No woman was more important to the early development of Western Illinois University than Caroline Grote. A native of Illinois, she worked at every level of public education during her career, which spanned fifty-six years.
Caroline Grote was born in Perry (Pike County), Illinois in 1863, when Lincoln was president and the Civil War was being fought. During the next sixteen years, Grote completed primary and secondary school in Perry, graduating in 1879. At that time, it was not uncommon for school teachers to begin their teaching career having completed only a high school diploma, which is exactly what Grote did. After completing high school, Grote immediately started teaching school at Shady Dell School, near Perry. For a little more than the next decade, she continued to teach at several Pike County schools.
In the fall of 1889, Grote was hired as the superintendent of the Augusta (Hancock County) schools, where she remained until 1895. At that time, she left to teach mathematics and German at Vincennes High School in Indiana. A year later she returned to the position of high school principal in Pittsfield, Illinois. After holding that position for two years, she became the Superintendent of Schools for Pike County, the first female to serve as a county superintendent of schools in the state of Illinois.
All of these accomplishments were achieved by a woman who did not have any more education than a high school diploma. In 1911, she received a two-year diploma from Western Illinois State Normal School. She furthered her education by completing a Bachelor of Literature degree from Carthage College in 1913 and then a Master of Arts degree at the University of Chicago in 1927.
When Grote was Superintendent of Schools in Pike County, a man named Alfred Bayliss, State Superintendent of Schools, became acquainted with her. In 1906, when Bayliss was president of Western Illinois State Teachers College, he hired Carolyn Grote to be the ninth and tenth grade training school teacher. In addition to this assignment, Grote taught a variety of other classes, including English, history, mathematics, and education, during her early years at Western.
In 1907, at the beginning of her second year at Western, Grote was appointed Director of County School Training. Her duties included having charge of the special curriculum for those students who wanted to teach in rural schools. Miss Grote developed a one-year curriculum for students who had finished the tenth grade and a two-year curriculum for those who had only finished the eighth grade. Completion of either course of study allowed the student to receive a teaching certificate without having to pass an examination.
Grote's interest in country school problems allowed her to complete a survey of rural schools in the Military Tract section of Illinois which documented the poor teaching and facilities in that sector of public education. In the report, she noted that many schools had "smoke begrimed walls and ceilings," windows that "were seldom washed," and outhouses that were "deplorable". School libraries were often inadequate and not suited to the needs of the students.
Grote's career took a new turn in 1908 when President Bayliss asked her to be Dean of Women, taking general charge of the women students. This meant living in Monroe Hall, the women's dormitory and supervising the women students closely. An alumnus of Western remembers Miss Grote in this quote:
She watched over her girls like a mother hen. Her consuming desire was to keep us on the "straight and narrow". Every week we had a conference, with warnings about the facts of life. We were instructed not to stroll in the ravine with a boy...One time we were advised not to read Sinclair Lewis's new book, Main Street. "It will poison your minds", she said. Naturally, we scrambled to find the book, and everyone who could, read it.
Grote did watch over her girls closely and reminded them often of what proper behavior was. She stressed to the girls that they should not go to campus events alone. "Girls, every modern girl should have a chaperone" Rules within the dormitory were also rigid. Grote reminded the girls to shut their blinds, as "we must look out for the peepers". Men were allowed to visit, but no male dared stay in the dormitory lobby after ten o'clock, as this poem from the 1922 Western yearbook, The Sequel, relates:
Hickory dickory dock
Grote was the Dean of Women until 1935 when she retired. As the demands of this position grew, Grote found herself giving up more and more of her teacher training work. Later in her career, she made use of her deanship and associated work as head of the girl's dormitory to study living conditions at Western Illinois State Teachers College, the topic of her doctoral dissertation. The title of her dissertation was "Housing and Living Conditions of Women Students in Western Illinois State Teacher's College at Macomb." She received her doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 1932 at the age of 69.
In the summer after she had finished her doctorate, Grote took a trip to Hawaii. This trip became the subject of her only book, A Summer in Hawaii (1937), which relates the tale of her travel experience and provides a historical and cultural description of the Hawaiian islands.
Caroline Grote retired from Western in 1935, after serving twenty-nine years at the institution and fifty-six years in the field of education. Western's first woman's dormitory, Monroe Hall, was appropriately renamed Grote Hall in her honor. On September 1, 1941, at the age of 78, Caroline Grote died.
Hallwas, John E. McDonough County Heritage, (Macomb, IL; Illinois Heritage Press), 1984.
University Library, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois