#TBT Iowa State’s 1872 Commencement

An estimated 5,047 students are graduating from Iowa State this semester, and many of them will participate in Commencement this weekend. So, in honor of this year’s ceremonies, this #TBT post will be about Iowa State University’s first Commencement in 1872.

Below is the 1872 Commencement program (RS 7/9/4/1).

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Fun Facts

  • The first Commencement took place in November!
  • 26 students graduated in the first class.
  • 2 of the graduates were women.
  • Commencement took place at West House in Ames, which was Ames’ first hotel.
  • President Welch’s first commencement address is available online thanks to the University Library Digital Initiatives.

Below are some proofs from our University Photographs (box 1547). I believe the final product is the image included at the end of this post. It may seem weird that I’m including proofs. But I’m an archivist and, to me, the unpublished stuff is the good stuff.

This collection of photographs (below) of 1872 Iowa State Graduates was given to the Alumni Association in June 1957 by the only living 1872 alumni, J.C. Arthur and Henry L. Page, when they returned to campus for the 65th anniversary of their graduation.

Individual portraits of 26 members of Iowa State Class of 1872, 24 men and 2 women.

Bottom right: “This collection of photographs of all members of the class of Eighteen Seventy-Two was presented to the Alumni Association June 1957 by J.C. Arthur and Henry L. Page on the occasion of the sixty-fifth anniversary of their graduation. The only two living members of the class, Doctor Arthur and Mr. Page returned to the College for the celebration of the sixty-fifth anniversary of their graduation.” (University Photographs box 1547).



#TBT Graduation Day #cyclONEgrad

This weekend, thousands of students will graduate from Iowa State University, many of whom will attend spring commencement. Iowa State’s first class graduated in 1872. Sadly, we don’t have any photos of that graduation, but we do have some from early 20th century. One of our earliest commencement photos comes from June 3, 1915, below.

Graduation recessional from Beardshear Hall, 1915. University Photographs, RS 7/2/E, Box 447.

Graduation recessional from Beardshear Hall, 1915. University Photographs, RS 7/2/E, Box 447.

To see more commencement photos throughout Iowa State’s history, stop by! We also have photos of alumni from various classes, including members of the class of 1872.

Congratulations to all of our graduates!


Now online: President Welch’s address to first graduating class

Over 3,300 students are going to receive degrees from Iowa State University this week and proud parents, family members and friends will be attending the graduation ceremonies taking place this coming Friday and Saturday.  If you’re at all interested in history, you might ask yourself what that first commencement was like here at Iowa State.

Adonijah Welch, first president of ISU

In November of 1872, almost 138 years ago, the first commencement activities began for the first graduates of Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University).  The activities took place over several days, beginning on Sunday with President Welch’s Baccalaureate Sermon and ending later that week with the commencement exercises – at which the graduates gave a brief speech.  Twenty-six students graduated in that first class (24 men and 2 women).  The College’s first president, Adonijah Strong Welch, gave his Baccalaureate Sermon as the opening of the week’s events.  This speech has recently been scanned and added to the collection of documents we have on Scribd.

In the speech, Welch presents to the graduating students his advice for their future.  “Trust nothing, I pray you, to chance or luck or to the hope that something will turn up…The world will honor you whenever you have proven that you can minister to its wants” (page 6).   Throughout the speech he warns that fortune will not randomly stumble on the graduates, but instead they must work hard for success.

First page of Welch's address

Welch’s comments on politicians is also an interesting section of the speech.  As a former legislator himself before coming to Iowa State as its first president, he includes  (pages 28-29) his frustrations with politicians.  He also laments (at the end of page 28) that citizens have come to the conclusion that sometimes people of a “sensitive conscience” are not the best fit for politics!  (Perhaps this is one of the reasons Welch left politics to come to Iowa State?)  If you’re interested in finding out more about President Welch, the department also holds Welch’s papers.  The collection’s finding aid can be found online.

And, in conclusion – Congratulations to all 2010 graduates!