Founded in 1882

St. Ambrose University began as a seminary and business school for men.

History of St. Ambrose University

St. Ambrose University has come a long way since it began as a seminary and school of commerce for young men in 1882.

Over more than a century, countless students destined to influence the world have walked our halls. Long-time traditions took root and live on today. The campus grew, and with it the services to ensure our students, faculty and staff have the best environment in which to learn, live and work.

Here's your chance to brush up on Ambrose's history, and for an all-inclusive look, please find Fr. George McDaniel's book on the subject in the SAU Library, "A Great and Lasting Beginning."

1882-1932: A Great and Lasting Beginning

St. Ambrose Seminary/Academy officially opens at St. Marguerite's School, now known as Sacred Heart, with 33 male students ages 12 - 23. Their tuition? A staggering $3 a month.

Bishop John McMullen dies of cancer less than a year after helping found Ambrose.

Play ball! A professor returns from dinner one evening with a new baseball bat, marking the beginning of athletics on campus. Although numerous windows were broken, the excitement spurs the forming of two intramural teams, the "Collegians" and the "Metropolitans."

Ambrose moves to the oak grove on 10 acres near Scott and Locust Streets. Bishop Cosgrove's first preference for the school was the land around 8th and Ripley Streets.

Judge M.B. Gannon is the speaker at the first recorded commencement. Think the ceremony lasts a long time now? This one goes "well into the evening."

Ambrose's second building, "The Play Hall," is built as a gymnasium for indoor games.

Founding faculty member Joseph Halligan leaves Ambrose to found the Davenport Daily Leader newspaper, which runs until June 1903. The publication covers everything from armed mail robberies to theories on Jack the Ripper.

The Ambrose statue arrives on campus from Europe. Over the years, the statue will endure being painted green on St. Patrick's Day and losing a hand in 1936. The official record blames a severe storm for the damage. Rumor has it a student returning from a party climbed the statue to bid it goodnight.

The Rev. Ulrich Hauber, destined to become a nationally recognized biologist, enrolls at Ambrose as physics, geology, botany and astronomy are added to the curriculum. In addition to developing the pre-med program and publishing numerous journals, Hauber will become the fifth president in 1926.

A fire breaks out in President Flannagan's apartment in Ambrose Hall. To preserve the building, students toss his burning couch out the window. The first record on campus of a bat, Ambrose's unofficial mascot, is detailed in a student's journal. The annoyance is removed with a violin bow and hat. Today, these mammals tend to be found in Davis Hall.

The college's first recorded basketball game takes place in the gymnasium against the Augustana Vikings. There's no score recorded for that match-up, but in the coming years the Vikings would regularly trounce the Bees. Sweet revenge? In 1947, the last football brawl between the two will end in a 26-6 win for the good guys.

Perseverance and prowess are honored as the first varsity letters are awarded in baseball, football and basketball.

Can you hear me now? The first electronic media comes to campus in the form of a wireless station. The original range is a meager five miles, but after working on the station for a month, the students pick up signals as far away as Virginia.

A flu epidemic closes the school for six weeks as the healthy students are sent home. Correspondence classes are created for day students.

Calling all Bees! The first endowment campaign begins. The goal? To build Davis Hall. A total of $468,000 is pledged from local parishes and the city, but a farm depression means only half the payments are delivered.

Monsignor U.A. Hauber brings the first automobile to campus, although he didn't drive. His experimental voyage to Muscatine for watermelons nearly ends in an accident when none other than a bee flies up his pant leg.
Ground is broken on Davis Hall, the campus's first residence hall. The building is constructed in two parts, half in 1922 and half in 1926.

Homecoming traditions begin, with more than 400 alumni in attendance. In addition to a parade, freshmen start gathering firewood at the beginning of the year for the big bonfire. In later years, guards are posted around the clock to keep rivals from stealing the wood or burning it.

North Central Association of Colleges accredits Ambrose.

The faculty at Ambrose grows to include 15 priests and three lay teachers. Clergy members are required to document the specifics of their absences with the switchboard, including what time they leave, where they go and what they're doing.

1933-1983: Coming of Age

Sister Edith Cane is the first female student to be allowed to reside on campus. To prevent a commute from Ottumwa, Iowa, she is permitted to stay with the college domestic staff.

Construction is completed on the mighty Mississippi's Lock and Dam 15, making it the largest roller dam in the United States.

The first alumni club is formed. No surprise here-the club is based out of Chicago. But do they support the Cubs or the White Sox?

Bishop Rohlman begins the process of acquiring the property for the women's division at Marycrest College. The $50,000 piece of land is eventually donated to the college, which opens in 1939.

With the country in the throes of the Depression, Ambrose begins the fund drive for a new chapel. Miraculously, the $400,000 goal is met within a month, although construction doesn't begin until 1952.

G.I. 'Brose. The college is selected to host a V-12 cadet-training program for the U.S. Navy during World War II. Loras College is also considered, but Ambrose wins out because of LeClaire Hall's swimming pool.

The creation of the G.I. Bill attracts more students, and old military barracks are brought to campus for student housing. The barracks remain until 1960, when they are razed to make room for the Galvin Fine Arts Center. A total of 24 Ambrosians give their lives in the war effort. The NAACP chapter at Ambrose is formed, becoming the first NAACP chapter on a Catholic campus. Continuing Ambrose's social justice tradition, students protest for civil rights and labor issues.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Mercy...A partnership with the Mercy Hospital Nursing Program means women can earn a BS in Nursing from Ambrose. The female students live at the hospital.

