A dogged reformer, Blanchard began his public campaign for abolitionism with the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836, at the age of twenty-five. Later in his life, after the Civil War, he began a sustained campaign against Freemasonry. This culminated in a national presidential campaign on the anti-Masonic American Party ticket in 1884.
Blanchard consistently lobbied for universal co-education and was a strong proponent of reform through strong public education. At this time, Wheaton was the only school in Illinois with a college-level women's program.
In 1882, Charles A. Blanchard succeeded his father as president of the college.
In the fall of 1925, J. Oliver Buswell, an outspoken Presbyterian, delivered a series of lectures at Wheaton College. Shortly thereafter, President Charles Blanchard died, and Buswell was called to be the third president of Wheaton. Upon his installation in April 1926, he became the nation's youngest college president at age 31. Buswell's tenure was characterized by expanding enrollment (from approximately 400 in 1925 to 1,100 in 1940), a building program, strong academic development, and a boom in the institution's reputation. It was also known for growing divisiveness over faculty scholarship and personality clashes. In 1940 this tension led to the sacking of Buswell for being, as two historians of the college put it, "too argumentative in temperament and too intellectual in his approach to Christianity. By the late 1940s, Wheaton was emerging as a fortress of neo-evangelicalism.
By 1950, enrollment at the college surpassed 1,600, and in the second half of the twentieth century, enrollment growth and more selective admissions accompanied athletic success, additional and improved facilities, and expanded programs.
In 1951, Honey Rock, a camp in northern Wisconsin, was purchased by the college.
According to the Princeton Review's The Best 351 Colleges, "If the integration of faith and learning is what you want out of a college, Wheaton is arguably the best school in the nation with a Christ-based worldview. Students may choose from about 40 majors in many liberal arts disciplines and in the sciences. Some of the most popular in recent years have been Business, Communications, English, Biology, Biblical Studies, Political Science, International Relations, and Psychology.
In 2007, U.S. News & World Report ranked Wheaton College 61 out of 212 Best National Liberal Arts Colleges. Wheaton continued to achieve exceptional rankings in several areas of the report:
In recent years, Wheaton's overall ranking has been as high as 44. Wheaton asserts that its US News and World Report ranking is lower than that of academically comparable counterparts because Wheaton is ranked lower in financial resources due to charging a much lower tuition.
Wheaton College ranked 9th in the nation in the total number of graduates (all fields) who went on to earn doctorates (during the period of 1986-1995) according to Franklin & Marshall College's latest survey, which included more than 900 private colleges and universities.
All members of the college community--staff, faculty, and students--are asked to sign and adhere to Wheaton's Community Covenant (http://www.wheaton.edu/welcome/aboutus_community.html), which details expected standards of behavior. The colleged recently (February 20, 2003) revised the Covenant. It now allows Covenant now allows undergraduate students to dance at college-sponsored events and gives "adult faculty members and grad students ... the freedom to choose whether they want to smoke or drink alcohol, at least while off-campus.
Wheaton gives students a number of popular off-campus study opportunities.
The college sponsors study-abroad programs in Asia, England, France, Germany, the Holy Lands, Latin America, and Spain, as well as a summer program in Washington, D.C. Participants in Wheaton-in-England, one of the most popular annual programs, take 2–3 courses in literature while studying in London and St. Anne's College, Oxford.
Many students also participate in the Human Needs and Global Resources program The HNGR program matches select students with six-month internships in the Third World, including opportunities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In 1951, HoneyRock, the Northwoods Campus of Wheaton College, was established in Three Lakes, WI. HoneyRock is not only a year round camp for young people but it offers a variety of leadership schools and courses for students. Nearly 3000 people utilize HoneyRock each year.
Due to Wheaton's membership in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Wheaton students may also study at the University of Oxford, the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, Wesley Institute in Australia, and Xi'an Foreign Language University in China. The CCCU also sponsors programs in American studies, Latin American studies, Middle Eastern studies, Russian studies, and journalism.
