Whiting Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Galesburg, holds a deep history with Knox, despite no longer being a part of the institution.
Located north of the Knox County Courthouse, the creme colored building was once a female dormitory. Constructed shortly after Old Main, it has stood proudly since around 1857.
Professor Emeritus Douglas Wilson, co-director of the Lincoln Studies center, discussed the history of women’s education here at Knox. At the time, higher education for women was still something that was questionable and seen as a very radical concept. Most large institutions had no options for women, but Knox had various courses for women to take, albeit geared more towards maintaining traditional roles. Additionally, they were in a separate female seminary in single-gender classes.
“In the national context, (Knox was) very advanced in the issue of women’s education, but it doesn’t sound so hot from our perspective,” Wilson said.
The building has two distinct wings which were added after its initial construction. Whiting Hall itself was named after Maria Whiting, head of the dorm in the 1880’s, for her contribution of $5,000 towards the construction of the east wing. Later on, the west wing was built to further house even more students. It had never been a residence for men, with the only time they were ever associated with the building was when a geology class needed a space for a lab, which was set up in the basement of Whiting Hall.
Women at Knox continuously pushed for change. In the 1860’s they pushed for being granted degrees instead of just being permitted to take courses. One hundred years later, they pushed for ending the patronizing guidelines that women had to abide by, such as strict dorm hours and visitation rules.
Wilson was part of that push for change. Starting at Knox in 1961, he was among the many young professors who felt that it was demeaning and needed to be changed.
“That was the first time that I was considered a rebel É I was one of the instigators pushing for (change),” Wilson said.
Despite a large amount of support for the change by students and faculty, there was opposition. Most of it was not from the school wanting to maintain strict rules for the women, but rather out of fear that the parents would not like the change and take their daughters out of school. In addition to that, there was fear of a drop in admission. Despite the pushback, change eventually occurred by the mid-60’s.
Knox didn’t suffer all that much from the change considering that other institutions had already begun advocating for it as well with varying levels of success.
“Our push was maybe not earlier than most, but it was more successful than most,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s daughter came to Knox in 1978, who was part of the last class to use Whiting Hall for the full four years. Eventually, the century old building began to run its course as it got severely out of code. The school could not afford to renovate it all so the decision was made to sell it. There were discussions of tearing it down, but that did not happen.
Currently, Whiting Hall is used as a senior citizen apartment complex and has been sold off a variety of times. In 2006, it was sold for a little over $2 million, compared to the $30,000 it took to construct it. In 2017, it was sold again where it more than doubled to about $4.4 million. The future of the building is uncertain as it continues to rise in value, but it continues to stand as a symbol of Knox’s history to push for equal opportunities for women.