Iden’s Upper Room Influence

Since I began working in the Special Collections and Archives, I have had the chance to work with quite a few of the collections, so when it came time to pick one for the Celebrating Voices exhibit, I knew exactly who I was going to pick. I have always been interested in the influence that professors have on their students, and the exhibit was the perfect way to explore this at ESU with one of the most influential professors to ever teach here, Thomas M. Iden. His life and legacy are an integral part of the University’s history.

But why was he so great? Iden came to ESU, then known as the Kansas State Normal School, as the head of the Department of Physics and Chemistry in 1897. This man of science then went on to begin a Bible study class for young men. It became known as the Upper Room Bible Class on November 19, 1898. “Father” Iden, as he was affectionately called, touched the lives of many youths by providing a safe space to not only discuss Christian attitudes but what was going on in the world around them. The classes were so popular that the vast majority of men from the college (and many other young men in Emporia) attended the weekly classes held on Saturday nights during the academic year. Even after he left the school in 1913, he continued to interact with his past students through annual newsletters. Two scholarships were created in his honor along with the Iden Meditation Upper Room.

Needless to say, this man intrigued me. He cared about his students so much that he took the time to hand write four page leaflets each week with lessons and quotes along with a hefty Christmas/New Year’s letter to all Upper Room members, past and present. He knew the members by name, and was genuinely interested in their lives. So how was I going to represent this institution of a man completely in my display? Aside from the two books he wrote about his faith driven travels abroad, everything I included dealt with his Upper Room Meetings. My personal favorite item included is his Comprehensive Teacher’s Bible. It really gives insight to what Iden’s true voice really was. This well-worn book includes hand-written notes, pasted in poems and articles, and underlined passages.

This man’s voice encouraged young men to not just explore their faith, but feel validated in their opinions. His influence on shaping the lives of the young men of Emporia will not be forgotten.

By Annie Johnson, ESU Special Collections and Archives Graduate Assistant



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