Elton J. Bruins
The Reformed tradition was virtually synonymous with education after John Calvin founded the academy in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1559.1 After Calvin, Reformed Church polity in regard to education was more firmly established by the Synod of Dort in 1618-19.2 The synod resolved that every Reformed congregation would found a school, with the consistory of the local church being responsible for appointing and supervising a schoolmaster who was to be a Christian. This policy, in place for only ten years when the first Reformed congregation was organized on Manhattan Island in 1628, had a major effect on the Reformed Dutch Church in America.3
This essay will trace the efforts of the Reformed Dutch Church in America as it attempted to follow the polity of Dort in reference to education. The beginning date of such efforts is 1628, the year the first Reformed Dutch congregation was organized in America. The end date of 1866 is somewhat more arbitrary, but it was chosen as a terminus for this paper as it was the year Hope College graduated its first students.4
All levels of education sponsored by the Reformed Dutch Church (RDC) will be examined in this essay. During the period of 1628 to 1866, the RDC organized grade schools, academies, and colleges, all of which contributed a great deal to the educational program of the church. Unfortunately, much of this history has been forgotten. Many academies founded by the RDC, from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, to Pleasant Prairie Academy in German Valley, Illinois, have ceased to exist.5 Three colleges closely related to the RDC in their early history—Rutgers University (now the State University of Jersey), Union College in Schenectady, and New York University in New York City—exist but no longer have any relationship with the church. As it failed to retain already established educational institutions and gave up establishing new Christian grade schools and academies, the founding and growth of the present three Reformed Church in America colleges (Central, Hope, and Northwestern) became even more precious and significant to the denomination. In spite of the failures, it is worth noting the great effort, time, and money that the denomination expended on its many educational endeavors between 1628 and 1866. That discussion that follows is divided into four periods: the Dortian Foundation, 1628-1792; the Decline of the Dortian Model, 1792-1866; the Founding of Colleges; and Dort Revisited.
The delegates of the Synod of Dort began to discuss the issue of church education at its seventeenth session on November 30, 1618. The introductory paragraph of the minutes of this synod meeting is significant: “In order that the Christian youth may be diligently instructed in the principles of religion, and be trained in piety, three modes of catechising should be employed. I. In the house, by parents. II. In the schools, by schoolmasters. III. In the churches, by ministers, elders, and catechists especially appointed for the purpose. That these may diligently employ their trust, the Christian magistrates shall be requested to promote, by their authority, so sacred and necessary a work; and all who have the oversight of churches and schools shall be required to pay special attention to this matter.”6
In mode two, “in the schools by schoolmasters,” the most noteworthy part dealt with the qualifications of those who were appointed to the position of schoolmaster. The polity of Dort decreed that they must be members of the Reformed Church and appropriately pious as Christians. Just as ministers, elders, and deacons were to profess the Reformed faith according to the standards of the church, so were schoolmasters to be committed to follow Reformed doctrine as reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism. Schoolmasters were to see that the Heidelberg Catechism was committed to memory by all students, and they were to be sufficiently knowledgeable of the meaning of the points of doctrine in the catechism in order to teach its meaning to their students.
The Articles of Dort has four articles that spell out the role of the church and the consistory in providing education for the children of the congregation. Article 21 reads as follows: “The Consistories in every congregation shall be careful to provide good Schoolmasters, who are able, not only to instruct children in reading, writing, grammar, and the liberal sciences; but also to teach them the catechism, and the first principles of religion.” The role of the classis was mentioned in Article 41: “The Praeses [president] shall moreover enquire of the Members respectively, whether they observe their Consistorial Meetings; whether the Discipline be exercised; whether the Poor, and the Schools are properly taken care of.” Article 44 required that classical visitors to congregations shall also inquire if the schoolmasters “faithfully discharge their offices.” Article 54 called for the schoolmaster to subscribe to the confessions of the faith of the Netherlands church.7
Putting this polity into practice in the New World took some time. It was ten years after its founding before the Reformed Dutch Church in Manhattan was able to establish a school, thereby putting Dortian rules into practice, but the school it founded in 1638, the Collegiate School, is the second oldest Latin school still in existence in the United States. Only the Boston Latin School predates it.8 The Collegiate School did not become a Latin school until 1658, however.9 Just getting a school underway by 1638 was enough of a challenge without also establishing classical education, which included the teaching of Latin and Greek. The first schoolmaster of the Collegiate School was Adam Roelandsen.10 As Dutch settlers in New Netherland founded other towns, other schools were established. The church in Albany, New York, founded a school in 1650.11 The Harlem congregation in the northern part of Manhattan Island founded its school in 1663.12
A significant change in how Reformed Dutch Church congregations founded and supported schools came in 1664 when the Netherlands lost New Netherland to Great Britain. After this date, the local government, or “magistrate,” changed and no longer ordered church congregations to found and maintain schools, as was the case when the Dutch controlled Manhattan. Yet the momentum for churches to found schools was sufficiently strong by that time that congregations continued to do so. By 1686 Hackensack, New Jersey, had a voorleser, or schoolmaster.13 Brooklyn had a school by 1711,14 and the upstate village of Kinderhook (later home to president Martin Van Buren) had one by 1712.15 Bergen, New Jersey,16 and Kingston, New York,17 also founded schools in the eighteenth century.
