The First Commencement: Two Graduates in
College experienced a small downturn in enrollment in its third year,
the total number of students was still above 200, guaranteeing a steady
income for the college. The good news concerning enrollment
figures was complemented by the fact that two seniors, E. Belle Stewart
and Stephen W. Stookey, were ready to graduate from Coe College.
was one of the three sophomores present when the college commenced
operation in September of 1881. The other two sophomores from
that class were replaced by Mr. Stookey, who had been a student at
Cornell before spending the 1881-82 academic year in charge of a
grammar school in Illinois.
commencement week activities began on Sunday, June 8, 1884 with a
baccalaureate sermon by President Phelps at the Second Presbyterian
Church. His remarks--based on I Corinthians 13:9: "We know
in part"--expressed gratitude "for minds with which to know. . . that
truth is knowable . . . that we are continually in close contact with
truths that can be known . . . that knowledge can be communicated . . .
and for the influence of the Christian religion on the human
intellect." He called upon both graduates to serve the world as
good and faithful Christians.
reception at the college on Wednesday evening, the culmination of the
week was the commencement exercise in the Opera House on Thursday
evening, June 12. According to a reporter for the Daily Republican,
"From parquet to pit the ladies and gentlemen in evening dress filled
the house and made this audience a particularly attractive one.
The faculty, board of trustees, and the graduates occupied seats upon
the stage, which was appropriately set for the occasion." The
evening's program included a performance by Fannie Sheffer, who would
receive a graduation certificate for completion of her musical
studies. She performed piano compositions by Liszt, Schumann, and
and Stewart were called upon to address the Opera House
audience. Stookey spoke on the tensions between conservatism and
radicalism. In his address, Stookey offered a "glowing tribute" to
James G. Blaine, the Republican candidate for the Presidency and a
close friend of Iowa's Senator William Allison from Dubuque, who
happened to be a member of Coe's Board of Trustees. The Blaine
endorsement, "which gave his discourse that interest that always comes
with the just expression of fresh and original thought."
Stewart's topic was "The Ideal in Literature," a speech earning an
enthusiastic applause from the audience. The Daily Republican
praised Stookey's voice and deliver commendations.
speeches, degrees were conferred on Stookey and Stewart, and Coe's
first honorary LL.D. degree was given to Woolsey Welles [who was
Welles?]. Coe College now had its first alumni, two alums who
would soon return to Coe to fulfill important academic positions.
Following her graduation, Stewart taught in the Preparatory Department
for ten years (including her service as principal from 1886 to 1892)
and was the college librarian for a year. Her brother, Robert Stewart,
who graduated from Coe in 1888, donated the money used for the
construction of Stewart Memorial Library. Stookey would return to
Coe as a faculty member and the college’s second Dean; in 1904-05 he
served as interim president of the institution after the resignation of