Almighty is the Lord God.
The Earth is full of its magnificence.
Every graduate of Upsala College knew these words. They are from the vision of the prophet. The first words of the Swedish High Mass were shouted by the pastor. They said God’s glory was everywhere. The intellectual pursuit that motivated Upsala College was grounded in a trust that encouraged the pursuit of knowledge. Everything was the subject of investigation and devotion.
Upsala was not seen as a place for narrow-minded indoctrination. Although it was mostly Swedish during its first 50 years, it admitted several different religions. The first college in New Jersey to admit women was listed in Doc Calman’s history as a student body of 81 Swedes, 2 Finns, 1 Jew, 1 American, 1 Chinese, 1 Korean, and 1 Persian. Sports events, visiting lecturers, and musical presentations were required early on. It honored the sciences in the spirit of Lennaeus and Celsius and literature and history in the thought of Tegner and Geijer. It was a place where feminism and socialism could be discussed.
Much of the direction is due to the visionary leadership of Upsala’s first President. Father Beck, as he was affectionately known, refused a teaching position in philosophy at Yale to become the “rector” of an academy that existed only as a dream among Swedish immigrants to the east coast.
The New York Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church was formed in 1870. It took them a long time to get to one of the other colleges. There was a pressing need for teachers. The New York Conference established a college after the idea was broached. At the national synod at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1893, it was decided to name the institution “Upsala.” Swedes were celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Council of Uppsala, a national assembly that legally committed the Church of Sweden to the Lutheran Reformation. The name would honor the university in Sweden and be an inspiration for its growth and scholarship. Swedish youth from the mill towns of New England and the mines of Pennsylvania would have a place to go to get their education and assume leadership positions in their new homeland.
The first day of class was met with 16 students by “Father Beck” after he left his Salem congregation. The old Bethlehem Lutheran Church was where the classes were held. By the end of the year, there were 75 students in the academy.
The school remained at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church for four years after moving into larger quarters. The original five faculty were increased to seven. English was required for the immigrants to fit into their new homes. In the summer of 1895, ten students found preaching positions, and five had a congregation. These positions were very helpful to the students in paying their expenses.
Many Lutheran churches in the New York metropolitan area were supported by the preaching of many faculty and students. Over the years, Upsala reached out to assist many of the congregations that would have folded. Many youths were inspired to attend college by the numerous Luther League gatherings on the college campus. It was the host of many convention and study events.
The college was offered a site in N.J. in 1898 by the New Orange Industrial Association. The Board of Trustees chose Kenilworth because of the free land and money. The cause of the school was championed by the bishop of the New York Conference, who chaired the Board.
The cornerstone of Old Main was laid in 1899. The college flourished in a suburb with 40 farms, no electricity, water, gas, sidewalks, or a railroad. Four people received bachelor’s degrees in 1905 after it became a full college in 1903. The first regulation basketball court of any private school in the state was located in the Commercial Hall.