The period beginning in 1664 and ending in 1792 was marked by the growing independence of the American Reformed Dutch Church from its mother church in the Netherlands. John H. Livingston, professor of theology, and other Reformed Dutch Church leaders wrote the “Explanatory Articles” to clarify and adapt the polity of Dort to the American scene. They understood that the schooling done by the church needed to be in accord with life in America. The RDC was no longer under the aegis of Great Britain but part of a new nation that affirmed the separation of church and state. The Explanatory Articles, which became part of the constitution in 1792 of the newly independent Reformed Dutch Church, added many new sections supplementing Dort church order to make Dort polity workable in America.18 Article 56 of the newly written articles made this statement about church school education in America:
“The zeal of the Reformed Church, for initiating children early in the truth, [expressed, Art. 54th of the Church Orders, where care is taken that Schoolmasters shall be of the reformed religion]19 cannot be evidenced in the same manner in America, where many denominations of Christians, and some who do not even profess the Christian religion inhabit promiscuously; and where Schoolmasters can seldom be found who are members of the church. In such a situation, it is recommended to parents to be peculiarly attentive to the religious education of their children, not only by instructing them and daily praying with them at home, but by never employing Schoolmasters whose characters are unascertained or suspicious, and especially none who scoff at the holy scriptures or whose conduct is immoral.”20
The article continues: “It is also further recommended, that parents endeavour to prevail upon Schoolmasters to make the children belonging to the Dutch church, commit to memory, and publicly repeat in the school, one section of the Heidelbergh [sic] Catechism at least once every week.” This long Explanatory Article indicated that the denomination was determined to continue church education, but was facing new obstacles, such as finding worthy teachers and, above all, instilling congregations with the intention and will to maintain church-connected schools. Education in the public sphere was generally of poor quality in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The movement for better public education, led by people such as Horace Mann21 in the nineteenth century, had a profound effect upon church education and virtually wiped out education sponsored and promoted by RDC congregations. Another reason for the loss of church-related education was that public education in the nineteenth century was basically Protestant in orientation.
The determination of the Reformed Dutch Church to establish church schools continued well into the nineteenth century in spite of the rise of public education. Since public education made grade school education available to all children, and high schools developed somewhat later in the nineteenth century, the emphasis of the church was placed upon education at the high school level. The academies that the RDC founded often developed into college preparatory schools. A primary example of this is Erasmus Hall, which was founded in 1787.22 It was located just across the street from the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church, which was founded in 1654.23 Erasmus Hall may have been the outgrowth of a grade school that was founded very early in this congregation’s history. Dr. John H. Livingston, in addition to his duties as pastor of a New York City church and as the professor of sacred theology for America, served as the principal of Erasmus Hall from its conception until 1792. Erasmus Hall served as a private school until it became part of the New York City system in 1896.24
In the course of their development, most of the RDC academies either separated from the church or at least no longer had a close relationship with it. The Collegiate School in New York City was unusual in that it continued to be a part of the collegiate church system. This was perhaps even more unusual as it became an elite academy for the preparation of students for college during the latter part of the nineteenth century. First Church in Albany, New York, opened its academy in 1787,25 the school where Philip Phelps Jr., first president of Hope College, received his education in preparation for attending Union College. The founding of the academy in Schenectady came shortly before Union College was chartered in 1795.26 The academy in New Brunswick, New Jersey, which later became Rutgers Preparatory School, had its origin in the Reformed Dutch Church, although the six persons who organized its beginnings were from other denominations as well.27 The Columbia Academy in Bergen County, New Jersey, also had its origin in the RDC. It was considered as a possible location for the theological seminary before theological education joined Queens College in 1810.28 It seems, although it cannot be precisely determined, that those academies that became successful educational institutions in their respective communities either gradually became independent or a part of the public school system. The move of some academies into public schools was not necessarily the result of the secularization of society. The public school system began with a strong Protestant inclination,29 much to the chagrin of the Roman Catholic Church, which caused it to set up its own parochial school system in the early part of the nineteenth century.
There is plenty of evidence that the Reformed Dutch Church did not give up on the academy system as part of its Christian education program. In 1851 Albertus C. Van Raalte set up the Pioneer School in the Colony in Holland, Michigan, which became the Holland Academy in 1857.30 He recruited John Van Vleck to serve as the principal. Van Raalte and his fellow immigrants had hoped to build a Christian school system for all ages of children but were not financially able to do so, but the local public school was virtually a Christian school in its early days. An academy was founded very early in its history in Pella by Hendrik P. Scholte.31 The German Reformed immigrants founded Pleasant Prairie Academy in German Valley, Illinois, in 1894 for the purpose of preparing pastors for German-speaking congregations in the RDC.32 People from the Pella area set up a new colony in northwest Iowa and in 1882 founded the Northwestern Classical Academy.33 Churches in Wisconsin founded the Wisconsin Memorial Academy in Cedar Grove, which opened in 1900 under the sponsorship of the Classis of Wisconsin and endorsement of the Particular Synod of Chicago.34 By 1902 the academy in Harrison, South Dakota, was in operation.35 A number of Reformed congregations were organized in Oklahoma during the early part of the twentieth century and founded the Cordell Academy in 1906 in Cordell, Oklahoma.36 All of these schools were established with the intention of offering a Christian education for the children of the Dutch and German immigrants who had become part of the RDC. Other academies were established on domestic mission fields; see footnote below.
