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Wheaton College was founded in 1860 by social reformer Jonathan Blanchard. President Blanchard actively and persistently lobbied for the abolition of slavery, universal coeducation of our nation’s schools and colleges, and the abolishment of caste-like conditions in the United States.

Before the founding of Wheaton, Blanchard, as the second president of Knox College, fought for excellence in the public schools in Galesburg, Illinois. His commitment to public education was so strong that he stated he would rather see the college close down before it took precedence over the local public schools or its own private academy. Wheaton College’s role in public and private elementary and secondary education was also established early. From its founding and into the twentieth century, the college maintained a secondary school which is now the independent Wheaton Academy. However, due to the college’s philosophy and curriculum (which meets Illinois state certification requirements), the public sphere remains a central focus of the Wheaton Teacher Education Program, also known as WheTEP.

Within the context of this heritage, the Department of Education at Wheaton College has been committed to public and private education and plays an activist role in reforming institutions from within. Jonathan Blanchard’s son and presidential successor, Charles, was an advocate for the National Education Association and regularly participated in its meetings. Current department members continue to actively participate by holding offices in both public and private education associations and attempt to maintain a balance between the demands of the theoretical discipline and practical application.