In 1883, a small band of Methodist settlers meeting in the Dakota Territory secured a charter to found the college as Dakota University. These pioneers were driven to "build a college of stone while living in houses of sod," and had deep religious convictions about the education and future of their children. They envisioned an institution that epitomized the highest in Christian thought and deed, and so adopted the motto, "Sacrifice or Service". This is symbolized in the collegiate seal of the altar, the ox, and the plow.
On October 14, 1904, the institution assumed its present name of Dakota Wesleyan University.
By 1920, Dakota Wesleyan University was the largest independent college in the state, with an enrollment of more than 300. The Great Depression, which hit the prairie earlier, harder and longer than any region in the nation, evoked another regionally sensitive response from Dakota Wesleyan. The university accepted many students with few or no resources. Lacking adequate tuition revenues, the university and its personnel sacrificed their development and economic well-being in order to provide educational opportunities for students who had no other options. Farm produce was accepted for tuition. As part of their pay, teachers received housing in Graham Hall and coupons to purchase merchandise in town. As in earlier days, the faculty, townspeople and parishioners of the Methodist church sustained the university.
Since the 1930s the university has remained responsive to the special needs of its region. Strong programs in teacher education have provided new teachers for school districts. Nursing and allied health programs address the continuing need for health care professionals in rural South Dakota. In recognition of diverse cultures and traditions in a changing prairie environment, Wesleyan has undertaken a unique and substantial commitment to special programs focusing on Native American culture. Additionally, the university has developed programs to assist students whose previous educational experiences have inadequately prepared them for the demands of a rapidly changing region and future.
The campus was listed on the National Register in 1976.
George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center
The McGovern Center seeks to prepare Dakota Wesleyan's best students for future leadership and careers in public service through classes, seminars, research, and internships. It also includes the annual McGovern Center Conference, the McGovern Library, and the McGovern Legacy Museum, which gives visitors a look at the lives of the couple. It is also associated with the DWU Tiger Poll which does public opinion polling.
Dakota Wesleyan teams, nicknamed athletically as the Tigers, are part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC). Men's sports include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, football, golf, soccer, track & field and wrestling; while women's sports include basketball, cheerleading, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, track & field and volleyball.
^Note: A National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination document should be available upon request from the National Park Service for this site, but it appears not to be available on-line from the NPS Focus search site.