, 1903-1943 and 1946-49 part time. Mills Hall, named in his honor and the University Center were occupied in 1960. Walker Hall, named in honor of Ruth Walker, Dean of Women from 1934-1960, was completed in 1961. Another women's dormitory, Blackburn, named in honor of Bonnie Rebecca Blackburn, Professor of Modern Languages from 1909 to 1956, was completed and occupied in 1965. Hessler Hall, named in honor of John Charles Hessler, 6th president of Millikin, was completed and occupied in 1967.
The Kirkland Fine Arts Center, named in honor of Eva Coberly Kirkland, class of 1915 and E. T. Kirkland, was finished in 1970. The Griswold Physical Education Center, named for Mr. and Mrs. John C. Griswold, class of 1923 of New York City was also completed that year. The Old Gym would fit in the pool area of Griswold.
J. Roger Miller, former dean of the School of Music, was named as Millikin's 9th president in 1971. He served until 1991, the longest term of in Millikin history. The Staley Library was completed in 1978. Renovations to the University Center were completed in 1979. The building was renamed the Richards Treat University Center, in honor of Lenore Richards and Nola Treat, class of 1907. The Millikin School of Nursing started classes in 1978. Millikin's first named school, the Tabor School of Business and Engineering was dedicated in May, 1982, named for Purvis Tabor and his wife Roberta (a former Millikin student). Mr. Tabor was a local businessman and entrepreneur and served as a generous benefactor to Millikin University and as a University trustee. Frank M. Lindsay Field, named for the Decatur business leader and media owner, was dedicated in 1987. The facility was renovated and rededicated in 1997, with a new track installed. Renovations to the main buildings, which included added walkways between the two wings on the third and fourth floors were completed in 1987. During commencement weekend, the buildings were rededicated and the former liberal arts hall was renamed Shilling Hall, in honor Charles Franklin Shilling, mayor of Decatur when Millikin University opened in 1903.
John Miltner was named as Millikin's 10th president in 1991. He died in September 1992, while still in office. Curtis McCray was named as Millikin's 11th president in 1993 and resigned in June 1998. A co-ed residence hall named Oakland Hall (today called Dolson Hall after prominent area businessman Jack C. Dolson) was erected in 1996. The bookstore and a new coffee shop were moved to the first floor of Oakland Hall. Pilling Chapel, Millikin's first free-standing chapel was constructed and dedicated in 1997. It was a gift of Trustee Emeritus "Bud" Pilling and his wife Lauri.
After President McCray's resignation, Provost Thomas Flynn was named Millikin's 12th president in June 1998. That summer, renovations and an addition to the original school of music building began. The project was completed in 2000. C.D. "Perk" and Pat Perkinson donated $8 million for the school of music renovation, and in recognition of this generous gift, the building was renamed the Perkinson Music Center. The Woods at Millikin, a privately-owned complex that partners with Millikin to house over 600 students opened in 1998.
Moving into the New Millennium and Celebrating 100 Years
Construction began on the new science building in the summer of 2000 and the building opened in 2002. It is named Leighty-Tabor Science Center for Millikin alumni Dr. John Leighty and his wife, Ula Leighty. In the 1940s, Dr. Leighty worked on the Eli Lilly and Company team that first produced penicillin. The building features an observatory, a greenhouse, labs for nursing, biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as a small museum which houses the last known passenger pigeon caught from the wild (donated by alumna Olive Biggs, '26) as well as other specimens.
The University's Centennial Celebration began with one hundred deceased people being honored as outstanding individuals in Millikin's 100-year history at the Gala Premiere on May 19, 2001. The first candidates for the Master's of Business Administration degree graduated that month as well. On October 18, 2003 a re-enactment of the cornerstone laying ceremony for the Liberal Arts Hall (now known as Shilling Hall) was performed.
The Decatur Indoor Sports Center (the DISC), a joint venture with the Decatur Park District, opened in October 2001. Remodeling of Scovill Science Hall began after receiving a $2.5 million grant from the State of Illinois and funding contributed by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). The building opened in the fall of 2005 as the ADM-Scovill Hall and is the new home of the Tabor School of Business and Technology.
Douglas E. Zemke (class of '66) was inaugurated as Millikin's 13th president in 2003. He had formerly served as the Dean of the Tabor School of Business from 1998-2001. Harold Jeffcoat became Millikin's 14th president in fall 2011. Patrick E. White, who began his service to Millikin as interim president in July 2013, was named Millikin's 15th president in October, 2013.
In 2014, renovations to the Frank M. Lindsay Track and Field included new artificial turf, a re-surfaced track, and a high-tech video scoreboard. Aston Hall was remodeled in 2015 and now houses underclass men and women. Mills and Hessler Halls were demolished in 2015. In March 2016, work began on the University Commons project on the site of Staley Library and the library moved to a remodeled New Hall 3, with collections stored off-site. Summer 2016 saw the start of construction on the Workman Family Softball Field, completed in spring 2017. The new University Commons opened in fall 2017.
In 2018, the Richards Treat University Center (RTUC) was demolished, and on May 18th, ground was broken for a new Center for Theatre and Dance. Another generous donation from Workman family resulted in construction of the new Workman Family Baseball Field, which was dedicated on September 27, 2019. President White retired in July 2020, making way for Millikin's 16th president, Jim Reynolds. The new Center for Theatre and Dance opened in fall 2020.
History prepared by Jason A. Butterick, former Archival Associate, October 2001. Updated by Cathryne L. Parish, former Archival Associate, July 2005. Updated by Archivist Amanda Pippitt, March 2022.