Charles Odegaard

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Charles Edwin Odegaard (January 10, 1911 – November 14, 1999) was the 19th president of the University of Washington from 1958–1973. Odegaard is credited in transforming the University of Washington from an average state university to one among the top public universities in the United States.


Odegaard was born in 1911 in Chicago Heights, Illinois to Charles Alfred and Mary Cord Odegaard.[1] His paternal grandparents emigrated from Norway in 1880. The son of the president of a machine tools company, Odegaard grew up on the north side of Chicago. While neither parent had finished high school, they encouraged Odegaard's scholastic study and had an extensive library. In his autobiography, he says this family environment "preconditioned me for history as a discipline". Odegaard graduated from Dartmouth College in 1932 and received his Master's degree and Ph.D from Harvard University in 1933 and 1937, respectively. In 1941 he married Elizabeth Jane Ketchum in Chicago at the University of Chicago Chapel. Ms. Ketchum was the daughter of Milo Smith Ketchum, former Dean of the College of Engineering at Colorado, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Her mother, Mary Esther Beatty Ketchum, graduated from Iowa State and earned a Master's degree from Columbia in Biochemistry. She also taught at the University of Illinois. Dr. And Mrs Odegaard had one daughter, Mary Ann Odegaard.


Odegaard taught history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then took a leave of absence to serve in the Navy during World War II, earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Odegaard returned to academia, first teaching at the University of Illinois, then becoming the Executive Director of the American Council Of Learned Societies. In 1953 he became the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Michigan.

In 1958, Odegaard accepted the presidency of the University of Washington and quickly made changes to remedy perceived complacency in the university's administration. After six years, only three of the original fifteen deans on board remained when Odegaard arrived. The university witnessed tremendous growth during Odegaard's tenure with the student population growing from 16,000 to 34,000, 35 new buildings (doubling the square footage of the university), increased investment in the medical school, instituted a vision of building a "community of scholars", and oversaw the growth of the operating budget from $37 million USD in 1958 to over $400 million USD in 1973.

On the day of his retirement, 5,000 students crowded into Red Square, the central meeting place of the university, and presented him with a shirt that said, “L'université c'est moi," which means "the University is me" which he quickly dismissed and retorted, “This thing on my back just isn't true—the University is us.”


Odegaard died in his sleep of heart failure on November 14, 1999 after several years of failing health. He was 88 years old.[2]


The Odegaard Undergraduate Library (OUGL), the undergraduate library at UW is named in his honor.


  1. ^ Odegaard, p. 3
  2. ^ Beers, Carole (November 17, 1999). "Former President Of UW Dies At 88 -- Known As Key Leader In University's History". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 


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