The founding of colleges by the RDC was not related to the educational polity formulated at the Synod of Dordt but sprang out of the felt need of the American Dutch churches for higher education. Queens College opened its doors in 1771 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, “for the education of youth in the learned languages, liberal and useful arts and sciences, and especially in divinity, preparing them for the ministry and other good offices.”37 In 1825 the name was changed to Rutgers College. A need for higher education in the Schenectady area and the competitive spirit in communities of that time to have a college led to the founding of Union College in 1795.38 New York University was founded in 1831 to meet the needs of a growing urban population. At that time New York City had two hundred thousand inhabitants but only two colleges: Columbia College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.39
Colleges were not founded by the RDC without controversy, however. Leaders in the denomination who led the movement to found colleges were split over the issue of where ministers should receive their training. One side, called the “Coetus,” wanted them trained in America; the other group, named the “Conferentie,” wanted candidates for ministry to continue to receive their theological education in the Netherlands and be ordained there. By the eighteenth century, progressive, visionary ministers in the RDC saw the necessity for the church in America to have its own educational institution for training ministers. Presbyterians founded a school in Princeton, New Jersey, for this purpose in 1746, and Episcopalians founded Columbia College in 1754 on Manhattan Island. Congregationalists had two schools—Harvard and Yale—for theological education.40 The divisiveness over ministerial education between the Coetus and Conferentie groups was finally healed at the Union Convention in 1771 organized by John H. Livingston.41
Ministers of the RDC were intimately involved with the founding of Queens College, Union College, and New York University, but the history of their development was quite different from each other and from that of Hope, Central, and Northwestern Colleges, institutions that are still connected to the denomination. Queens College, whose purpose was the training of ministers, probably remained with the RDC the longest.
Queens College had a slow and difficult start, but it grew out of a growing need for ministers in the RDC. Ministers in the East debated the issue at a convention in 1738 and again in 1755, with Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen taking a leading role, and a plan for an academy was finally approved. A charter for the school was granted in 1766, but classes did not begin until 1771 after financial and location issues for the school were settled. The Revolutionary War intruded.
The search for a president was also long and difficult. John H. Livingston was chosen by the denomination in 1784 to be its professor of theology and, in addition to serving as pastor of the collegiate church in Manhattan, taught theology to students in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In 1810 Livingston severed all the ties he had in New York and moved to New Brunswick to open a seminary in conjunction with Queens College and to become its president, a position he held until his death, January 25, 1825. During this period, the theological department dominated. The literary department in fact was discontinued for periods of time and was finally revived in 1825, and the college was renamed Rutgers College. Henry Rutgers, a leader in the RDC, a trustee of Queens, and a liberal supporter of good causes, gave a substantial sum ($5,000) to the college, resulting in new and growing strength.
In time, space became an issue. Both the theological seminary and the undergraduate college had occupied the same building for thirty years. An increased number of students and faculty made the situation intolerable. A substantial gift from Ann Hertzog of Philadelphia made it possible to build a separate hall for the seminary, and in 1856 the Peter Hertzog Theological Hall was dedicated, named in memory of Mrs. Hertzog’s husband.42 The denomination continued to support both the college and the seminary, as they were both vital for providing ministers to the churches.
The reputation of the college was enhanced under the presidency of Theodore J. Frelinghuysen, who served from 1850 until his death in 1862. Chancellor of New York University prior to his presidency at Rutgers, Theodore Frelinghuysen was a lawyer by profession, a U.S. senator, and the vice-presidential candidate on the Whig ticket in 1844 when Henry Clay was the nominee for president.43 He was a leader in American religious life as well, serving on the boards of the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. His father, Frederick Frelinghuysen, was appointed the first tutor at Queens in 1771 and was one of many Frelinghuysen family members who were involved in the early history of Queens College, the predecessor of Rutgers College.44
After Frelinghuysen’s death, two significant changes took place. The denomination sold the land on which the campus was situated to the college. Rutgers College thus achieved a quasi-independent status, although three-fourths of the board members were required to be members of the RDC. The second change was that the college became a state college, an indirect result of the Morrill Act (land-grant act) being passed by the U.S. Congress in 1862.45 The State of New Jersey assigned to Rutgers College the responsibilities and benefits of the land-grant act. They received state monies in the amount of $116,000 to develop its scientific work, but with it came responsibilities, such as buying a farm and equipment for it. The school continued to receive private monies, such as a gift from Ralph and Elizabeth Voorhees that provided a new library for Rutgers in 1903.46 Rutgers was designated a college of the state in 1917 and subsequently declared a university. The Reverend Dr. William Henry Steele Demarest was the last Reformed Church head, from 1906 to 1924, of Rutgers University. In a very short time, all ties to the church ended. Scholarship funds (in the amount of $250,000) that had been contributed by Reformed Church members during the nearly hundred years Rutgers was a church school remained at Rutgers. During the 1950s Dr. A. Livingston Warnshuis was able to get the trusteeship of these funds changed from the university to the denomination for the purpose of providing funds for students at Rutgers who were preparing to enter the Reformed Church ministry.47
Union College in Schnectady, New York, was never officially a college of the RDC; however, its “direct ancestor was the Schenectady Academy, a school founded at the initiative of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1785.”48 Union College was also related to the denomination by Reformed Church members who studied there, such as Philip Phelps Jr. The first initiative for the founding of a college at Schenectady came in 1779 from an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church there, John Cornelius Cuyler. At the recommendation and encouragement of the Reverend Dirck Romeyn, who became pastor of Schnectady’s First Dutch Reformed Church in 1784, the consistory established an academy in 1785. In 1792, in a statement addressed to the New York State Board of Regents, those petitioning for a college in Schenectady reported that in support of that campaign “the town of Schenectady had promised 5,000 acres, various individuals had pledged a total of 700 acres and 1,000 pounds ($2,500), and the Dutch church had offered the academy building and 250 pounds for library books.”49 When even more money was pledged, the college was chartered in 1795— the first college to be chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, much to the displeasure of the citizens of the city of Albany who had vied for that distinction.
