Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Abraham S. Fischler College of Education


Charlene Desir

Committee Member

Kenneth Rockensies


Educational History, Higher Education, History, Institutions, Role of Religion, Education history, Illinois State University


This dissertation investigated the demise of Illinois State University (ISU), a small antebellum Lutheran denominational college that existed from 1852 to 1867 in Springfield, Illinois. The professional higher education historiography has described the phenomenon of antebellum college demise, but a traditionalist theory of causality by unrestrained competition among religious denominations to found colleges, proposed in the early 20th century, was by the end of the century largely debunked by revisionist higher education historians as based on ahistorical concepts and inaccurate data. The study utilized the historical narrative method consisting of document review and content analysis. Using Clark’s (1972) concept of “organizational saga,” the study found that while ISU was in many ways indistinguishable from other denominational colleges in the United States of the era, ISU accumulated unsustainable debt on its edifice and failed despite determined founders. Durnford’s (2002) model of institutional sponsorship revealed that despite growth during the antebellum era, the Lutheran Church was riven by doctrinal, linguistic, national and personal rivalries that undermined its ability to sustain ISU. Five of the seven factors in Latta’s (2008) unique model of antebellum denominational college survival helped identify ISU’s strengths and weaknesses, and revealed that an unresolved crisis in leadership contributed to the school’s demise. This study provided data useful in furthering the development of a comprehensive revisionist narrative to explain antebellum college founding, demise and survival.

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