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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Adams, Ephraim
(February 1818–November 30, 1907)

–one of the 11 original members of the Congregationalist "Iowa Band" of missionaries who came to Iowa in 1843 at the request of Home Missionary agent Asa Turner, a key figure in the establishment of Iowa College (later Grinnell College), and an antislavery and temperance advocate—was born in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. According to fellow Congregationalist pastor George F. Magoun, Adams was born "on a rocky farm" and "converted at the age of 12."He went to Appleton Academy and Phillips Andover Academy to prepare for college, but was one of 50 students who walked out of Phillips because the school's principal forbade them to join an antislavery society. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1839, taught for one year at the Petersburg Classical Institute in Virginia, and then entered Andover Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1843.

    When Asa Turner, an agent of the American Home Missionary Society, requested assistance in the task of establishing Congregational churches and schools in frontier Iowa, Adams, along with 10 other Andover graduates–Benjamin Spaulding, Erastus Ripley, James J. Hill, Ebenezer Alden, E. B. Turner, Horace Hutchinson, Daniel Lane, Harvey Adams, A. B. Robbins, and William Salter –formed "the Iowa Band" and agreed to come to Iowa. While still at Andover, Adams, discussing his hopes for Iowa, wrote, "If each one of us can only plant one good permanent church, and all together build a college, what a work that would be!" In October 1843 Adams and some of his companions arrived in Burlington, and on November 15, 1843, Adams and six others were ordained at the Denmark Academy, a simple log structure in Lee County.

    Adams preached at Mount Pleasant for a year, then settled in Davenport, where he would remain until 1855. His sermons frequently targeted the evils of slavery and alcohol, sometimes alienating the German immigrants and Southern-born settlers moving into the rapidly growing Mississippi River town, but he continued to push these themes despite some opposition. On September 16, 1845, he married Elizabeth Douglass, and the marriage would last for 60 years.

    Adams devoted increasing amounts of time to fostering the new Iowa College, of which he was one of the founders. Asa Turner had proposed the new college on March 12, 1844, at a meeting of Iowa Congregational ministers, with funds to be raised by buying 24,000 acres of public land for $30,000 in borrowed money and reselling those lands as land values increased. On April 16, 1844, the plan was approved for the establishment of an Iowa College Association. Between 1844 and 1847, when the college still had no president, Adams was annually elected president of the trustees. When the college was officially incorporated in 1847, Adams became one of the original members of the board of trustees. He worked successfully to raise funds for the new school. The first classes were held on November 1, 1848, attracting six students; in 1849 the school had 34 students, and the college was under way. In 1855 Adams left his position as a preacher in Davenport to work for two years as college financial agent raising funds back east for the college. Although he resented that he had to "creep about picking a dollar here and there like poor folks bone-picking in a great city," he raised more than $11,000, leading historian Joseph Frazier Wall to conclude that "Ephraim Adams did more than any other man to ensure that the college would survive during the first decades of its existence."

    Although Adams wanted to keep Iowa College in Davenport, growing Congregationalist concerns about whether Davenport was a good site for the school and a decision by the city to extend Main Street right through the campus up to the top of the bluff led the trustees in 1859 to endorse the plan to move Iowa College to Grinnell, Iowa. The name of the school would be changed in 1909 to Grinnell College, in honor of Josiah Grinnell, the Congregationalist abolitionist who founded the town.

    In 1857 Adams moved to Decorah, Iowa, where he preached until 1872, when he took a position as Superintendent of Home Missions in Iowa. After 10 years in that position, he served as a pastor in Eldora for six years, although he continued to do service for the college and served on the board of trustees throughout his life. After two years in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1888–1889), he returned to Waterloo, Iowa, where he spent the rest of his life preaching and doing pastoral work. He died in Waterloo on November 30, 1907. Of the original Iowa Band, Adams was survived only by William Salter, who wrote of Adams, "For years, though he was the personification of modesty, he was the real leader of the Congregational hosts of Iowa. Iowa has never had such a useful citizen."
Sources on Adams include Joseph Frazier Wall, Grinnell College in the Nineteenth Century: From Salvation to Service (1997); Truman O. Douglass, The Pilgrims of Iowa (1911); The Iowa Band (1870); William Salter, The Old People's Psalms, with Reminiscences of the Deceased Members of the Iowa Band (1895); Howard A. Bridgeman, New England in the Life of the World (1920); F. I. Herriot, "The Nativity of the Pioneers of Iowa," Iowa Official Register, 1911–1912; and George F. Magoun, Asa Turner: A Home Missionary Patriarch and His Times (1889).
Contributor: Scott R. Grau

Cite as: Grau, Scott R. "Adams, Ephraim" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 12 December 2017