A Twentieth Century Invitation to Success: The College of Commerce

The cover of the first course catalog for the College of Commerce.
The cover of the first course catalog for the College of Commerce. (Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives)
On Dec. 17, 1912, Chicago CPA John Mahony penned a quick note to the Rev. Daniel J. McHugh, C.M., Treasurer of DePaul University at that time. Though short, the note covered a variety of topics – an enclosed bill, books that would be standard for a commerce library, and how Mahony had multiple people helping him arrange courses at night. Mahony touches on all of these subjects in preparation for a rapidly approaching date – Jan. 6, 1913 – the day classes were set to open in DePaul’s brand new College of Commerce. As an afterthought, Mahony adds a quick postscript: “Hadn’t we better have a meeting some evening soon to fix terms of tuition…?”

Planning for the College of Commerce was swift from the beginning. Though the university administration had worked with attorney Charles Mahony since its beginning as St. Vincent’s College, they did not meet his brother, accountant John Mahony, until the summer of 1912. DePaul’s then-president, the Very Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M., hired John Mahony to audit and report on the university’s finances between 1906 and 1910. While Mahony was working in this project, he and Fr. McCabe would often spend evenings discussing the possible benefits of establishing a College of Commerce at the university. Mahony informed Fr. McCabe that the first step in forming a College of Commerce would be setting up an accounting course, and offered to set up and supervise. Thus began John Mahony’s role as the first Dean of the College of Commerce.

Today, setting up an entire new college in less than six months would be an academic’s worst nightmare, but Fr. McCabe and Mahony pulled it off with aplomb. The course catalog for the DePaul University College of Commerce was released in December 1912. The catalog advertised the courses of the new college as being ideal for all types of students, from bookkeepers simply looking to take the CPA exam to traditional students looking to earn a Bachelor of Commercial Science degree. 

The catalog lists more than 20 classes covering topics in accounting, law, real estate, insurance and business languages, including courses in English, German, French and Spanish. Along with John Mahony, who, in addition to designing the entire college and serving as dean, also taught Advanced Accounting, other professors included Henry J. Jackson, a partner at Mahony’s firm and also secretary of the college, James J. Wilson, Arnold L. McHugh and a few professors from the law school, including John Mahony’s brother Charles. 

Despite its unusually quick development, the College of Commerce had 65 students in its inaugural semester. Classes were initially held in what is now Byrne Hall, but the college moved to rented space in the Powers Building - now the School of the Art Institute’s Sharp Building - at 37 S. Wabash on July 21, 1914. The Loop Campus has remained the College of Commerce’s home ever since. 

While its location in the city has remained the same, much about DePaul’s business school has changed since that early day in January in 1913. These changes have included the addition of an MBA program in the 1940s, the formation of numerous centers and institutes within the college that allow for research and networking, partnerships with colleges and universities abroad, and the renaming of the College of Commerce to the Driehaus College of Business on Sept. 19, 2012. 
A tie clip belonging to a 1949 graduate of the College of Commerce.
A tie clip belonging to a 1949 graduate of the College of Commerce. (Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives)

Today, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business’ part-time MBA program is ranked third in Chicago by "Bloomberg Businessweek," and both the undergraduate and graduate programs were ranked nationally in Princeton Review’s Top Schools for Entrepreneurship Studies. Despite all of this growth, however, DePaul’s business school has remained steady in the vision it identified in 1913: a place where both the working professional and the young adult can get a thorough business education to help them succeed in the current business world. Or, as the 1913 course catalog put it, “Realizing that few of the colleges of today are offering such a course in bookkeeping as would qualify the young man or the young woman to undertake at once the duties of bookkeeper in an ordinary business enterprise, the University has prepared such a course as will meet today’s requirements in this respect.” 

It is with this outlook that the Driehaus College of Business has succeeded in preparing students to enter the hustling business world for over one hundred years. 

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