From its earliest years, Mount Pleasant was known as the "Athens of Iowa": a small town with a big story and a center of learning and culture. Even during the town's pioneer era, the citizens of Mount Pleasant championed education, establishing numerous schools and a college. Progressive ideals, including abolitionism and women's education, took root. As the home of Sen. James Harlan, an important ally of Abraham Lincoln, the city emerged as a bastion of support for the president. During the hardship of the Civil War, the community took up a second cause, becoming the location of the state mental health asylum. The drive for the improvement of life only increased, bolstered by the city's numerous schools, churches, and most importantly a spirit of community.