On Nov. 11, 1861, the Evangelical Association opened a new institution—Plainfield College—in Plainfield, Ill., and called upon Augustine A. Smith to be its first president.
Smith was born and raised in Massachusetts and started teaching at age 17. He served at two Evangelical institutions in Ohio, as a principal at the Grand River Institute in Austinburg and as president of Greensburg Seminary.
While commitments to Greensburg delayed Smith’s arrival at Plainfield until 1862, he played a key role in the developmental stages of the College. His personal zeal for the abolition of slavery, temperance, Christian principles and women’s right to equal education shaped the College. In fact, Smith stated that a college should be “a great moral lighthouse sending out a clear and steady light upon all subjects that pertain to the wellbeing of man.”
In 1870, the College, which changed its name to North-Western College in 1864, relocated to Naperville, taking advantage of accessibility created by the direct railroad line from Chicago. In 1883, Smith retired as the president but continued to serve as president emeritus and to teach as professor of mental and moral sciences until his death on Dec. 8, 1891.
His devotion to his work, his deep religious convictions and an open-minded belief in the value of education in the humanities guided the College as it confronted serious financial issues in its early years.
Photo, ca. 1880