D. Pat Henderson and other Disciples of Christ leaders were interested in the establishment of an institution of higher learning to educate young men in the early 1850s. They dreamed of “having in our midst one of the best literary and scientific institutions in the Union.”
Before the charter went to the state of Missouri for approval, the founders decided against the norms of the day and wanted the school to be co-ed, so they asked that the charter be amended. After the changes were made, the state approved the charter on Jan. 28, 1853 to establish Christian University, the first coeducational college west of the Mississippi River. Dr. James Shannon became the first president, and classes began in 1855.
Founders of the school, however, were leery of female students living off campus in boarding houses, as there were no residence halls at the time. The decision was made to wait to admit women until they had a separate facility. That didn’t happen for a few years, because the entire school shut down in 1861 because of the Civil War.
SURVIVING THE CIVIL WAR
Through the fall and winter of 1861 and 1862, Union troops at various times occupied Old Main, then the only building on campus. Using the campus as a hospital, prison and barracks, the soldiers caused substantial damage and forced the school to cease operations until after the war ended. Christian University reopened under the leadership of President Ben H. Smith, but it did not see substantial growth until the early 20th century.
When Christian University re-opened, school officials were more worried about enrollment than about having a separate facility for women. Alice Staples was the first female student to enroll in spring 1866. She became the first female graduate in October 1870, and she was listed as the class salutatorian in the school's Union Literary Magazine.
On March 23, 1903, Old Main burned down. Due to the leadership of Dr. Carl Johann, the school’s president, Old Main soon was replaced by Henderson Hall. The early 20th century also saw such additions as Culver-Stockton Hall (now Johnson Residence Hall), the L.L. Culver gymnasium (now the Herrick Foundation Center) and an athletic field.
RENAMING THE SCHOOL
The Board of Trustees unanimously voted in 1914 to rename the school Culver-Stockton College in honor of Mary Culver and Robert Stockton, long-time dedicated staunch supporters from St. Louis.
Johann met Stockton on a fundraising campaign. Stockton later became a generous donor, giving money to help repair the College after a fire, build cottages for married students, support teachers’ salaries, pay off college debt and more. Culver also made generous donations to the College, guided by the advice of Stockton, who was her husband’s business partner. She donated to help advance teacher salaries, improve library and laboratory facilities and build the gymnasium in honor of her late husband.
The new name took effect in 1917. In the years after the name change, Culver-Stockton would adopt the Wildcat mascot, earn accreditation by the Missouri College Union and North Central Association, construct Wood Residence Hall and survive the Great Depression.
BIG CHANGES AFTER WORLD WAR II
Events of December 1941 forced students, faculty, alumni and staff to contribute to the war effort. The postwar years would see more growth and change as the institution constructed Ellison Poulton Stadium, dedicated the Carl Johann Memorial Library and celebrated the college centennial in 1953 by welcoming former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to campus to speak in front of 1,500 people in the L.L. Culver gymnasium.
Rapid change would mark the next several decades on campus, including construction of the Shannon, McDonald and Ziegler (now Stone) residence halls, completion of the Ada Wallace Roberts concourse, and the opening of the Alexander Campbell Auditorium. Work began in 1970 on a student center to be named after donor Gladys Crown. The 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of President Robert W. Brown, saw further growth with major renovations to Carl Johann Library, Johnson Residence Hall and the Herrick Foundation Center, the dedication of Charles Field House, the entry of C-SC athletic teams into the Heart of America Athletic Conference and an expansion of the student body to more than 1,000 students.
TORNADOES AND FLOODS
The Mississippi River suffered a disastrous 500-year flood in the summer of 1993 which Canton’s levee alone could not contain. The College and community joined together to respond to the crisis. In the end, Canton won the fight, and the town’s levee held. The scene of 1993 would repeat itself in July 2008 with another epic flood, and once again the town and the College joined together to battle and repel the flood waters.
A different disaster struck campus on May 9, 2003 when, just hours after commencement, a devastating tornado destroyed Charles Field House and Zenge Hall, ripped off the Henderson dome and felled some 300 trees around campus. As before, the College came back stronger than ever after substantial rebuilding efforts.
CHANGING THE ACADEMIC CALENDAR
The 2000s brought significant academic changes to “the Hill” with the decision by the faculty to make experiential learning the foundation of the curriculum. The school adopted its current 12-week + 3-week academic semester calendar in fall 2008, making C-SC one of two institutions in the nation to have such a format. The calendar was designed to better allow a variety of forms of experiential learning, which serves as the foundation of the C-SC curriculum.
Two campus buildings were added in the years since — the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Recreation and Wellness Center in February 2016, and the Carolyn L. & Robert W. Brown Residence Hall in September 2017. Dr. Kelly M. Thompson was elected in 2014 as the College's first female president. Dr. Douglas B. Palmer began his duties as the 27th president of Culver-Stockton College on July 1, 2020.