Nebraska's First Liberal Arts College

Nebraska's First Liberal Arts College

Founded in 1872, Doane was the first liberal arts and sciences institution established in Nebraska. This year, Doane celebrates 141 years of providing a strong liberal arts education to students today.

Doane was born out of the passion of prominent men and women who wanted to build a college of Ivy-League scale in a prairie town.

The college was founded by Thomas Doane, a successful engineer from Massachusetts who came to Nebraska as the chief engineer of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.

Fellow Nebraska engineer I.S.P. Weeks described Thomas Doane as “a handsome man, erect, well dressed, well groomed, prompt, decisive, but yet kind and gentle.”

It was a tough decision to establish the college in Crete, being that there was controversy between Association members, each one fighting to establish the institution in their hometown.

“I am afraid of those Cretans, even when bringing gifts,” an Association member said.

Many others shared this belief, but the offer of 600 acres of land in Crete helped decide the location of the college.

It turned out to be the right decision and by 1874, Doane had managed to overcome the obstacles that had caused the premature death of many colleges.

Much was owed to Doane’s first president, David Brainerd Perry, who “built the college from scratch.” He was a man with deep New England roots, receiving three degrees from Yale, and an even deeper faith. He made a tireless 40-year commitment to the college, acting as a professor, preacher and fundraiser on horseback.

Professor Perry used the summer vacation of 1873 to do soliciting, and when he returned to Nebraska he reported that $10,000 in cash or interest bearing notes had been raised.

In securing this amount he had pledged $2,000, which he said “stood for more than I was worth, down to boots and old clothes.” With this report Mr. Doane promptly gave his note for $5,000 to bear ten percent interest.

A sound financial foundation had been established, and the future looked secure for Doane.

Today, Doane is a nationally recognized liberal arts college, offering over 40 areas of undergraduate study, including pre-professional and honors programs as well as the ability to design your own interdisciplinary major.

Among recent Doane graduates, more than 93 percent of recent graduates start careers or are admitted to prestigious professional and graduate programs within six months after graduation.  

Doane also has the second-highest four-year graduation rate among all Nebraska colleges and universities -- both public and private -- which beats the national average by two full years.

From the first graduating class of only three students, the college has grown to hold more than 1,100 higher education learners in Crete and nearly 3,000 across its two schools.

Thomas Doane’s son, John, said his father “always profoundly regretted this lack of what he called a liberal education.”

It was Thomas Doane’s dream to give other students an opportunity to receive the quality education he was unable to obtain.

Now, 141 years later, his dream is still coming true.

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