Perspectives on Knox History

March 9, 2010


George Washington Gale

Filed under: Uncategorized — Grant @ 2:55 pm

blog_Gale.jpgThe Reverend George Washington Gale was born in Stanford, New York in 1789, the youngest of nine children — seven girls and two boys. He had a difficult childhood; both of his parents passed away by the time he was nine years old, forcing one of his elder sisters to raise him. In his autobiography, he speaks fondly of his only brother, Josiah, to whom he was very much attached. Josiah was one of the few male influences that George had, and his passing when George was only 20 years old had a deep emotional impact on him.

Gale initially entered college at Union, but struggled due to poor health (a stomach disorder called dyspepsia) and finances. He instead left to travel on horseback between upstate New York towns and teach at local schools. It was these travels that influenced much of Gale’s future philosophy — it was on one of these trips that he embraced religion for the first time. Gale did eventually graduate from Union College in 1814, and then from the Presbyterian affiliated Princeton Theological Seminary in 1819.

In 1816, while taking a break from his studies at Princeton, Gale was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry. After completing a variety of religious assignments, George settled down to his own pastorate in Adams County, New York in 1820. In this area, known as the “Burned-Over District” due to its religious revivalism, George Washington Gale mentored the infamous Charles Grandison Finney, the influential leader of the religious “Great Awakening” of the 1820s. By the mid 1820s, though, Gale had discovered an innovative new method by which to spread the gospel.

After returning from a health related trip to Virginia, Gale became interested on the concept of a religious manual labor college and he began to develop the mold for one that would eventually become Knox College. His first experiment with manual labor education, the Oneida Institute, was the tangible inspiration for a similar institution further west. By completing a pre-determined amount of manual labor for the college each day, students could afford to pay their way through school; it eliminated the need for the “evil” of charity, and produced hearty young men unaffected by the debilitating physical and mental atrophy facilitated by dedication to one’s studies alone.

George Washington Gale both formulated the idea for Knox College and Galesburg and was instrumental in making it a reality. His “Circular and Plan” provided subscriptions from prospective settlers that allowed him and his appointed executive committee to purchase the land that would become Galesburg and the home of the college. George Washington Gale was the founder of Galesburg and Knox college, as well as a trustee and professor at the latter; he was influential in administration of the college up into his death in 1861.

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