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Principia College

Principia College

Principia College is the legacy of a school founded in 1898 by Mary Kimball Morgan in St. Louis when she became dissatisfied with the education available for her two boys. The school grew - with the first high school graduation in 1906, then the addition of one of the nation’s first junior colleges, and finally the first Principia College graduation, held on the new campus in Elsah, Illinois, in 1934. The coeducational, four-year liberal arts institution sits atop 300-foot bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River - just 10 miles from the site of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Alton. The separate pre-K through 12 campus is located in west St. Louis county. Principia has always placed significant emphasis on character education and global citizenship. While the curriculum is nonreligious and there is no official church affiliation, Principia is the only college in the world for Christian Scientists. The College’s current student body comes from 35 states and 25 nations.

The College’s history is not without intrigue. In 1954, the United States Air Force sent a delegation including Charles Lindbergh to evaluate the Principia College campus as a possible site for the Air Force Academy. The Elsah campus was one of two finalists out of 300 sites considered, and thankfully for Principia, the Air Force ultimately chose the present academy location in Colorado Springs.

The history and beauty of the Elsah campus were officially recognized in 1993, when Congressman (now Senator) Richard Durbin visited the campus to present a plaque designating Principia College as a National Historic Landmark. Along with West Point, which also has a striking river view, Principia College is one of just a few such landmark college campuses. Designed by celebrated American architect Bernard Maybeck to resemble an English village, the campus buildings were constructed with a combination of native and imported materials and with the distinctive Maybeck style that has drawn nationwide attention to Principia.

In recent years the College has presented an extensive slate of prominent guest speakers, including Margaret Thatcher, George Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor, Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, Coretta Scott King, Thomas Friedman, David McCullough, Maya Angelou, Horton Foote, Ralph Nader, Wole Soyinka, and in April 2006, Barack Obama. Principia hosts the oldest collegiate public affairs conference in the nation, dating back to 1939, and more recently introduced an annual Pan African Conference addressing African development. Principia has hosted three political debates, including the Durbin vs. Salvi senatorial debate in 1996 and two debates for Illinois U.S. congressional district 19, in which the College is located. Principia’s programs are free and open to the public. More information can be found at

Since 1995, Principia has designed and built six solar cars from scratch that have competed or been featured in China, Greece, North America, and Australia. Despite the fact that Principia’s solar car team is constituted of volunteer undergraduate students and faculty, it has placed frequently in the top ten, defeating teams of graduate students from larger engineering schools including MIT, Stanford, Purdue, Berkeley, UCLA, Yale, Virginia Tech, and Northwestern. Find out more about Principia’s solar car program at

While excavating with a backhoe in 1999, Principia employee Benny White discovered a molar from a 17,500-year-old mammoth. Since then the College has developed a paleontology course granting academic credit to students who are in the process of excavating and preserving the entire skeleton of “Benny” the mammoth. Learn more at

Complemented by its state-of-the-art athletic facility under construction, modern classrooms, computer technology, and renovated Maybeck residence halls, the tradition and spirit of Principia are vibrant and enduring. The College offers public drive-through tours of the campus during daylight hours Monday through Saturday and on Sunday afternoons. Customized guided tours for groups or individuals may be arranged by calling 618-374-5148. Read more about Principia College at

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