The Elkhart Institute: ‘A laudable enterprise’

Founder Henry A. Mumaw (1850-1908) sits at the right of this early group of Elkhart Institute students in Elkhart’s Grand Army of the Republic hall during its inaugural year in 1894-95.

This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of The Bulletin

BY JOE SPRINGER ’80, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library

AT 9 A.M. on August 21, 1894, Henry A. Mumaw — entrepreneur, editor, homeopathic physician — opened the doors to the Elkhart Institute. A month earlier, the Elkhart Truth had heralded plans for the Institute as a “laudable enterprise; … distinctively Elkhartan — an institution by our people and for our people.” Nonetheless, according to the newspaper, the Institute would “extend a cordial invitation to the young people of adjoining towns, counties and states … to all who may wish to receive a practical education.”

Although the idea of a “Mennonite college” was being bandied about, the August launch was still a private venture. Mumaw had committed $300 personally, joined by one other Elkhart donor ($25) and 4 Ontario-based donors ($5/each). Temporary quarters were in the hall of the Grand Army of the Republic (on northwest corner of Main Street and Franklin Street in Downtown Elkhart). Mumaw’s 14-year-old son Andrew was reportedly the first of 30 students enrolled that August — a number that had doubled by the end of the first 10-week term. A faculty initially consisting of four men and one woman covered a spectrum of courses from business to music, physical culture to oratory.

Six months later, stockholders of the newly-formed Elkhart Institute Association took on ownership and further development of the Institute. Before the decade was out, the Institute had built and outgrown a building in Elkhart and moved to Goshen to become Goshen College.