Oscar W. Ritchie

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Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie
OSCAR W RITCHIE - color.jpg
Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie
Born (1909-02-16) February 16, 1909 (age 105)
Hallandale, Florida
Died June 16, 1967(1967-06-16) (aged 58)
Ravenna, Ohio
Occupation Professor
Spouse(s) Edith Ritchie (1929-1979)

Oscar Washington Ritchie (February 16, 1909 – June 16, 1967), was the first African-American professor at a predominantly White university in the state of Ohio.[2] Before his untimely demise, he held every position possible in the Sociology Department at Kent State University (KSU). This was only one of many accomplishments during his life.

Background and education[edit]

His hometown of Hallandale, Florida is just a few miles south of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His parents moved to Florida from the Caribbean where his father owned a fruit stand. Unfortunately, his father passed away before Oscar completed high school, forcing him to drop out of school. His will to succeed was not dampened, however. At just 17 years of age he enrolled in Florida A & M University (FAMU), where he became founder and editor of the school newspaper.

For the next three years he was a diligent student, however the great depression of 1929 came along and derailed his college career, once again. He dropped out of college and joined a local band that went on the road, with him playing banjo. Their first stop was Joliet, Illinois. It was their next stop that would change his life forever, Chicago, Illinois. That's where he met his wife Edith and they had their only child, George.

Long after the music stopped Oscar and Edith remained in Chicago eking out a living for themselves. Oscar worked odd jobs for a few years and eventually got a job as a porter in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1933, as luck would have it, he got a job in Massillon, Ohio working at Republic Steel. Unbeknownst to him, this job was to be a career changer for him, because it was here, working with Greek immigrants in the Works Progress Administration, that Oscar Ritchie got his first experience as a teacher, according to his son George. Apparently, he found it to his liking, because this eventually became his vocation in life.

This was the opportunity of a lifetime for Oscar. He took full advantage of it and by 1942 he was back in school. Only this time, he entered a predominantly White university in the state of Ohio, that was not exactly welcoming to African American students. In fact, him and his family were restricted as to where they could live and were therefore forced to live in a state of defacto segregation. This state of defacto segregation continued to exist in the town of Kent, Ohio up until the late 60s. This was nothing new to Oscar. Certainly, he had experienced some of the same, if not worse during his youth in Florida and evidenced in his focus on the area of Pre-law upon entering Kent. Somewhere along the line he found Sociology more to his liking and graduated in 1946, with a B.S. in Sociology, all the while working a full-time job at a steel mill in Massillon.[3]


He immediately enrolled in a graduate program at Kent and so impressed the chairman of the Sociology department, James T. Laing, that he was given a teaching position in 1947, ably filling the shoes of former faculty member Harley Preston. This really gave him a leg up, as now he was working as a full-time faculty member, something that was quite unusual for a graduate student.

During the summer of 1947 he attended the Yale Institute of Alcoholic Studies, on a scholarship and earned enough transferable credits to graduate from Kent State that summer.[4] He made such an impression on the Yale faculty, that his Master's thesis, "A Sociological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous,"[5] was published in the Yale Quarterly Journal of Alcoholic Studies.

By the fall of 1947 Oscar Ritchie had made a name for himself that brought him the recognition he had long sought. Kent State University President George Bowman appointed him as a full-time faculty member in the Sociology Department, then located in Lowry Hall. This appointment made him the first African American faculty member at a predominantly White university in the state of Ohio. It did not however, mean that him and his family would be immune to the discriminatory housing restrictions in place in the city of Kent. They were still restricted to living in a small section of Kent reserved for Black people, colloquially known as "the South End." President Bowman, liberal as he may have been in making Oscar Ritchie's appointment to the faculty, had his limits. He considered the NAACP to be "a radical organization," and refused to allow the students to form a local chapter in 1954. The university had its own discriminatory housing policies, which Oscar Ritchie fought and eventually forced the university to change in 1963. It was not an easy task and required the backing of his White colleagues in Sociology and other departments. The Sociology and English departments led the way by protesting and threatening to walk out, finally tipping the scales in the right direction.