Since the efforts to found the college were community wide, present college historians consider the college to be the nation’s oldest nondenominational college, even though the RDC minister Romeyn is considered by some to be its founder and members of that church were vital in its founding. No Union College president has ever been a member of the RDC, although Romeyn did propose at one time the Reverend William Linn of the Collegiate Church as a candidate for the presidency. Several Reformed Church ministers, such as Professor William V. V. Mabon of New Brunswick Seminary and the Reverend William N. P. Dailey, a prominent nineteenth century Reformed Church minister, were graduates of Union College. In fact, Dailey claimed that “up to the year 1840 there were as many graduates of Union College in New Brunswick Seminary as there were from Rutgers.”50
New York University was founded in 1831 to meet the needs of a burgeoning urban scene.51 “By the beginning of the 1830s, New York City had become the principal capital market in the United States…and began to rival the European capitals in commerce and trade, especially in banking, warehousing, and insurance enterprises.”52 Three groups of individuals saw the need for a university: New York City merchants, democratic theorists, and clergymen. Democratic theorists, a group which included Albert Gallatin, former secretary of the treasury under presidents Jefferson and Madison, were eager to instill democratic ideals in youth. Among the clergymen who advocated for an urban university education were three Episcopalians, one Presbyterian, and one Dutch Reformed minister, the Reverend James R. Matthews, pastor of the South Reformed Church on Garden Street. The new school was to be non-denominational, although its first three presidents were Dutch Reformed ministers.
Nine prominent citizens met in Matthews’s parsonage in 1829, one of several gatherings to discuss plans for a university. Myndert Van Schaick, a lawyer of Dutch descent, was one of the nine. “The new venture was financed through the offering of stock to the public.”53 Subscribers numbered 175 persons. Gallatin was elected president of the governing board, but resigned in 1831; Matthews was chosen as the university’s first chancellor, a position he held for eight years. One of the first faculty members was Samuel F. B. Morse, a well-known painter and sculptor and inventor of the telegraph in 1844.54 The university was first called University of the City of New- York; this was changed in 1896 to New York University.55
The intention of the founders of the university was that it would be nonsectarian. However, it was to be “a Christian university [which would] hold up with unshaken firmness a Standard against Infidelity, and encourage its pupils in the acquisition of a Christian hope, and the practice of the duties of a Christian life.”56 In light of this, it was not surprising that the first chancellors and presidents of the governing board were clergymen. Although avowedly Christian, the school was open to everyone, regardless of religious or nonreligious affiliation, and the first Jewish student enrolled soon after the beginning of the university. Many students, however, attended New York University in order to prepare for the Reformed Dutch Church ministry, just as they did at Union College. Samuel Merrill Woodbridge, a long-time professor at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, graduated from New York University in 1838. He served as a distinguished church history professor from 1865 until 1901.57
The Reverend James Matthews served as chancellor until 1839 and was succeeded by Frederick Frelinghuysen, who served until he became president of Rutgers College in 1850. In addition to being the 1844 Whig party candidate for the vice-presidency, he was an abolitionist, former senator from New Jersey, and mayor of Newark.58 The third Reformed Dutch Church member to become chancellor was the Reverend Isaac Ferris, who resigned his pastorate of the Market Street Reformed Church to do so.59 He took the position at the urging of Myndert Van Schaick and served as chancellor from 1853 until 1870, the most successful of the first three presidents. He was an able fundraiser, eliminating debt, raising faculty salaries, and acquiring funds for endowment, and the university expanded considerably under his leadership.
“Religious influence on university life [New York University’s] generally declined in proportion to civil and secular life as the university expanded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,”60 as was typical of many American colleges and universities that began with strong Christian assumptions. “New York University’s council reflected this secularity far less than other older colleges in the north east, and continued to include a substantial number of clergymen among its members for some time.”61 Today New York University is a distinguished, modern, urban university, prominent in higher education in America, and completely secular in outlook.
Based on the history of Rutgers University, Union College, and New York University—institutions that did not continue their relationships with the Reformed Church in America but became independent of it—a logical conclusion might be that the denomination was a failure in maintaining institutions of higher education. This, however, would not be a correct conclusion. The Reformed Church in America continues to have close ties with three Christian colleges it founded: Hope, Central, and Northwestern Colleges. All three schools are thriving and stem from the nineteenth-century Dutch immigration to America of the Afgescheidenen, or Separatists, who broke with the mother Reformed Dutch Church in 1834. Two key leaders who brought their followers to America were Dominies Albertus C. Van Raalte and Hendrik P. Scholte: Van Raalte to Holland, Michigan, and Scholte to Pella, Iowa—both in 1847. These leaders’ work and interest in Christian education, based on Dortian principles but also for the new spurt of growth it would give, led to the founding of these three colleges.
Within a year of founding Holland, Van Raalte was at work organizing the Classis of Holland, which was made up of all the Dutch immigrant congregations in the Middle West until 1854, when the Classis of Wisconsin was founded. After 1854 it was comprised of all immigrant congregations east of Lake Michigan; Wisconsin Classis included all the churches west of Lake Michigan. In addition, Van Raalte was the major force in the uniting of Holland Classis with the old Reformed Dutch Church in the East, an action which was accomplished in 1850.62 In 1851 he established the Pioneer School for the education of students, most of whom were interested in entering the ministry. The Reformed Church soon took the fledgling institution under its wing and granted it support. In 1857 the school was organized into an academy called Holland Academy. That same year Van Raalte began fundraising to construct the school’s first permanent building, Van Vleck Hall.
