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Under the adept leadership of two young men, Stephen Morse and John White, classmates and roommates at Brown University in 1828, the idea of a female college in Greenville, Illinois, materialized in the construction of the building now called Hogue Hall. Morse and his wife, Almira Blanchard Morse, were leading citizens of Greenville, where Stephen had established a mercantile business following his graduation from Brown. A $6,000 inheritance gift by Almira, combined with two gifts of $8,000 and $10,000 and numerous other gifts from $100 to $500, helped fund the building project. The college was named Almira after Mrs. Morse. John White served as the first president when the college opened in 1855.
Construction on the original building, named Hogue Hall in 1893, was begun in 1855. It was occupied when partially completed in 1858 was finished with indebtedness in 1864. The building was located on the highest piece of table land in the Illinois prairie between the Wabash and Mississippi Rivers. Almira College and the City of Greenville, a cultural mercantile center, were served by east-west stage coaches three days a week until after the Civil War.
Hogue Hall is a large structure of brick construction measuring 48x160 feet. It is four stories in height and originally contained 72 rooms. According to an 1876 description: "The first floor or basement has the chapel and recitation rooms, also the dining room and kitchen, with such other rooms as the culinary department requires. In the two upper stories are fifty dormitories, neat and convenient, for the accommodation of pupils. On the entrance floor are the parlors, the reading room, and rooms for music, for library, for cabinet of minerals and apparatus, and for the art department."
Designed by a now unknown architect, the building is something of a stylistic anomaly. Its rigidly rectilinear massing with stubby towers at the ends and a more slender central tower is not easily compared to styles in use elsewhere in the 1850s. A clue is contained, however, in the tall narrow windows in each bay which have the general proportions of Italianate windows. That the Italianate style was indeed the source, however original the architect was in his use of that style, is suggested by the round-headed windows in the tower and dormers which, without question, were inspired by Italianate prototypes.
Hogue Hall is significant both in terms of its architecture, its place in the region, and its function as one of the earliest extensions westward into Illinois of an eastern idea favorable toward female education. It was not until the 1790s that private academies in the east began admitting girls. During the first half of the 19th century, women such as Emma Willard and Catherine Beecher sensitized the nation to the rights of women for education. They countered vigorously the commonly held idea, expressed by the editor of a Massachusetts newspaper in 1828, that the "most acceptable degree" for a young woman was the "degree of M.R.S."
Hogue Hall is of special interest architecturally because while a well-designed mid-century college building, it is stylistically atypical when compared with other pre-Civil War buildings. Because it is a design of quality, the variations in its appearance from stylistic norms cannot be attributed to ineptness or provincialism, but instead must be thought of as reflecting a serious attempt by the architect at achieving originality in design.