As mentioned above, Oscar W. Ritchie was a scholar and a gentleman, as evidenced by his receipt of the scholarship previously mention to the Yale Institute of Alcoholic Studies, the first of a number of scholarships he would receive over the years. He was awarded the Julius Rosenwald Scholarship in 1948, which is given '"solely for the well-being of mankind."'As the first Kent State graduate to win this coveted award, Oscar Ritchie put a feather in Kent State's cap. He also received the Guggenheim Award awarded to graduate students for advanced study. On his way to achieving his doctorate Oscar took off for a year from Kent State and studied at the University of Wisconsin. Returning in 1949, he resumed his academic duties. Throughout the next 9 years he continued to be recognized by his colleagues, both near and far as a scholar par excellence, as evidenced by his Scholarship Day address in May 1952, when he was still an assistant professor. This honor was usually reserved for senior members of the faculty.

It was 1958 when Oscar W. Ritchie finally received his PhD in Sociology from New York University. His dissertation was titled "Male Delinquents' Assessments of an Industrial School: A Study of the Relationship between Assessments and Length of Residence." He summarizes his study in the following manner in the dissertation's abstract (L.C. Card No. Mic 58-7262).

"Three assumptions were made in this study: (1) the industrial school is organized for the purpose of re-education or reform; (2) based on their conceptions of the industrial school experience, the students have their own assessments of the institution; and (3) when they are approached properly, the assessments elicited from the delinquents will be expressive of their attitudes and opinions concerning the institution. . . .

"The universe selected for this study, is the oldest cottage-type industrial school for male delinquents in the United States. It is also the largest. Although the school's employee-student ratio was about 1 to 4, the ratio of professional employees to students was far below generally accepted minimum standards. The school provides educational, vocational training, work, religious, and recreational programs, but largely because of its size and limited professional staff, it tends to be 'custody-centered' rather than 'treatment-centered.'"

— Oscar W. Ritchie[6]

He was held in such high esteem that, shortly before his untimely demise, he was elected by his colleagues in Sociology to the chairmanship of the Sociology Department, earning him the distinction of being the first person to hold every position possible in the department.


Oscar was not averse to interacting with the student body and worked with a number of the Greek organizations on campus as an adviser, including Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternities, which he advised from 1955-1956 and 1958-1962 respectively. He also assisted in the establishment of the Alpha Phi Alpha Education Foundation, which offered a scholarship as early as 1965.[7] His work with the Alphas won him the honor of being named Director of Educational Activities for Alpha Phi Alpha's national chapter, an appointment he held from 1966 until his death in 1967. Even in death he continues to mentor to the students of today through the Oscar W. Ritchie Four-Year Scholarship Fund, which grants anywhere from $2,000-$8,000 per year to qualified students. This fund was established in 1977 and has an endowment of $450,000. Every year a number of young African American scholars, with the intention of attending Kent State University, receive this scholarship. All applicants receive $250 just for applying.

Community Involvement[edit]

Dr. Ritchie was a lifelong musician. Although, he did not play with a band as he had in Florida, he did direct musical groups, outside of the university. From reports in the local papers it appears that he revived the Massillon Community Chorus in 1938, which developed into a full blown 40 member choir by 1941. During that three-year period they toured more than 50 Ohio cities. The group was "composed of mill workers, garage mechanics, house maids, and WPA laborers."[8] The amateur chorus donated all of their earnings to the Urban League "for the purchase of music, choir robes and a recording machine."[8] With his wife, Edith Ritchie in the choir and him on piano, he managed to keep his musical ambitions alive by presenting Negro spirituals a la Frederick and Harriet Loudin of the neighboring town of Ravenna, Ohio, who led the Fisk Jubilee Singers, for nearly 30 years.

In concert with some of his colleagues at Kent State he also co-founded the Portage County Family Planning, Counseling and Mental Health Center in Ravenna, Ohio with Dr. Dwight I. Arnold, a KSU Emeritus professor, and Dr. John Guidabaldi (Chairman, Associate Professor, Early Childhood Ed.), in 1962.