Providentially, Van Raalte was able to persuade the Reverend Philip Phelps Jr., pastor of the Reformed Church in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, to become the principal of the academy when ill heath forced John Van Vleck to resign the position. Both Phelps and Van Raalte had a vision of establishing a Christian college, a church- supported institution based on Dortian principles. Hope College got its start with the inauguration of a freshman class in 1862. Phelps was the sole instructor that first year, putting his education at the Albany Academy and Union College to good use. Each year he added another class, another year of instruction, and more instructors to help. “On 14 May 1866 Hope College was incorporated under the terms of the Michigan General College Law,” and in July 1866 the first class of eight young men graduated from Hope College.63 Phelps and Van Raalte immediately begged the denomination to allow theological education to take place at the college, a plea responded to positively by the church, and the foundation of Western Theological Seminary was laid. Academy graduates no longer had to travel to the theological seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey, for their theological education. Seven of the eight graduates in 1866 continued their education in the same town and in the same building in which they had received their collegiate training.
The origins of Central College, in Pella, Iowa, were quite different. The very independent minister Hendrik P. Scholte refused to unite his flock with the Reformed Dutch Church and instead founded an independent Christian Church of Pella. Some seceders though wanted to join the Reformed Church, and by 1856 the majority of Scholte’s followers had turned to Van Raalte for ecclesiastical leadership. In response, Van Raalte visited Pella, preached and organized the first Reformed Church congregation in Pella, which then became a member of the Classis of Holland. The new congregation, impressed by Van Raalte’s leadership, called him to become its first pastor. He declined. After extending calls to some ministers in the Netherlands, the church called the Reverend Pieter J. Oggel, Van Raalte’s son-in-law, who accepted and became the first pastor of the First Reformed Church, Pella, in 1860.
A church-related academy was established in Pella within four years of its settlement, but Scholte, who aspired also to found a college, received help from the Baptist denomination to achieve this goal. The Baptists founded the Central University of Iowa in 1853 in Pella, with the help of many seceders, including Scholte himself, who participated by donating land or money.64 Its imposing name, however, did not bring it immediate success. It took some time to get underway, and it was decimated when many students enlisted in the army during the Civil War. Several decades later, when the Baptists wanted to consolidate their educational interests in Iowa to Des Moines, they offered to transfer Central College to the Reformed Church in America on condition that a Christian college would be maintained there. At the time there were fifty-five students in the academy and sixty-six in the College, one-third of which were from Reformed families. Central became affiliated with the Reformed Church in America in 1916 and continues to be to the present day—a second jewel in the crown of Reformed Church in America colleges.
The history of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, was more like that of Hope College.65 In 1869 a group from Pella made the trek to Sioux County in northwest Iowa to establish a new colony. Other settlers followed, until a well- established colony developed. The center of the colony was a town called Orange City, a name that reflects a clear relationship with the Netherlands. The area attracted many Reformed Church members, who brought with them their interest in Christian education and a desire to establish an institution similar to the Holland Academy. During the 1870s Henry J. Hospers, former mayor of Pella and a leader in the new colony, and the Reverend Seine Bolks, first pastor of the First Reformed Church in Orange City, kept the vision of an academy alive. Bolks had studied under Van Raalte in the Netherlands and came to the United Sates with him. He witnessed the beginnings of Holland Academy and Hope College, and, like Van Raalte, was instrumental in organizing Northwestern
Classical Academy in 1882. Its chief purpose was “to train the mind and character of young people that they might serve both church and society.”66 The Academy thrived in the late 1890s under the leadership of its second principal, the Reverend James F. Zwemer, a dynamic pastor and successful fundraiser. It took more time for Northwestern Academy to develop into a college than Holland Academy, but in September 1928 the Northwestern Junior College (a two-year college) began with a class of thirty students. In 1957, the board of trustees and the Reformed Church in America approved the school’s development into a four-year institution. Northwestern College is now a thriving Christian college. All three Reformed Church colleges—Hope, Central, and Northwestern—are today intentional about maintaining their ties with the denomination. It is therefore unlikely that these schools in the foreseeable future will fall away from the aegis of the Reformed Church, as Rutgers, Union, and New York University did. A positive attitude on the part of the denomination, and a realization of how valuable the three colleges are to them, may well ensure a long partnership of these colleges with the church.
Samuel B. Schieffelin was one of the most prominent Reformed Dutch Church members of the nineteenth century and a good friend of Albertus C. Van Raalte. Unfortunately, he is virtually unknown in Reformed Church circles today. Therefore, some biographical information about Schieffelin is necessary to understand the extent of his influence in the RDC of his day.
Schieffelin was born in New York City in 1811, son of Henry Hamilton and Maria Theresa (Bradhurst) Schieffelin. They were members of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, where Samuel was baptized.67 By the mid-1800s Schieffelin was an active member of the RDC, however, and served on the denominational Board of Domestic Missions and Board of Education.68 He wrote and published religious literature, including “The Foundations of History” (1863), “Milk for Babies: A Bible Catechism” (1864), and “Music in Our Churches” (1881).69
The Schieffelin family was heir to a very successful wholesale drug business founded by Jacob Schieffelin, Samuel’s grandfather, in 1780 in New York City. Samuel was engaged in the drug business, along with his three brothers. In addition to his service to the church, he was a member of the National Academy of Design and a trustee of the American Museum of National History. He was a very generous donor to various RDC causes and gave many gifts of money and books to Hope College, a result of his friendship with Van Raalte.70 The first edition of the Hope College Remembrancer (1867) was dedicated with gratitude to Samuel B. Schieffelin “whose sympathies and liberalities have been enlisted in behalf of Hope College.”71
Schieffelin became very interested in developing a system of denominational church schools, or parochial education. In 1851 he gave a small amount ($100) to the Board of Education to investigate the possibility of establishing such schools.72 This gift induced little interest, but that changed when Schieffelin in 1852 placed a large sum ($7,000) in a trust fund in the care of the Board of Direction of the Reformed Dutch Church for the purpose of establishing “some general parochial school system” in the denomination.74 The money was given with the stipulation that, if such a system was not established within two years, he would withdraw the funds and give them to the parochial school system of the Presbyterian Church. The committee that dealt with this proposal in 1853 noted that several classes have with unanimity “regarded the establishment of such schools as inexpedient” and declined to deal with it further, suggesting Schieffelin give the money to the Holland Academy.74
On March 1, 1854 Schieffelin sent a letter to Reformed Church pastors that stimulated much more interest in his goal to establish parochial schools.75 The letter was lengthy and carefully worded. In it he first deplored the history of the question, that the church had failed in its duty to the children of the church by not following educational policies decreed by the Synod of Dort and devoting attention to Christian day school education, but instead supporting public schools. “The duty of the Church to teach has been fixed upon her by her great Head, and the requisition covers the whole period of human life, from infancy to old age…. Has she not, during all this period [since Dort], too generally dropped the reigns from her hands, and abandoned oversight, direction, and control to the world?” Schieffelin contended that many of the problems the church was facing in his time were due to its failure to sponsor church schools as directed by the Synod of Dort. The Presbyterians had established at least one hundred such schools by this time, and he thought the RDC should be as intentional about establishing a system of parochial education as the Presbyterians.
About two-thirds of the way through the letter, Schieffelin gets to the heart of the matter—the compelling reason for him why the church was duty-bound to establish parochial schools. The “Romanists,” the real threat to the American public education system, “are endeavoring to get hold of the public school-money, to use for their own sectarian purposes.” The Roman Catholic Church knew the importance of educating their young children. “The Papists have now in the city of New-York, besides their fashionable schools, about twenty-eight schools, connected with, and bearing the names of, their churches, under the charge of sixty priests, and having over ten thousand scholars, and amongst them some children of Protestants,—their teachings and their reading-books being especially suited to train them up Papists.” Schieffelin clearly felt it was incumbent upon the Reformed Church to set up its own parochial school system. If the Roman Catholic Church was able to do it, why shouldn’t the Reformed Dutch Church?
Schieffelin’s letter brought action in 1854. The church accepted Schieffelin’s gift and adopted a “Plan for the Establishment and Sustaining of Parochial Schools in the Reformed Dutch Church.” Every school applying for funds from the Schieffelin Fund must be under the care of a consistory of a Reformed Church and subject to the supervision of the classis. “The Holy Scriptures shall be used in such school as a text- book for daily instruction in religion, and the Catechism approved by our Church shall be taught at least twice a week in addition to the usual branches of early education.” The teacher must be a member of the Reformed Dutch Church. Rules followed governing the application for grants from the Schieffelin Fund, such as the application needing the approval of the local classis and the congregation being bound to take offerings for the support of the school.76
Edward Tanjore Corwin, distinguished nineteenth-century minister and historian, in his essay on parochial schools notes that a number of congregations took advantage of this funding, and “in 1858 sixteen [schools] were in operation [and] Christian School books began to be published.” When Van Raalte and his own congregation began a parochial school in 1857, he may have been able to acquire monies from the Schieffelin Fund.77 Van Raalte earlier had cast his lot with public education because the immigrants were too poor to fund congregational schools. Possibly he found that the public school was losing its Christian emphasis. Van Raalte’s Christian school, sponsored by the First Reformed Church, lasted only about ten years. It seems unusual that Van Raalte was not successful in this attempt because one of the reasons for the Separatists to emigrate was for the avowed purpose of establishing Christian schools.
Corwin, however, concluded, “It began to appear it was chiefly the Holland and German churches which availed themselves of the aid of this Fund.” In spite of all of the effort and funding given by Schieffelin for the establishment of parochial schools they did not flourish. Interest in parochial schools diminished. Corwin suggests that other causes had captured the churches’ interest and the “Public School system seemed all sufficient.” In any case, Schieffelin could not overcome the tendency of the Reformed Dutch Church to rely on the public school system for the education of its children.
The flagging interest of the Reformed Church in a parochial school system may have led to Schieffelin’s generosity to the Holland Academy and nascent Hope College. All his gifts, interest, and efforts at least had an effect at the academy level and certainly on the Holland Academy. Schieffelin had found a faithful cohort in Albertus C. Van Raalte who worked diligently to establish Christian education at the academy and college level in the Holland Colony.
The Sunday school movement may also have tended to dull the enthusiasm for Christian day schools.78 Reformed Church congregations adopted this movement for Christian education within the local church, beginning as early as 1826. By the end of the nineteenth century, all efforts to follow the Dortian model for Christian education had virtually ended. In the twentieth century the last of the academies closed or were secularized. From the history of early educational endeavors of the Reformed Church in America (as the church became known in 1867), there is a lesson that perhaps the three remaining Reformed Church in America colleges can learn.79 Unless Hope, Central, and Northwestern colleges are fully intentional about being Christian institutions of higher learning, their future as Christian institutions is bleak. The secularization that Rutgers, Union, and New York University experienced is always a threat church colleges will face, but, we pray, our three colleges will never be deterred from recognizing the importance of the relationship between the Christian faith and learning.
1 F. L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958), s.v. “Calvin, John.”
2 The Synod of Dort, held in the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, was “an international church assembly called by the States General of the Netherlands to settle certain ecclesiastical and doctrinal matters that had been troubling the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. It consisted of thirty-five pastors and a number of elders from the Dutch churches, five theological professors from the Netherlands, eighteen deputies from the States General, and twenty-seven foreign delegates” (M. Eugene Osterhaven, “Synod of Dort,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984], 331-32).