Wheaton's most recognizable and oldest building is Blanchard Hall, a limestone tower built as the main College building in 1853. At the time, the College building was one of only two on campus, the other (called the "boarding hall") being a frame building at the foot of the hill crowned by the tower. Jonathan Blanchard had a vision for the expansion of this tower structure: its castle-like architecture is, supposedly, patterned after buildings at the University of Oxford which Blanchard admired on a trip to England in 1843. After four additions (1871, 1873, 1890, 1927) the Main Building was completed in 1927. In this year, under college president J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., the Main Building was renamed Blanchard Hall, to honor Wheaton's first two presidents, Jonathan Blanchard and his son Charles Blanchard.
The science departments are housed in Breyer (Chemistry) and Armerding (Biology, Geology, Math, and Physics) halls. Armerding Hall is also the home to the Wheaton College Observatory (a feature of the college since the presidency of Charles Blanchard in the late-nineteenth century). In 1935, The Wheaton College Science Station was established in the Black Hills of South Dakota for field instruction in the natural sciences.
The Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, housed in McAlister Hall and neighboring Pierce Memorial Chapel, is an internationally recognized music school and holds the distinction of being the only conservatory within an Evangelical school of higher education. The approximately 200 students within the conservatory focus on a range of fields within music including education, performance, composition, and history. Student recitals, required for graduation with a music degree, are generally held in Pierce Memorial Chapel.
Alumni Gymnasium (renamed the Edward A. Coray Alumni Gymnasium in 1968, in honor of Coach Ed Coray's long service), was built during the Edman presidency and paid for by alumni. The cornerstone was laid at homecoming on October 11, 1941. A copper box placed in the cornerstone contained a copy of the Wheaton Record, the Wheaton Daily Journal, a college catalog, a student directory, and a copy of the Homecoming program.
Wyngarten Health Center was built in 1958, followed by Centennial Gymnasium in 1959-60, which was extensively renovated and expanded in 2000. It is now known as King Arena and is part of the Sports and Recreation Complex (SRC).
The Marion E. Wade Center, formerly housed in Buswell Library, moved to its new purpose-built home in September 2001. The Marion E. Wade Center, established in 1965 by professor of English Clyde S. Kilby, is an extensive research library and museum of the books and papers of seven British writers: C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, and Charles Williams. The Wade Center has memorabilia of the Inklings, including C. S. Lewis' writing desk and a wardrobe from his childhood home constructed by his Grandfather widely thought to have inspired the Chronicles of Narnia series (although Westmont College also owns a wardrobe that once belonged to Lewis), Charles Williams's bookcases, J.R.R. Tolkien's writing desk where he wrote the entirety of The Hobbit and worked on The Lord of the Rings, and Pauline Baynes's original map of Narnia.
Buswell Library's special collections also include the archived correspondence, manuscripts, articles, photos, and other papers of Madeleine L'Engle, the Newbery Medal-winning author of A Wrinkle in Time. With items dating as early as 1919, the collection is comprised largely of material sent to the college by L'Engle and has been supplemented by the college with books and other supporting materials. The collection is the most comprehensive research center for L'Engle's work.
The MSC was remolded according to the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The MSC was the first building renovated according to these standards and sets higher standards than existing EPA standards. Many of the materials that were used were post-consumer and over 20% of the materials were manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the College.
The Dining Hall (now the "Old Dining Hall") opened January 4, 1953. Today it houses Student Services.
Jenks Hall is home to the Arena Theater, which was established in the Fall of 1974 and has staged over 100 full length productions.
In the fall of 2004, the Todd M. Beamer Student Center was completed. Beamer, a Wheaton alumnus, was part of a small group of passengers who stormed hijackers on United Flight 93, thus bringing down the plane in rural Pennsylvania during the September 11, 2001 attacks, and preventing it from reaching its target. The $20+ million dollar project was commissioned in order to meet the needs of the growing college community. Along with its spacious and sleek modern design, the Beamer Center features a convenience store, the new "Stupe" (This name derives from students shortening the previous name for the campus Student Union, "Stupid Onion". "Stupid Onion", in term, is derived from a mispronunciation of Student Union.), a bakery café, several reading rooms and lounges, a recreation/game room, a prayer chapel, an expanded college post office, the offices for several organizations and departments, and several other events rooms. In the fall of 2006, strong rain storms created a flood that destroyed the lower level of the Beamer Center. Wheaton College has since restored the flood-damaged building.
