Shimer College

History of Shimer College in Chicago

In our 160 years, we’ve been called many things:
the Mount Carroll Seminary, fiercely independent, the Frances Shimer Academy, and stubborn.

Through all of it, we’ve remained a community founded in the spirit of adventure and hunger for knowledge, confident in our belief that we have the potential to change the world.

We’ve been dangerously optimistic since 1853.

Lured by the promise of the West

In 1853, schoolteachers Frances Wood and Cinderella Gregory moved from Milton, NY to Mount Carroll, IL - a pioneer town without a public school. Frances Wood Shimer, Courtesy of Shimer College WikiFrances Wood Shimer, Courtesy of Shimer College Wiki

The young women opened the school, originally called the Mount Carroll Seminary, to 11 students just three days after their arrival. By 1864, due to space restrictions, the school limited enrollment to female students. In the spirit of inclusion, however, men were allowed to attend some day classes.

Frances Wood had by this time become Frances Shimer, per marriage conventions of the era. She did not, however, stop working. Thoroughly committed to the school that would become her legacy, she served as its president, teacher, and general contractor. She was the first exemplary Shimerian—and remains one to this very day (follow her @shimercollege or friend her on Facebook).

Radical and Rigorous Education

The 20th century saw Shimer through a number of momentary inconveniences, like a campus-consuming fire in 1906, and monumental changes, like a 60-year affiliation with the University of Chicago. 

imageBy the 50s, we became once again independent and coeducational, calling ourselves Shimer College and adopting Robert Marnard Hutchins’ Great Books curriculum. In 1978, we moved from Mount Carroll, which no longer had running rail service, to Waukegan. We finally settled in Chicago in 2006.

Through every obstacle, including political unrest, financial turmoil, and our search for home, we’ve remained firmly committed to the notion that an education ought to be radical, rigorous, and unending.

At home now in Bronzeville, in a city itself so rich with history and character, we are exactly where and who we need to be. We celebrate our history of self-determination and our spunky creativity.