Grinnell College was founded as Iowa College in Davenport, Iowa in 1846. Over the next 25 years, Iowa College moved to Grinnell, Iowa (west of Davenport) and unofficially changed its name to Grinnell. In 1909, the name change to Grinnell College was made official. Women were first admitted to Grinnell after the Civil War.
In 1882, a tornado decimated Grinnell’s campus. Immediately, the administration rebuilt the campus, and took the opportunity to expand academically as well, by introducing Grinnell’s political science and modern language departments.
Grinnell was at the center of the beginning of the Social Gospel movement. The school also hosted the first intercollegiate football and baseball games west of the Mississippi.
Grinnell’s campus covers 120 acres and is divided into North Campus, East Campus, and South Campus. The sixty-three buildings represent a range of architectural styles, from Collegiate Gothic to Bauhaus.. The dorms appropriate Oxford and Cambridge’s use of loggias, or corridors, that run between buildings and are open-air on one side.
The Joe Rosenfeld ’25 Center, Grinnell’s student center, is central not just nominally, but also physically: it’s in the middle of Grinnell’s campus. Academic and residential buildings take up most of the campus; athletic facilities lie along a strip on Grinnell’s northern border.
Grinnell, Iowa is a small, rural town of under 10,000 that encompasses 5 square miles. In 2005, the city initiated a renovation project including new water mains, two-way streets, crosswalks, and parking spaces.
Grinnell isn’t much of a college town—students’ biggest complaint about the school—and it’s far from cities (the nearest, Des Moines and Iowa City, are each about an hour away). Instead of relying on the town for entertainment, Grinnellians create their own fun on campus.
Grinnell holds a number of free parties—including Disco, Fetish, Rave, and Mary B. James, a cross-dressing competition—in the Harris Center
The Titular Head Student Film Festival features spoof films, all fewer than five minutes long.
Grinnellians’ Block Party celebration marks the last day of finals.
Thomas Cech (1970) co-won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989.
John Garang (1969) led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and was Sudan’s vice president.
Herbie Hancock (1960), a jazz musician and composer, was part of Miles Davis’s “second great quintet.”
Harry Hopkins (1912) was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s senior advisor and the New Deal’s principal architect.
Robert Noyce (1949) co-founded Intel and co-invented the integrated circuit.
Roberta Smith (1969) was a New York Times art critic.
Joseph Welch (1914) was the main attorney for the US Army during the Army-McCarthy Hearings.
Grinnell’s 18 athletic teams, the Pioneers, participate in the Midwest Conference of the NCAA’s Division III. Grinnell also offers club teams in sports including water polo, Ultimate Frisbee, and rugby.
Almost a third of Grinnellians play varsity sports during their four years at school. Grinnell has had the most Academic All-Conference honorees of any college in the Midwest Conference for the past six years.
Grinnell’s basketball team, under Coach David Arseneault, has been noted for its playing style, called “The System,” which involves full-court press, intense offense and three-point shots, and five-player substitutions every 35 to 40 seconds. The basketball team has won three conference championships in the last 10 years.
Grinnell’s president, Russell K. Osgood, was the highest paid US liberal arts college president in 2003.
Feminist philosopher Judith Butler spoke at Grinnell’s 2008 commencement.
As of 2005, Grinnell had the largest percentage of alumni serving in the Peace Corps of any US college.
Grinnell’s dorms are divided into three complexes: North Campus, East Campus, and South Campus. The dorms on each campus are connected by a corridor called a loggia—similar to Oxford and Cambridge’s designs. Grinnell recently constructed four new residential halls, but the older buildings (like Norris, which houses many of Grinnell’s freshmen) often don’t have air conditioning.
Grinnell has two dining halls: Cowles, on North Campus, and Quad, on South Campus. Both feature typical college fare (main courses, hot sides, salad bar, sandwich bar, cereal bar, desserts, bagels, bread, tortillas, fruit, a sundae bar, and vegan dishes), though Quad has a more bohemian vibe than Cowles. All students living in residence halls are required to purchase meal plans.