Nebraska’s Business Colleges

Solomon D. Butcher photographed the Broken Bow Business College in 1908. NSHS RG2608-2815

Solomon D. Butcher photographed the Broken Bow Business College in 1908. NSHS RG2608-2815

Many Nebraskans in the latter nineteenth century tried to better their employment prospects at the state’s new business colleges. Between 1874 and 1903, at least fifteen such colleges opened in Omaha, and twelve in other Nebraska communities. They were a new kind of school, led not by traditional scholars and educators, but by entrepreneurs, court reporters, business equipment dealers, and those familiar with the needs of commerce and office job placement. Read here about the Omaha College of Shorthand and Typewriting, headed by A. C. Ong, who advertised in 1893 that his corps of instructors were “experienced and practical stenographers who give their entire time and energy to the school.”

The schools were often family enterprises involving married couples, siblings, fathers and sons, or other relatives. Some schools had long lives; most didn’t. About fifty denominational and commercial Nebraska institutions of higher education lasted a few years, closed, merged with other institutions, moved, or changed their name. Hastings Business College had ten owners in fifty-four years.

Schools failed for a variety of reasons. The closing of Deshler Lutheran High School and Business College in 1927 was attributed to flu and scarlet fever; competition; excessive tuition; an acute economic depression immediately following World War I; loss of subsidy; poor location for a regional high school; and “too great an undertaking for local control and support.”

For more information on Nebraska’s business colleges, see Oliver B. Pollak’s “Looking for ‘Wide-Awake’ Young People: Commercial Business Colleges in Nebraska, 1873-1950,” in the Spring 2009 issue of Nebraska History. You can read an excerpt here or contact our Landmark Stores to purchase a copy. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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