Tobin College was founded in 1892 and was the fourth school founded by Professor Thomas Tobin, the other three being: Tilford Academy, at Vinton, Iowa; Waterloo College, at Waterloo, Iowa , and Ellsworth College, at Iowa Falls, Iowa.
Professor Tobin, who was a native of Ireland, was born August 15, 1835 , and died May 27, 1900. He came to America when fourteen years of age. He did not have a chance to learn his letters until he was seventeen. But even at that age, he had the courage to set out to secure a college education, earning the necessary means himself. But so hard was the struggle, that for three months at a time, he did not have money enough to buy a postage stamp.
After graduation, Professor Tobin resolved to make it easier for backward boys to obtain an education, and to give them a chance to secure instruction suited to their individual needs. Accordingly, in 1870, he came to Iowa and established Tilford Academy, at Vinton. In 1885 he went to Waterloo and started Waterloo College . In 1889, he removed to Iowa Falls, where he founded Ellsworth College .
Early in the year 1892, he began corresponding with Mr. Frank Gates, Mr. Frank Farrell, and others, concerning the establishment of a college in Fort Dodge. Satisfactory arrangements having been made, Professor Tobin moved his family here in April of the same year, and work on the college was started. The property for the college site was purchased from Mrs. Sarah Dwelle, the widow of the last landlord of the old St. Charles hotel. This property included the hotel and a quarter of a block of ground on the corner of First avenue North and Seventh street. While the college building was not completely finished, yet school began on the second Monday in September, 1892.
The new college began without a name. A week or so after it opened, Professor Tobin was invited by some friends to spend the day in the woods. While he was gone, the teachers and students took matters into their own hands, called a meeting, and by a unanimous vote, christened the new college, "Tobin," in recognition of the work he had done for the cause of education through the founding of so many colleges.
The formal dedication of the building did not take place until the last of October, 1892. The dedicatory exercises consisted of an afternoon and evening program. At these programs, congratulatory addresses were made by prominent business men of the city; also by Rev. William Randall, pastor of the Baptist church at Iowa Falls, and Rev. F. E. Eldredge, state Sunday school missionary of the Baptist church, both of whom were very close friends of Professor Tobin.
The enrollment of the first term numbered about fifty. At the opening of the winter term, many of the country boys came in, and the enrollment reached the one hundred mark. The boarding department, the first fall, numbered about twenty. In the winter this number increased to forty. This department was carried on in the old St. Charles, the kitchen and dining rooms of the college building not being finished until 1893. The faculty the first year numbered nine. Professor Tobin taught general history, which was his favorite subject, and gave the rest of his time to the supervision of the school. Professor J. F. Monk had charge of the stenography department and taught the languages. Mrs. J. F. Monk and Miss Mable Allison taught the normal branches. Professor B. T. Green taught the sciences and mathematics and had charge of the commercial department. The music department was under the direction of Professor W. V. Jones and his daughter, Miss Gertrude Jones. Miss Amelia Goldsworthy had charge of the art department.
The first class graduated in June, 1893, and was composed of thirteen members from the commercial and stenographic departments. Those from the commercial department were: J. Oscar Ahlberg, Otto L. Boehm, Walter M. Boehm, Edwin Brickson, Nora Lenihan, Benjamin F. McNeil, Charles R. Peterson, Jennie M. Slate. The stenography class included: Jurgen N. Anderson, Ella W. Beach, Annie G. Fahey, Lizzie E. Harvison and Bessie B. Norton. The first normal class graduated in 1894, and consisted of Jessie V. Cox and Ida M. Prink.
In 1893, Professor Tobin made a contract with Messrs. Green and Monk, by which they were to take charge of the school, buying it from him. But the hard times in 1893-94 so cut down the attendance, that they were unable to make their payments, and Professor Tobin again assumed active control in the fall of 1894. Professor Monk remained on the college faculty, but Professor Green followed his natural inclination and studied medicine.
During the school year 1894-95, the two literary societies, the Philomathean and the Amphycton, were established. The societies have remained in existence ever since. The Snitkay Debate Prize has had much to do in stimulating the interest in debate. This prize is offered by Dr. C. J. Snitkay, an alumnus of the class of '97, and his wife, Mrs. Emma Monk Snitkay, an alumnus of the class of '95. The society winning the contest in debate is given a prize of $10.00. This prize money has always been used by the societies for the benefit of the school. It was in declamatory work, the teaching of young men and women to think and talk upon their feet, that Professor Tobin was especially interested. To this work he gave freely both of his time, and of his zeal. Many of the older students of the college remember how night after night, he sat in the rear of the chapel, criticising and commending, but always urging onward his students. And the present success of many of the alumni is due in a large measure to the training of Professor Tobin. His interest was such that he never missed a program of the literary societies, nor any program in which his students took part. His enthusiasm and interest was so genuine and from the heart that it engendered a longing for success in his pupils.
