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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Postcard showing a classroom at the college
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Bayless Business College. Bayless Commercial College was the first commercial college established in Iowa and is believed to be the oldest school of its kind north of St. Louis and west of Chicago. The school was known in later years as the Bayless Business College.

The college, founded on September 1, 1858, by Aaron Baylies, formerly of the Milwaukee Commercial College, originally used rooms above the old Log Tavern.(1) The first students, enrolled on October 1, 1858, paid tuition of five dollars per course. Students were also to supply their own spittoon. Such expenses often led to tuition being given in exchange for titles to wild lands or city lots. (2)

On June 16, 1862, Cornelius BAYLESS arrived in Dubuque. Although he and his cousin were nearly strangers, Cornelius was given a job as a teacher. By 1863 the two cousins were partners in the college. On August 2, 1863, Cornelius became sole owner of the college upon the death of Aaron.

Letterhead used by the Bayless Business College. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Proper handwriting was a skill taught to students. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.

Determined that the college would succeed, Cornelius entered upon an aggressive campaign using handbills and advertisements placed in the Daily Times and Herald. By 1873 enrollment had increased, and additional room was needed. Better accommodations were found in the Ogilby Building. In 1874 the college was moved again to a building on Seventh and Main STREETS. On October 19, 1875 new rooms of the school were opened on its seventeenth anniversary. (3)

This diploma and the reputation behind it helped ensure quick employment. Photo courtesy: James Cox
The reputation of the college graduates helped ensure prompt employment of those successfully passing the curriculum. Shorthand and typing were added to the previous curriculum of bookkeeping and arithmetic.

Penmanship strokes used in making letters became, in the hands of the most adept, a form of art.

A graduate of Bayless Business College advertising penmanship classes for all ages. Photo courtesy: Neal Sprenglemeyer
Calligraphy of Vaclav Vane, 'star pupil' of penmanship master Austin Palmer, at the Cedar Rapids Business School. Photo courtesy: Susan Bazelides and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Vaclav Vane used as inspiration the illustrations which appeared in Palmer Handwriting manuals. Photo courtesy: Susan Bazelides and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Vaclav Vane developed his calligraphy into a life-long hobby. Photo courtesy: Susan Bazelides and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Palmer encouraged calligraphy transformed into art to utilize the strokes used in making different letters. Photo courtesy: Susan Bazelides and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Small notebook. Photo courtesy: Larry Friedman
The school found many ways of advertising itself. In 1875 the school purchased a 64-foot long sign that stretched the entire length of the Finley Block. The sign was not only one of the largest in Dubuque but made of wire which was considered very new and attractive. Considered impervious to weather, the name of the school was displayed in large gold letters. (4) In 1879 Professor Chapman's expertise with a pen earned him a silver medal for a portrait of himself surrounded by a wreath. (5) Bayless Business College also offered evening lectures on subjects such as the mound builders. (6) In 1882 Bayless returned to Dubuque from Chicago with a "Remington Perfected Typewriter" and all the rights associated with being the sole agent for the business. (7)

On May 24, 1890 a large number of graduates of the institution took the first steps to organize an alumni association. I. E. Brown was elected chairman. (8) The school also took the opportunity during the summer vacation period to offer "practical studies" including penmanship, shorthand, bookkeeping, and arithmetic taught by "expert teachers." (9)

Growing enrollment led to the school being moved during April 1892, to the Lincoln Building at Eighth and Locust Streets. (10) In 1908 many of Dubuque's most prominent citizens toasted the college's fiftieth anniversary.

At the annual convention of the American Federation of Commercial Teachers held in 1909, Miss M. E. Wilson, principal of shorthand at Bayless, was named vice-president of the shorthand department of the federation. Miss Wilson was the only woman in the United States occupying such a position. (11)

Bayless served as president of the college until 1909 when it was sold to Edwin B. LYONS. In 1916 the winter announcement of subjects showed that the school was keeping current with subjects such as stenotype, mimeograph, letter press and farm accounting. Married as well as single women were encouraged to take courses. (12)

Individual attention to each student was possible until the end of WORLD WAR II when enrollment soared. Graduates were in high demand with the school unable to fill all the requests from local employers for clerical help. (13) In 1951 school officials announced a new schedule allowing students to take classes in the morning and hold jobs in the afternoon or attend private coaching classes. (14) School enrollment in 1952 saw a 10% increase over the preceding year. (15)

Following the retirement of Lyons, Florence Ludwick and Everette B. Lutenberg, senior teachers at the college, became business partners and co-directors of the school. On October 1, 1958 the college held its 100th anniversary and celebrated the graduation over the years of over 20,000 students. Despite its success, competition from other schools caused Bayless Business College to finally close in 1967. (16)

The college made itself available for community activities. Photo courtesy: Neal Sprenglemeyer
Receipt for payment of tuition covering four weeks of class. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
During the summer vacation of the public schools, two of the college teachers proposed a special writing class. Photo courtesy: Neal Sprenglemeyer
Postcard advertising the school.
The catalogue indicated that students came primarily from the Dubuque area but also Georgetown, Wisconsin; Byron and Chicago, Illinois; and Winona and Brownsville, Minnesota. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Postcard advertising the school. Photo courtesy: Joseph Jacobsmeier
Class picnic--1912
Letter. Photo courtesy: Dee Schilling
1926 advertisement Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald



1. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-14-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

2. "Baylies' Commercial College," Dubuque Herald, October 20, 1873, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751020&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "The Seventeenth Anniversary," Dubuque Herald, October 19, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751019&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "New Sign," Dubuque Herald, October 30, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18751030&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, February 2, 1879, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18790202&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "The Next Lecture," Dubuque Herald, February 15, 1876, p 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760215&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, November 25, 1882, p. 4

8. "Alumni Organize," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 25, 1890, p. 4

9. "Summer School of Business," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 21, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900621&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "Will Have a New Home," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 1, 1892, p. 12. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920101&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "Dubuque Woman is Honored, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, January 3, 1909, p. 4

12. Kruse, Len. "Bayless Business College," Julien's Journal, September 1995, p. 80

13. Ibid.

14. "Bayless Frees Students for Part-time Work," Telegraph Herald, October 31, 1951, p. 6

15. "Bayless College Begins 95th Year This Week," Telegraph Herald, August 31, 1952, p. 25

16. Kruse