Historical Sketch of the University

Iowa Wesleyan University is a historic, faith-inspired, four-year university situated in the rolling rural hills and agricultural economy of Southeast Iowa. Established in 1842, it is the oldest co-educational institution in Iowa. Iowa Wesleyan is committed to the liberal arts and to the professions. It is grounded in practical and adaptive learning so that real world challenges can be met with real world solutions. The University provides undergraduate, adult, online, and graduate education and promotes endeavors that advance Southeast Iowa and beyond.

The historic founding of Iowa Wesleyan University is rooted in the religious, educational and cultural aspirations of early settlers in the frontier settlement of Mt. Pleasant. Their aspirations were shaped by an impelling vision and a bold determination to build an institute of learning in the rapidly developing southeast corner of the Iowa Territory. On February 17, 1842, the Territorial Legislature granted a charter for the Mt. Pleasant Literary Institute, later named the Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute.

On March 8, 1843, Aristides Joel Priest Huestis, a New Englander by birth, signed a contract, the first dated document of the Institute, to act as Agent for raising money and supervising construction of the Institute Building. Three days later, four Mt. Pleasant residents donated twenty acres of land in four adjoining plots so that trustees could “within three years from this date erect a substantial building on some part of said donation, which building shall be used and forever appropriated as an institution of higher learning.”

Nearly three years later in their minutes of November 11, 1845, trustees recorded: “Resolved by the Board of Trustees we deem it expedient to elect a faculty and open a school on the first Monday in January next.” On that same date, they also named Huestis the President of the Institute. Classes began in the Institute Building, now known as Pioneer Hall, with two professors: President Huestis, who taught Natural and Moral Science and belles letters, and Johnson Pierson, who taught ancient languages and literature. Mathematics was added to the curriculum later that year.

James Harlan was named President of the Institute in 1853. Known as a man of national and political interests, Harlan, an Iowa City lawyer and businessman, determined to advance the educational status of the Institute. He successfully raised funds to construct a second building, now Old Main, and expanded the curriculum, adding political economy and theology, as well as piano, drawing, French and German classes. At his urging, on February 15, 1855, the Institute’s name was changed to Iowa Wesleyan University to emphasize its enlarged academic program and its sponsorship by the Iowa Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, granted in 1849.

The first college-level graduate of Iowa Wesleyan was Winfield Scott Mayne who earned a B.A. degree in 1856. In 1859, Lucy Webster Killpatrick was the first woman granted a B.A. degree at Iowa Wesleyan. Belle Babb Mansfield, the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the United States, graduated from Iowa Wesleyan in 1866. Susan Mosely Grandison, the first female black graduate, earned her degree in 1885. Keyroku Miazaki from Tokyo, Japan, attended 1890-91, the first documented international student. In 1958, Iowa Wesleyan graduate James Van Allen discovered the earth’s radiation belts. These radiation belts now bear his name. In October 2007, Peggy Whitson, NASA astronaut, became the first female commander of the International Space Station. She set the U.S. record with 377 days in space on two missions: 2002 and 2007-08.

On July 1, 1912, Iowa Wesleyan University became Iowa Wesleyan College. Through the years, the University has pioneered in such features as coeducation, the laboratory approach to teaching in the sciences, and service learning, adopted in 1967. More recently it has implemented an experiential learning program that integrates its Life Skills emphases with service learning and career experience into each student’s education. To prepare students for responsible citizenship and fulfilling careers, this program combines a broad-based liberal arts curriculum with community service-learning opportunities and field experience in the chosen field of study.

Iowa Wesleyan maintains a close affiliation with the United Methodist Church, from which it derives its sensitivity for spiritual values in social justice and human welfare, local, national, and international. In its distinctive role among the many institutions of learning in America, Iowa Wesleyan holds fast to the ideals of its founding vision, while fostering creativity and the pursuit of truth in its developing curricular framework of Learning in Community.

In May 2015, the institution readopted its earlier name of Iowa Wesleyan University to better reflect its role in serving the students, communities, and businesses of southeast Iowa.

Mission/Core Values/Vision


Iowa Wesleyan University is a transformational learning community whose passion is to educate, empower, and inspire students to lead meaningful lives and careers.


  • Learning & Community: We value a love of learning, a desire for civility, and the release of human potential for the sake of the common good.
  • Faith & Service: We honor spiritual values, social justice, and the welfare of the human community through civic engagement and service to one another.
  • Discovery & Action: We value the discovery of the self, the other, the broader world, and responsible action in response to those discoveries
  • Courage & Passion: We value learning in community and appreciate that these endeavors require bold risk-taking; and we value and celebrate that these endeavors are fueled by the passions, desires and aspirations of our members.


Iowa Wesleyan will be the preeminent education leader and resource for Southeast Iowa as its regional, comprehensive university offering an engaging student experience in relevant undergraduate and graduate programs in the liberal arts and professions.

Institutional Learning Outcomes: Life Skills

The Iowa Wesleyan University Institutional Learning Outcomes – the “Life Skills” – of Communication, Problem Solving, Valuing, and Social Effectiveness were originally adopted as Institutional Learning Outcomes in 1982. The faculty and administration at the time determined that “purposeful education is that educational process that serves its students best not merely by transmitting knowledge but by equipping them with broad and necessary adaptive skills as well.” These Life Skills help foster coherence across the curriculum and in all elements of co-curricular life. They embrace the meaning of community to include learning from each other and from the whole of the larger community to which Iowa Wesleyan University belongs.

As the university and its curricula have evolved since that time and as necessary graduate skills have changed, it became apparent there was a need to review both the scope and nature of the university’s institutional learning outcomes. Still called “Life Skills,” beginning in 2015, the university revised the original four Institutional Learning Outcomes into three overarching Institutional Learning Outcomes:

  • Communication: Students will show proficiency in acquiring, processing, and transferring information in a variety of ways, including written communication, oral communication, and information literacy.
  • Critical Reasoning: Students will strategically apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Civic Engagement: Students will develop the knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to actively engage in communities to promote social justice and human welfare.