3 The Dutch Reformed Church in America had various titles in its early history. The Reformed Dutch Church was the one most commonly used until the denomination in 1867 adopted the title of the Reformed Church in America. See Edward Tanjore Corwin, A Digest of Constitutional and Synodical Legislation of the Reformed Church in America (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1906), s.v. “Title, or Name, of the Reformed Church in America,” for a full discussion of the various titles.
4 By this time Central College was already in existence and had been for more than ten years (it was founded in 1853), but it did not come under the auspices of the Reformed Church in America until 1916.
5 Erasmus Hall did not become defunct in the same way as many of the other academies did. It became part of the New York City educational system.
6 Thomas De Witt, “A Historical Sketch of the Parochial School System in Holland Subsequent to the Reformation,” in History of the School of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in the City of New-York, From 1633 to the Present Time, by Henry Webb Dunshee (New York: John Gray, 1853), 3. Later editions of the history of the Collegiate School adopted 1638 as the date of the founding of the school. The second edition was issued in 1883. A more recent history is Jean Parker Waterbury’s A History of Collegiate School 1638-1963 (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1965).
7 The Articles of Dort can be found in Corwin’s A Digest of Synodical Legislation as part of the introductory material in which the successive Constitutions (Polities) of the church are reprinted in their entirety. The 1619 Rules of Church Government, the 1792 Explanatory Articles, the 1833 Constitution of the Reformed Dutch Church, and the 1874 Constitution of the Reformed Church in America are reprinted in parallel fashion. References for the articles mentioned here are: Article 21 on p. xxviii, 41 on p. xlviii, 44 on p. lii, and 54 on p. lxiv.
8 The purpose of the Boston Latin School was to prepare students for admission to Harvard College. For a history of the Latin School movement in the United States, see A History of American Education, by Harry G. Good and James D. Teller (New York: Macmillan Company, 1973), 45-55.
9 Waterbury, 31.
10 Dunshee, 29.
11 Robert S. Alexander, Albany’s First Church and Its Role in the Growth of the City, 1642-1942 (Delmar, N.Y.: Newsgraphic Printers, 1988), 146-47.
12 Edgar Tilton Jr., The Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem organized 1660 Historical Sketch (New York, 1910), 26-29.
13 “The Old Church on the Green”: The History and Traditions of the First Reformed Church, Hackensack, N.J., Founded 1686 (Privately printed, 1964), 15.
14 Henry R. Stiles, A History of the City of Brooklyn (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1867), 181.
15 The Two Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary of the Kinderhook Reformed Church Kinderhook, New York 1712-1962, p. 29.
16 Benjamin C. Taylor, Annals of the Classis of Bergen, of the Reformed Dutch, and of the Churches under Its Care: including the Civil History of the Ancient Township of Bergen, in New Jersey (New York, 1857), 99-103.
17 The Kingston Academy was founded in 1774 (Martha B. Partlan and Dorothy A. DuMond, The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, New York. Three Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary 1659-1984), 82. The authors note that the congregation built a house in 1671 for the use of the schoolmaster, indicating that a school may have been established very early in the congregation’s existence.
18 The Constitution of the Reformed Dutch Church in the United States of America (New York, 1793). The Explanatory Articles are at the end of the constitution on pp. 303-354.
19 Brackets and bracketed material in the original.
20 Constitution, 342.
21 For Horace Mann’s key role in the development of public education in the United States, see Harry G. Good and James D. Teller, A History of American Education, 148-57.
22 Willis Boughton, Chronicles of Erasmus Hall Academy (New York, 1906), 17-18.
23 Edward Tanjore Corwin, A Manual of the Reformed Church in America, 1628-1902, 4th ed. (New York, 1902), 1007.
24 Boughton, 17-37.
25 Alexander, 18.
26 Wayne Somers, ed., Encyclopedia of Union College History (Schenectady: Union College Press, 2003), s.v. “Schenectady Academy.”
27 J. David Muyskens, “The Town Clock Church”: History of the First Reformed Church, New Brunswick, N. J. (Published by the Consistory, 1991), 14.
28 Annals of the Classis of Bergen, 106-107.
29 James Reed and Ronnie Prevost, A History of Christian Education (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1993), 303.
30 Jeanne M. Jacobson, Elton J. Bruins, and Larry J. Wagenaar, Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot (Holland, Mich.: Hope College, 1996), 69ff.
31 The Acts and Proceedings of the General Synod of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America, 1861-1865, vol. 10, (New York, 1865), 622. Even though Scholte wanted no part of the RDC, he requested help for the “school in Pella.” This request may be an indication that many followers of Scholte had deserted him and turned to Dr. Albertus C. Van Raalte for guidance. One reason given for the request was: “There is a school now feeder of the new Western College.”
32 Corwin, Digest of Synodical Legislation, 511.
33 Corwin, Digest, 468.
34 Corwin, Digest, 830.
35 Edward H.Scheuur, After Lewis and Clark: The History of the Classis of Dakota (self-published, 2004), 39-40. The academy was a “Christian institution of learning designed to prepare boys and girls for college or to fit them directly for various stations in life by laying the basis of a sound liberal Christian education.” Because his father was the sole teacher in the academy during the four years of its existence, D. Ivan Dykstra gave extensive information on the Harrison Academy in his book ‘B.D:.’ A Biography of my Father, the Late Reverend B. D. Dykstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 50-63. The curriculum of the academy consisted of English language and literature, Latin, Greek, New Testament, history, physics, and botany (56). B.D. Dykstra also conducted daily chapels and preached for churches without pastors.
36 Charles E. Corwin, A Manual of the Reformed Church in America 1628-1922, 5th ed. (New York: Board of Publication and Bible-School Work of the Reformed Church in America, 1922), 97. Corwin lists a number of academies that were part of the domestic mission program of the church at this time: McKee Academy formed in 1905 and Annville Institute in 1910, both in Kentucky; Southern Normal and Industrial Institute at Brewton, Alabama, organized in 1919.
