[The links below take you to individual memorabilia from Miss Sparks’ academic career. Browse a complete list of these items at Marion E. Sparks Academic List.]
Miss Sparks began her high school career at Seneca High School in 1886, and then attended Marseilles High School in 1889. In 1890, she transferred to Ottawa Township High School in Ottawa, Illinois; however, prior to starting classes, she had to take entrance examinations, as evidenced by this letter from Principal J. O. Leslie. She graduated from Ottawa in 1892. Her commencement program shows that she received an “Excellent Scholarship” award. On May 2, 1892, the LaSalle County government announced that all high school students were eligible to take an examination in June; the student who scored highest on the examination would receive a full scholarship to the University of Illinois. According to this correspondence from Principal Leslie, Sparks scored well on the examination and received LaSalle County’s honorary scholarship for full tuition to the University of Illinois in Urbana. The 1892-1893 University of Illinois Catalog describes the process to earn Honorary Scholarships and what the scholarship winner receives; it also lists the recipients of these scholarships.
Sparks continued her education at the University of Illinois, eventually earning three degrees from the institution. She received her Bachelor of Arts in classics on Wednesday, June 12, 1895. You can view the Class Day ’95 booklet, the invitation to commencement, and the commencement program. As part of the requirements for the completion of her degree, Sparks wrote a thesis, entitled, History and Functions of the Areopagitic Senate. View her grade reports from her undergraduate career.
From 1896-1897, Sparks worked on her masters degree before putting this coursework aside to study library science. She took classes in the School of Library Science from 1897-1899 before earning her Bachelor of Library Science on Wednesday, June 14, 1899. Her thesis was called Founding a Public Library in Illinois.
In 1899, Sparks resumed her courses for her masters degree; on Wednesday, June 13, 1900, she received her final degree–a Master of Arts focusing on the classics. The title of her paper was The Forms of Address in the Athenian Orators (no copies of this thesis have been found). You can view her complete academic transcript as well as the enrollment lists from the University of Illinois catalogs from 1892-1900 (also included on this page are the summaries of the students currently attending the university).
Throughout her education, Sparks took numerous language courses, specifically Greek, German, Latin, and French, an endeavor that would aid her in her work in the Chemistry Library. Her official transcript shows the languages she studied. Her practical application of her studies is demonstrated in the preface of the first edition of Chemical Literature and Its Use, where she explains the importance of knowing French and German.
During her time on campus, Sparks participated in several activities and held leadership positions as well. She was a member of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) and served as recording secretary (1893-1894) and treasurer (1894-1895). Sparks was also part of Alethenai, a literary society for women, and served a term as president (1895). She participated in Christian Endeavor (1890-1893), King’s Daughters (1891), Graduate Club, Library Club, Watcheka League, and contributed to the 1895 Illio Yearbook – published in 1894 – during her junior year (excerpts from several Illios).