In the 1830's George Washington Gale (1789-1861), a Presbyterian minister from upstate New York, conceived of a plan to bring a "thorough system of mental, moral and physical education" to the frontier. Gale inspired a band of colonists to set out for the prairies of Illinois to establish an educational institution that would be known as Knox Manual Labor College. The college, which was chartered by the Illinois legislature on February 15, 1837, has always been a private, independent college. Knox was among the first institutions open to people of color and to women. The first commencement was in June 1846. In 1857, the name was altered to Knox College.
The plan to bring the college to the prairie was deliberate and well-thought out. In New York, George Washington sought settlers of a like mind and moral purpose. He began publicizing his project in 1834 with a "Circular and Plan" which set out the intention to procure land with the money from subscribers, purchase a large tract of land in the West, and then sell land back to the subscribers. In return, the subscribers would receive free tuition at the college institutions for one student for twenty-five years.