He was also an active member of the Massillon Urban League and the Canton NAACP, which recognized his work as the leader of their local recruitment drive in the 1950s, that nearly doubled the size of their local membership. Considering the attitude of KSU President Bowman towards these types of organizations, these were bold moves, indeed. He was also involved with protests against housing discrimination on the Kent State campus, which was engaged in as part of university policy and discrimination off campus in Kent and surrounding communities. He let his stance on these discriminatory practices be known far and wide, at the risk of losing the job he had worked so hard to obtain.

Oscar Ritchie was no wall flower. He spoke out about injustices in the juvenile justice system and was a favorite graduation speaker at Cleveland area high schools.


As noted above, Dr. Oscar Ritchie received many accolades over the years, attesting to his scholarship and humanitarianism, the most prominent accolade being the building that now bears his name. Just across the street from Lowry Hall, where Dr. Ritchie spent the majority of his academic career is a building that has received the unusual, yet well deserved, distinction of being the only building dedicated to an African American on the campus of a major university in Ohio. Formerly the Student Union, this building that now houses the Center of Pan-African Culture, the Institute of African American Affairs and the Department of Pan-African Studies, which were all founded by Dr. Edward W. Crosby, who was another African American educational pioneer in his own right, was renamed Oscar W. Ritchie Hall in 1977 at the behest of the leadership of the BUS.

After 29 years of service to the university and just ten years after his death, on June 16, 1967, Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie was honored with the naming of a building in his honor. The Black United Students (BUS) drew up a proposal and presented it to KSU Brage Golding and the Board of Trustees, who accepted it and conducted the naming ceremony on November 10, 1977. During his lifetime Dr. Ritchie received many honors, but this one stands alone, as it has attested to the importance of the man and his work for more than the 29 years he walked the halls of Kent State University.


Dr. Ritchie died on June 16, 1967 in Ravenna, Ohio's Robinson Memorial Hospital, of lesions on the liver and lung. At 58 years old, he was relatively young, although he had lived a full life. He was survived by his wife, Edith, one brother, Alfred, one sister, Mary, his son, George and 3 grandchildren Jocelyn, Victoria, and Bradford.

Published Journal Articles[edit]

Ritchie, O.W. (1999). "Thoughts Upon an Impact Study of an Industrial School for Male Delinquents". Juvenile Criminal Law & Criminology.


  • "Toward a Descriptive Analysis of the Structural aspects of Organized Crime" by Oscar W. Ritchie, 1953. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Ritchie, O.W. (1947). "A Sociological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous" (Master's Thesis, Kent State University.
  • Weeks, H. Ashley and Ritchie, Oscar W. (1956). "An evaluation of the services of the State of Ohio to its delinquent children and youth", Columbus, Bureau of Educational Research, Ohio State University.
  • Ritchie, O.W. (1958). "Male Delinquents' Assessments of an Industrial School: A Study of the Relationship Between Assessments and Length of Residence" (Doctoral dissertation, New York University.
  • Ritchie, O.W. & Koller, Marvin R. (1964). Sociology of Childhood (1st ed.). Appleton-Century-Crofts.


  1. ^ Dr. Ritchie Curriculum Vitae
  2. ^ Fry, Hal. "Oscar Washington Ritchie: Biography in Brief." The Akron Beacon Journal [Akron] January 27, 1952, Section B, page 3.
  3. ^ Oscar W. Ritchie's Bachelor of Science diploma, issued by Kent State University August 30, 1946.
  4. ^ Oscar Ritchie's Master of Arts diploma, issued by Kent State University, August 29, 1947.
  5. ^ Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Vol. 9, 119-156, 1948. "A Sociological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous", Oscar W. Ritchie, M.A.
  6. ^ "Thoughts Upon an Impact Study of an Industrial School for Male Delinquents". Juvenile Criminal Law & Criminology. 
  7. ^ "Cash for College Careers." Ebony Magazine, April 1965, Vol. 20, No. 6: 42.
  8. ^ a b "Massillon Negro Chorus On WHBC Today." Canton Repository, January 12, 1941: 25.