The official student newspaper at Wheaton College is the Wheaton Record, a weekly publication with a circulation of 3400 in existence since 1876. The Record is produced by students, published by the college and distributed each Friday after chapel free of charge. The Record was the recipient of the 2006 John David Reed General Excellence Award and 13 other awards from the Illinois College Press Association, of which it is a member. The Record is also a member of the Associated Collegiate Press.
The college's regular chapel services are held in Edman Memorial Chapel, which seats 2,400. It is named for V. Raymond Edman, fourth president of the college. Edman died in 1967 while speaking in chapel. He was preaching on being in the presence of the King, and the recording is available in the Wheaton chapel archives. This chapel/auditorium is also used for many events of Wheaton's performing arts programs. In 2000, an entirely handcrafted organ made by Casavant Frères of Canada was installed.
The Women's Building, renamed Williston Hall in 1930–31 (in honor of longtime Blanchard friend and donor J. P. Williston), was built in 1895. Its construction required the college to borrow $6,000.
The President's House, or Westgate, formerly owned by college trustee John M. Oury, was presented to President Buswell on the tenth anniversary of his inauguration, April 23, 1936. This served as the home of three of Wheaton's subsequent presidents. It now houses the Office of Alumni Relations.
In 1951, HoneyRock , the Northwoods Campus of Wheaton College, was established in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. HoneyRock is not only a year round camp for young people, but it offers a variety of leadership schools and courses for students. Nearly 3000 people utilize HoneyRock each year. Through HoneyRock the college owns nearly in Northern Wisconsin.
Wheaton's greatest tradition, the Wheaton bench has been around since the earlier 1940's when juniors ripped a bench out of the ground that only seniors could sit on. Over the following years, rules developed stating that whichever class possessed the bench had to show it in front of the student body consisting of at least 200 people which included 50 members of the opposing class at least twice a semester. Only juniors and seniors are able to participate in this tradition. Some notable showing are; flying the bench over the football stadium beneath a helicopter and placing it on top of a metra train which rode by a soccer game. Recently, the class of 2008 brought the bench into a town hall chapel. The bench is currently possessed by the class of 2010.
Wheaton College competes in many NCAA Division III sports in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. The men's basketball team won the first NCAA Small College National Championship in 1958, defeating Kentucky Wesleyan in the finals, 89-65. The Wheaton men's soccer team captured the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Championship in 1984 and 1997, to go with runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2006. The women's soccer team won the NCAA Division III Women's Soccer Championship in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Wheaton athletics also competed in basketball at the 1904 Summer Olympics. The 1967-68 women's basketball team finished their season undefeated in 11 games, including a victory over the University of Iowa. Wheaton College was a member of the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference from 1919-1937.
In 2008 Andy Studebaker was selected in the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
In general, on issues of religion and science, the college holds the view that Christian faith and science are not at odds. One example of this is the college's hosting of a chapel address by climatologist Sir John Houghton in 2007.
The school's mascot was changed from the Crusaders to the Thunder in 2000 as the image of a mounted Crusader was deemed potentially offensive and reminiscent of a controversial period in Christian history. The change was noted in the national press, and some alumni objected to the change. Other suggestions for a new mascot name that were rejected included the Mastodons, a reference to Perry Mastodon, which is a mastodon skeleton that was dug up nearby and is now on display on the college campus in the Armerding Hall science building.
Wheaton again appeared in the news when Joshua Hochschild, assistant professor of philosophy, was dismissed in 2004 for becoming Roman Catholic. In 2008, English professor Kent Gramm resigned after declining to give the college administration details of his pending divorce from his wife of 30 years.
Wheaton College was one of the schools visited by the 2006 Soulforce Equality Ride which sought to engage in dialogue with students at universities with policies barring homosexual behavior. According to Equality Ride founder Jake Reitan, the Equality Ride was founded after he met a gay student from Wheaton several years earlier. While Wheaton did not invite the group to campus, administrators welcomed the visit and worked with Soulforce to develop a schedule of events on campus including a debate between members of the Equality Ride and members of the Wheaton community.