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The college was founded by a congregation of religious women--the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The leader of the community was an Irish immigrant named Mary Frances Clarke. A principal value of the Sisters throughout their history has been to embrace community/collaboration, and all major historical campus buildings were thus interconnected in order to model this value. When the college expanded across the street, an underground tunnel was constructed to maintain this architectural philosophy.
The campus began as and academy for girls, providing both a primary and secondary education. In 1901 the academy expanded into a college, and girls as young as ten could enter and receive an a Bachelor's Degree. The institution remained both an academy and a college for twenty-eight years before becoming exclusively a women's college in 1929. Currently, Clarke College is a co-educational Catholic college in the liberal arts and also provides education in selective professional programs.
Mulholland, Mary Ambrose. Clarke Lives! Dubuque, IA: Clarke College, 1993.