The first declamatory contest of the college was held in the year 1893, and was won by Miss June McNeil, now Mrs. Kusterer, of Moorland.
In the year 1896, the first of the present series of gold medal contests was held. These contests, held annually, provide for three prizes: A gold medal to the winner; a silver medal to the one winning second place, and a souvenir spoon of the college to the one winning third place. The medals have been the gifts of various persons, who have thus shown their interest in the work of the college. The spoon has always been the gift of the college management. The contest is usually held the last Friday evening in March. A system of preliminary contests held each term leads to the selection for the closing contest in the third term. There are three contestants chosen each term, thus making nine for the finals.
The honors in the contests since their beginning, together with the donors of the medal are as follows:
Year Winner Donor
1896 R. G. Tobin Professor T. Tobin
1897 George E. Q. Johnson Mr. Isaac Garmoe
1898 Mrs. Nora Haviland-Moore Hon. John F. Duncombe
1899 M. J. Fitzpatrick Mr. J. F. Carter
1900 Otto V. Bowman Mr. J. B. Butler
1901 Miss Edith Bird Hon. O. M. Oleson
1902 E. E. Cavanaugh Captain S. J. Bennett
1903 Miss Ethel Jondreau Mr. M. F. Healy
1904 James A. Martin Mr. J. G. Early
1905 Francis Murphy Messrs. Monk & Findlay
1906 Miss Eva Southwick Mrs. Julie Haskell-Oleson
1907 Miss Ellen Schmoker Messrs. Monk & Findlay
1908 Leon W. Powers Mr. H. M. Pratt
1909 William Ryberg Mr. H. D. Beresford
1910 Miss Christine Brown Mr. Charles Iles
1911 Miss Myrtle Tullar Mrs. Margaret Tobin-Pratt
1912 D. L. Rhodes* Mr. John S. Heffner
Perhaps no school of its size has as strong an alumni association as Tobin College . This association was organized in 1895 and now numbers over three hundred. A unique feature of the Tobin College Alumni Association is the alumni fund. This fund was started in 1899 by Professor Tobin, its purpose being "for the aid of worthy students in their efforts to gain an education."
In 1899, Professor Tobin sold the college to Messrs. Monk and Findlay, who have carried on the work along the lines originally laid down. The college has continued to prosper and grow until now the annual enrollment numbers about four hundred.
With the lives of such men as Professor Tobin, Professor Monk and Professor Findlay dedicated to its service, Tobin College could not help but be the source of blessing it is to the community and to the young people who have attended it.
* D. L. Rhodes and Miss Mildred Sperry tied for first place, and on drawing lots the honors went to Mr. Rhodes.
*Iowa Biographies Project: History of Fort Dodge and Webster County, Iowa… by H. M. Pratt.1913
*Chicago: The Pioneer Publishing Company, 1913.
The location of Wahkonsa School has a great deal of historical interest connected with it. The plot on which the school is built was the site of the old military post from which Fort Dodge had its beginning.
The fort was placed upon the hill overlooking the valleys of the Des Moines River and Soldier and Lizard Creeks for protection from the Indians. The barracks for the officers were built upon what is now the playground.
In 1891, an eight-room brick building was erected upon the side of the old fort. The school was named for a friendly young Sioux Indian who had been a frequent visitor at the fort.
At midday, February 2, 1912, the building burned. The day was bitterly cold and a high north wind blew the flames across the street. The heat was so great that families living near the school had to leave their homes. The heat cracked the glass and melted frost on windows in nearby homes. There were only a few pupils in the building with the teachers when the fire started. All had plenty of time to escape from the building.
The fire was on Thursday. On the following Monday the children began school in various rooms in the business district. Two grades went to the Y. M. C. A., two went to the public library, and others to lodge rooms.
A new school was begun immediately, and within a year’s time the present school building was ready. Because the children and teachers had experienced so much inconvenience, they heartily welcomed the new building.
Shortly after the new structure was erected, the school board purchased the plot of ground just east of the building for a playground. At that time an old log cabin on which modern siding had been placed occupied the site. The school board removed the siding and presented the cabin to the Fort Dodge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. These women had the cabin removed to Oleson Park where it still stands to give us a clear picture of what an early log cabin was like.
In 1928 this society placed a marker on the lawn at Wahkonsa School to mark the site of the old military post. The marker is a bronze tablet set in a five foot stone, and it gives a brief history of the fort.
The old lot school of 1854 has given way to a modern building with a music room and auditorium for the use of the children and patrons. One room has been fitted for a dark room where students may develop films and study photography if they so desire.