The Chicago YMCA began offering college classes to men in 1919. It expanded into a four-year college located at 19 S. LaSalle and began admitting women in 1933. Three years later, Edward J. Sparling became president of the college.
In 1944, at a meeting of the board of directors, Dr. Sparling was asked to report on how many African-American and Jewish students were enrolled. He refused, saying he kept no such records, but board members continued to press for an answer. Tension mounted and in April 1945 Sparling, along with most of the faculty, staff, and administration resigned en mass. The majority of the students issued a statement of support shortly thereafter.
Pulling together what resources they could, Sparling and the others founded Roosevelt College. Classes started in September 1945 and the following November, Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated the college to the memory of her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt and “to the enlightenment of the human spirit.”