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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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Postcard showing the campus before the fire. Photo courtesy: Jim Massey

CLARKE UNIVERSITY. The first liberal arts college for women in the State of Iowa and home of the nation's oldest small college computer science program. Clarke College was named for Sister Mary Frances CLARKE who came to Dubuque in 1843 at the invitation of Bishop Mathias LORAS. On July 5, 1843, St. Mary's Female Academy opened on the northwest corner of Third and Bluff near ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. The students enrolled in the school were daughters of many of the region's most prominent men.

By 1846 this school was so overcrowded that residents were moved to St. Joseph Prairie where St. Joseph's Female Academy on the Prairie was established. Transportation between Dubuque and Key West proved impractical, and in 1858 the Academy was returned to Dubuque. Its new location was in a building on 14th Street. In 1859 the name of the school became Academy of the Sacred Heart.

In September 1868, one hundred fifty students and the sisters moved into the Wellington mansion which became St. Joseph Academy at 13th and Main STREETS. Ten years later, again plagued with overcrowding, another and what became the final move was made.

In 1878 Mother Clarke purchased 11.5 acres containing three mines near the summit of Seminary Hill on Old Mineral Road (now West Locust). Two miles from the city, the area seemed remote, but the price of two hundred dollars per acre plus three hundred dollars for the MINING rights was paid, with Dubuque industrialist Augustine A. COOPER guaranteeing the loan. Mount St. Joseph Academy was established in 1881.

Fridolin HEER, architect of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE, designed the first building on the campus of the new Mount St. Joseph's Academy. This building, later named Margaret Mann Hall, was chosen as the administration building and also housed a convent, dormitories, and classrooms.

M. F. Clarke Residence Hall
Overcrowding soon led to the need for additional space and the construction of Rose O'Toole Hall that opened in September 1884. This building provided needed classrooms and living space along with an Assembly Hall and library boasting panels of Iowa walnut and white oak floors. The first Catherine Byrne Hall was built in 1894 as a guesthouse. This eventually became an art studio, music hall, dormitory, and finally science building. The building was demolished in 1965 for room to construct the computer center.

Mount St. Joseph Academy and College, which housed its first seventy-two students in Margaret Mann Hall, became a liberal arts college in 1901 and received its charter from the State of Iowa in 1902. The first bachelor of arts degree was conferred in 1904. The Sacred Heart Chapel in Mary Bertrand Hall with its focal point of twin spires and an extension for library and study hall was completed in 1902. In 1908 Eliza Kelly Hall was constructed as a fine arts building and linked to Margaret Mann Hall with a beautiful corridor eventually used to display class portraits.

The curriculum was reorganized in 1913, and degree work changed from a three to four year program. The North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools gave the college accreditation in 1918.

Cacheted cover from 1944
Mary Frances Clarke Hall was dedicated in 1924 as a residence hall. Recreation for the residents came from the theater, union, SWIMMING POOL and gym named for Terence Donaghoe and completed in 1928. The same year the Academy closed, and the college was renamed Clarke College in honor of its founder.

Recognized for its academic quality, Clarke added graduate level studies in 1964 and granted its first master's degree in 1967. Clarke's computer science program, established in 1964, was begun by the renowned Sister Mary Kenneth KELLER. Clarke became coeducational in the spring of 1979.

In 1970 the size of the college nearly doubled in campus area with the purchase of the Bradley property on Clarke Drive adjacent to the school. Prior to the purchase of the 51-acre tract for $200,000, the college covered 58 acres. (1)

Photo courtesy: Diane Harris
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In 1984 a disastrous fire swept Clarke College destroying the administrative offices, chapel, library, and art and music halls. Administrative offices of the President Catherine DUNN, who took office eleven days before the fire, were set up in Mary Josita residence hall. Dedication ceremonies for the new buildings were scheduled to occur with the 1986 Homecoming celebration beginning on Friday, October 17.

Beginning in 1976 Clarke presented an Every Woman's Day Award following a benefit luncheon used to raise funds for scholarships to nontraditional-age students.

In May, 2010 the college's Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favor of renaming the college to Clarke University effective August 1, 2010. At the time of the announcement, other news was also released. The university within the next five years would have a new science facility, athletics facility and gateway to the campus. President Joanne BURROWS stated that Clarke had operated as a university without the university distinction for several years. In addition to many undergraduate programs, four graduate programs and one doctoral program, a second doctoral program--doctor of nursing practice--was being planned.

In 2013 Clarke was granted approval by the Higher Learning Commission to offer a second master's degree in business--the Master in Organizational Leadership (MOL). This degree was unique from the university's Master's of Business Administration in that it was offered through a partnership with Dardis Communication--a developer of professional leadership and coaching programs.

In January 2015, Clarke announced that it would field a football team for the 2018 season. University trustees voted on January 30, 205 to add football to the intercollegiate sports program. The team would be part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Recruiting would start in the summer of 2017. (2)

In 2015 the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE, Clarke University, LORAS COLLEGE, and the Northeast Iowa Community College were named to the 2016 Military Friendly Schools list by Victory Media. The list designates the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools that do the most to support military service members, veterans, and their spouses as students and ensure their sucess on campus and after graduation. (3)

See also: Mary St. Clara SULLIVAN (Sister)

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Sister Mary Edward Dolan with television personality Fran Allison.



1. "51 Acres Are Added to Clarke Campus," Telegraph Herald, March 4, 1970, p. 1

2. "Clarke to Add Football," Telegraph Herald, February 1, 2015, p. 13A

3. "Clarke, Loras, NICC, UD, UW-P on Pro-Military List," Telegraph Herald, November 12, 2015, p. 3A