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Lombard College was founded in 1853 by the Universalist Church as the Illinois Liberal Institute. In 1855, however, a major fire damaged much of the college, placing its future at risk, but a large gift from Benjamin Lombard (1815-1882), a Massachusetts-born farmer and businessman, rescued the institution, rechristened as Lombard University. The official name of the school was changed to Lombard College.
Lombard was coeducational from its founding, reflecting the Universalist philosophy. The institution was the seat of the Ryder School of Divinity from sometime in the 1880s until 1913. The very first chapter of the national sorority Alpha Xi Delta was also founded there in 1893.
Lombard College was a member of the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference from 1910–1929.
The Great Depression proved to be too much for Lombard; the last class was graduated in 1930. While Lombard did not merge, some of its students transferred to nearby Knox College, and its alumni activities take place at Knox. Sigma Nu fraternity's Delta Theta chapter, which formed at Lombard in 1867 as the Delta Theta Society and became a part of Sigma Nu in 1891, continues its activities at Knox to this day. Until 1973, the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta also continued at Knox.
The former Lombard College building and campus is currently used as Lombard Middle School.
When the college closed in 1930, the Lombard charter was transferred to Meadville Theological School in Chicago. a Unitarian seminary, bringing with it Lombard's privilege of a tax exemption, "one of only three in Illinois granting full tax-exempt status in perpetuity for all college-owned property." In 1964 the school adopted the name "Meadville Theological School of Lombard College". The combined institution later became Meadville Lombard Theological School.
- Ken Carpenter - radio-TV announcer
- Edwin H. Conger – U.S. Congressman, diplomat, and Minister to China
- Effie McCollum Jones - Universalist minister, suffragist
- William Bramwell Powell - educator, co-founder of National Geographic Society
- Carl Sandburg (non-graduate) – author, poet, Pulitzer Prize winner
- Paul Jordan Smith – editor, educator, poet
- Dorothy Tilden Spoerl – theologian, writer, educator
- Evar Swanson – professional baseball and football player
- Sewall G. Wright – geneticist
- Quincy Wright – educator, poet, economist
- Theodore Paul Wright – engineer, first director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration
- Phillip Green Wright
- David Starr Jordan – ichthyologist, president of Indiana University; founding president of Stanford University
- Carrie Westlake Whitney (1908). Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People, 1800-1908 II. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co. p. 384. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- Tom Wilson (July 12, 2014). "Former Lombard College name is resurrected". The Register-Mail. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- "Lombard College, alive and well in Chicago". The Zephyr. October 20, 1999.