Marycrest is accredited, marking the school's independence from Ambrose.

With the opening of Assumption High School, St. Ambrose Academy, the high school on campus long associated with the college, closes.

Big Ten, Big Problem. Ambrose football begins an 18-year hiatus due to financial problems. With the emergence of television, spectators prefer to watch the Big Ten games instead of traveling to the local stadium.

East Hall, now Rohlman, opens. It will come to be known affectionately by its male occupants as "Beast Hall" due to "uncontrollable showers," bare floors, thin walls and malfunctioning air conditioning, until it undergoes a total renovation in 2001.

Mississippi mud. As the river floods, classes are cancelled for two-and-a-half days so students can help sandbag. The mayor of Davenport commends the school for saving Davenport Water Works.

Snug as a bug... Hayes Hall is completed for seminary students, though the building is 10 beds short. The faculty apartments are turned into triple rooms to accommodate all the residents.

Ambrose officially becomes co-educational, with men and women taking classes together for the first time. However, the women have to commute until 1969 when South Hall (Cosgrove) opens. The catch? The building opens in sections due to a steel workers strike that lasts through the summer.

With war protests heating up after the invasion of Cambodia, classes are suspended for the remainder of the academic year to allow students to go home and help protest. President Menke even leads a protest down Locust Street.

The board of directors welcomes its first female member with the election of Margaret Tiedemann.

Close only counts in horseshoes. Details are finalized for Newman College, the proposed name of the merger of Ambrose and Marycrest. The course catalog is partially printed and the inter-campus bus, the Bee Hound, is already transporting students when the deal is nixed. Bottoms up! After the drinking age is lowered, a campus pub is opened in the Beehive area. Martinis and Manhattans are offered at the Last Class for 55 cents each.

Ambrose enters the graduate education arena with the launch of the master of business administration degree program. The program becomes fully accredited in 1979.

Ambrose's own Father Edward Catich, a world-renowned calligrapher and artist, dies of a heart attack in his studio on campus at the age of 73. He leaves a large portion of his collection to John Schmits, professor of art at Ambrose, who in turn donates these works to the university to start the Catich Gallery.

The Fighting Bees have a new "hive" to call home with the construction of Lee Lohman Arena. The $3-million project seats 2,200 fans.

1984-Present: The University Era

Computers make their debut on campus as 12 Apple 2e machines are installed in a "lab." A 25-minute video is produced to explain how to use the computers, which have only word-processing capabilities.
Phones are installed in student rooms and the campus gets an ATM machine.

On the rocks...or not. The legal drinking age is raised to 21 years of age, much to the chagrin of underclassmen.

Drumroll, please! Ambrose officially becomes a university. Edward Rogalski is named the university's 12th president. Hear ye, hear ye! Oprah Winfrey and U.S. Senator Bob Dole visit campus as speakers. Dole comes in March to discuss his senatorial experience, while Winfrey addresses attendees of the Quad Cities Women's Day Conference at the Galvin Fine Arts Center in April.

The hip bone's connected to the leg bone. Biology at Ambrose is taken to a new level as the cadaver lab opens with 18 bodies for anatomy students to examine.

Ambrose hops on the information super-highway by providing all students, faculty and staff with e-mail accounts. The university won't develop its Web site until the following October.

The old library moves from McMullen Hall to the newly constructed library building, with 350 students, faculty and staff lining up to pass part of the collection across campus. The 114 books passed represent each year of Ambrose's existence. Housing, we have a problem. "Residence Row," as it will be dubbed in 2005, begins with the construction of Tiedemann Hall. Hagen Hall follows in 2000, and bookends Bechtel and Franklin are created in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Somebody call the doctor! Classes start for the Doctor of Business Administration program, the first doctoral program offered at SAU. The Master of Physical Therapy program will be converted to a doctoral program in 2002.

The completion of the Rogalski Center upgrades life on campus with amenities that include a food court, wireless capabilities and spacious facilities to play games, study or even have student dances!

Franklin Hall opens to complete "residence row."

Fondest farewells! President Ed Rogalski retires after spending the past 20 years as president. He makes the record book as the longest serving president at a private university in the state of Iowa. Warmest welcome! Sister Joan Lescinski becomes the 13th president.

Ambrose successfully secures unconditional reaccreditation by the Higher Learning Commission for 10 years – the maximum term granted. A new combined use academic and residential building, with 11 classrooms and suite-style living space for 96 students, is finished just in time for Ambrose to welcome its largest enrollment ever. It was dedicated in August 2013 as McCarthy Hall.

The $11.5 million Center for Health Sciences Education at Genesis opens with generous support from its Health Services Foundation. This building serves as a brand-new home to our growing health services programs.

North Hall was built on the northeast corner of Lombard and Harrison streets. It has 204 beds. 

The largest single capital campaign in University history, nearly $18 million was raised to build a state-of-the-art, 80,000-square-foot Wellness and Recreation Center.

A prayer space in Ambrose Hall was dedicated to honor the sudden passing of Fr. Joseph DeFrancisco, Professor of Theology.

On August 10, a derecho struck the Quad Cities and wiped out power on campus for more than 24 hours. Also that fall, McMullen Hall re-opened with a 15,600 square-foot addition made possible by an $8.6 million fundraising campaign. The academic hall houses the College of Business faculty and programs.

So, what's next?

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