In 1847, during one of the great college-building eras in American history, Rockford Female Seminary was chartered by the Illinois legislature. The citizens of Rockford (population 2,500) pledged $3,500 to erect a building for the ambitious enterprise.
The first classes were held in the old downtown courthouse. Soon, however, the seminary moved to its own campus between the Rock River and Seminary Street. More than a century later, in the mid-1960s, the College moved to its present location at the eastern edge of the city.
The University has been an educational pioneer from the very beginning. In the 1840s, when Americans still doubted the value of educating women, the decision to make the curriculum at Rockford Female Seminary as demanding as that of a men’s college was a bold one. In 1882, Rockford Female Seminary granted its first bachelor’s degrees including that of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jane Addams. In 1892, Rockford Female Seminary became Rockford College®. In 2013, Rockford College® became Rockford University.
The University was involved early in the development of adult education, offering the first such courses in 1919. In 1952, responding to a need in the community, the Center for Learning Strategies opened its doors to help young people and adults improve their academic skills. Men were first admitted to classes during World War II, when Rockford College® offered cooperative educational programs with the Illinois Institute of Technology. The institution became fully coeducational in 1958.