37 William H. S. Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1927 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers College, 1924), 75. Demarest, president of Rutgers College 1906-24, wrote a succinct history of Queen’s College in an essay in Charles E. Corwin’s A Manual of the Reformed Church in America, 1628-1922, 5th ed., 105-118.
38 Encyclopedia of Union College History, 296.
39 Thomas J. Frusciano and Marilyn H. Pettit, New York University and the City: An Illustrated History (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1977), 1.
40 James E. Reed and Ronnie Prevost, A History of Christian Education, 297.
41 For a summary of the struggle of the Coetus and Conferentie factions over the issue of ordination, see Elton J. Bruins, “The New Brunswick Theological Seminary 1884-1959” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1962), 1-12. A copy can be found in the Van Wylen Library of Hope College, Holland, Mich. See also Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 28-29.
42 William H. S. Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 379-82. Corwin, Digest, 508.
43 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), 645. Hermann K. Platt, in his biographical sketch of Frelinghuysen in American National Biography (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991) wrote: “In 1844, after Frelinghuysen had been out of politics for six years [as a U.S. senator and the mayor of Newark, N.J.] the Whig nominating committee chose him as Henry Clay’s running mate in the presidential election. His unblemished moral reputation was considered attractive to the Christian reform wing of the party…” (457). His nickname in the senate was “Christian Statesman,” and he was known for his “deep Christian piety” (456).
44 Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 23-46.
45 Demarest, A History of Rutgers College 1766-1924, 405-408.
46 Demarest, A History of Rutgers College 1766-1924, 493. The Voorhees were generous with Hope College as well and funded the building of Voorhees Hall in 1907.
47 Norman Goodall, Christian Ambassador: A Life of A. Livingston Warnshuis (Manhasset, N.Y.: Channel Press, 1963), 162-63. Court action was necessary to wrest these funds from the university.
48 Wayne Somers, ed., Encyclopedia of Union College History (Schenectady: Union College Press, 2003), 628.
49 Encyclopedia of Union College, 296-97.
50 William N. P. Dailey, “Union College and the Reformed Church in America,” in Corwin, Manual, 5th ed., 142.
51 Information about New York University was taken from Thomas J. Frusciano and Marilyn H. Petit, New York University and the City: An Illustrated History.
52 Frusciano, 1.
53 Frusciano, 8.
54 Frusciano, 21-22, 47.
55 Frusciano, 37, 129.
56 Frusciano, 15. Brackets in original.
57 Corwin, Manual, 5th ed., 597-98.
58 Frusciano, 35.
59 Frusciano, 46.
60 Fruscianco, 142.
61 Fruscianco, 142.
62 For a history of this union, see Elton J. Bruins, “1850—The Union of 1850: The Classis of Holland Joins the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church” in Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches in the Nineteenth Century, by Robert P. Swierenga and Elton J. Bruins, Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, no. 32, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1999), 36-60.
63 Elton J. Bruins, “Hope College: Its Origin and Development, 1851-2001,” Origins 19, no. 1 (2001): 4-13. The two standard histories of Hope College are: Preston J. Stegenga, Anchor of Hope: The History of an American Denominational Institution, Hope College (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1954) and Wynand Wichers, A Century of Hope, 1866-1966 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968). A religious history of the college is James C. Kennedy and Caroline J. Simon, Can Hope Endure?: A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education, Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, no. 48, (Grand Rapids:, 2005). Quote is from Wichers, 68.
64 There is no published history of Central College. Material about Central was drawn from The Acts and Proceedings of the One Hundred and Tenth Regular Session of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America…, June, 1916, pp. 762-66.
65 George De Vries Jr. and Earl Wm. Kennedy, “The Reformed Church in America and Higher Education (with special reference Northwestern Academy and College),” Reformed Review 23, no. 3 (spring 1970): 184-95.
66 De Vries and Kennedy, 191.
67 New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 108, no. 2 (April 1977): 98.
68 The Twenty-Third Annual Report of the Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (1855) and First Catalogue and Circular of Hope College 1865-66.
69 National Cyclopaedia of American Biography , vol. 4 (New York, 1897), 521, s.v. “Schieffelin, Samuel Bradhurst.”
70 Corwin, A Digest of Constitutional and Synodical Legislation of the Reformed Church in America (New York, 1906), s.v. “Schieffelin, Samuel B.”
71 The dedicatory statement in its entirety reads: “To Samuel B. Schieffelin, Esq., whose sympathies and liberalities have been enlisted in behalf of Hope College, from its germinal to its present position, this first commencement number of the Hope College Remembrancer is most gratefully dedicated.” It was written by president Philip Phelps Jr., editor of the Remembrancer.
72 Corwin, Digest, s.v. “Parochial Schools.”
73 The Board of Direction handled endowment funds for the denomination.
74 Corwin, Digest, 479-80.
75 Samuel B. Schieffelin to the RDC, “A Letter on Parochial Schools,” March 1, 1854, General Synod Papers 1849-1859, RCA Archives, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, N.J. (microfilm, Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, Mich.).
76 Corwin, Digest, s.v. “Parochial Schools.”
77 It seems more than coincidental that Van Raalte organized a school in 1857 when Schieffelin’s funds were available to assist local congregations to establish church schools.
78 See Corwin, Digest, s.v. “Sunday Schools,” for information on the adoption by the RDC of the Sunday sSchool movement.
79 James C. Kennedy and Caroline J. Simon, in Can Hope Endure? A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education, trace the efforts of Hope College to reclaim its intentionality to be a Christian college.