Irwin brought students to Christ, doubled enrollment

Irwin brought students to Christ, doubled enrollment

Recreation Lobby inside Irwin Hall. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.
Recreation Lobby inside Irwin Hall. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.

Emily AdairStaff Reporter
Posted March 11, 2014; 3:27 p.m.
Published Legacy March 11, 2014

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Rev. Robert Irwin served as the university’s president for 13 years.

Feature photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.

This story is part of the “Names that built LU” weekly series issued by The Legacy that has been profiling 28 campus buildings named after Lindenwood personnel.

Rev. Robert Irwin dedicated his life to ministry and to the students of Lindenwood University.

Irwin was born the son of a minister on Jan. 1, 1833. While he considered college and ministry, Irwin began working at a printing office due to his family’s financial circumstances. He was let go when he refused to partake in gainful work on the Sabbath and decided he would go to college after all.

He graduated from Hanover College in 1854. Irwin was ordained as a Presbyterian minister by the Allegheny Theological Seminary in 1856. That same year he married Kate Matthews, with whom he had five daughters and three sons.

During the Civil War, Irwin was commissioned as the Chaplain of the 46th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers for the Federal Army. With a growing reputation, Irwin arrived in St. Louis to work with the Board of Publication of the Presbyterian Church.

He was elected to be the president of Lindenwood College in 1880. After the first two years of his administration, student enrollment had more than doubled. Irwin built the south wing of Sibley Hall to accommodate the growing number of students.

Irwin Hall. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.
Irwin Hall. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.

The student body continued to grow, and Irwin built the north wing in 1886, despite a tight budget. By the end of his presidency in 1893, enrollment had grown from approximately 20 to 80 students. It was said that no one who attended Lindenwood during Irwin’s presidency left the school without accepting Christ. His students and his children understood that his primary goal was to make them earnest Christians.

People attending the dedication of Irwin in 1924. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.
People attending the dedication of Irwin in 1924. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.

Many of his children had some degree of connection the college. Daughter Annie was salutatorian of her class in 1877, and daughter Kate served for a time as the head of the Art Department. Son Watson was born on the campus and named for the Watson family, benefactors of the university. Son Frank was the only man to ever attend Lindenwood at that time.

Irwin Hall was constructed in 1924 and dedicated to the former president for his improvements to the university and lasting reputation in the Presbyterian Church.

Construction back in 1924. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.
Construction back in 1924. Photo courtesy of Mary Ambler Archives, Lindenwood University.