History of Ohio University

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The history of Ohio University has been documented by several known sources, especially the bicentennial publication, Ohio University 1804–2004: Spirit of a Singular Place, written by historian Betty Hollow. The university's history predates its founding, as a part of the post-Revolutionary period that saw the nation's first land grants, and continues until the present period of international research.

America's experiment[edit]

The Bunch of Grapes Tavern

Public support for higher education in America was not new when Manasseh Cutler first decided to organize an expedition bound for the Ohio country. Ohio University would become the first legislated public university due to passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which had explicitly included funding for higher education. On March 1, 1786, Cutler had attended a meeting at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston with Massachusetts delegates to form an association to purchase lands from Congress.

Cutler’s simple plan of the university was modeled after Harvard and more particularly Yale, the latter which he graduated in 1765; and it was his desire that the university be called American University.[1] The result of the Ohio University is directly from “the organic law of the territory,” [2] and Cutler’s contract for the purchase of the land, both in 1787. By the spring of 1788, Rufus Putnam had gathered fifty laborers, surveyors, and boat builders and proceeded to the Muskingum River. Putnam surveyed and laid out a town to provide a home for the future university.

On 9 January 1802, the Ohio Territory’s version of the charter further incorporated the university, by the name “American Western University.” The next charter was on 18 February 1804, establishing “Ohio University,” this time by the new legislature of the State of Ohio. All three legal charters placed Ohio University as the first institution of higher education founded and nourished by an act of Congress in America; the first in the territory northwest of the Ohio River; and the first in Ohio. As the flagship for the nation, Midwest, and state, the university’s current state flagship right has been defended several times. [3] General Washington stated “the settlement of southeastern Ohio was not accidental, but the result of the careful deliberation of wise, prudent, and patriotic men.” [4]

For America, it proved to be an experiment that would set the precedent for numerous other "frontier universities," not the least of which would be its western postcedent, Miami in 1809. On December 6, 1804, the first trustees, including Putnam, and Governor Tiffin gathered to raise operating funds by leasing university lands. The first students of the university were from the new territory and out-of-territory, the sons of settlers and well-to-do merchants from America's east coast. In the spring of 1806, the trustees began to train pupils for the college's work. That year, a two-story building was completed by Jehiel Gregory on the College Green. The university's journey as an academic center would not see its maturity until after the 1830s, as it struggled to garner significant funds from the state legislature, a body notoriously controlled by farmers who despised liberal arts. Women were involved at what would become the nation's first university in the Northwest Territory since the university's opening in 1808 and the subsequent habitation of Athens, Ohio. Beginning with the first faculty, women accompanied men, acted as helpers, and assisted with frontier living. The lands and space that the university would become home to remained heavily visited by American Indians of various clans on through the mid-1800s, after the university was well-established. Whether or not these locals participated in university functions is a bit mysterious. John Newton Templeton became the first African American to graduate from the university in 1828. The first publication, The Echo and University Record, began and was discontinued in 1843.[1 1]

War, women, and asylum[edit]

A ticket from the commencement of 1828

The Civil War began during the university's first time as a growing institution and classical American university. Many people from Athens were active in the war activities on behalf of the Union. The university served as station of interest for activity between Ohio and what would become West Virginia. The Morrill Land Grant College Act's passage saw Ohio and Miami universities attempt to persuade the state to divide designated 630,000 acres of land, but delays curtailed the effort. Ultimately, Ohio was neglected by the stalwart Republicans who did not gift monies from the act to it.[5]

Women entered the university for the first time as students in 1868. The admission of women was not because of a law or court order, but instead the recognition by faculty that women could contribute academically and could be learned students like male counterparts.

Margaret Boyd graduated from Ohio University in 1873, having enrolled in the university's preparatory program in the spring of 1868. Recurrent melancholy and illness led to her diary entries that read "I feel so sad today" and “I feel so sick and so bad,” although she added she could do as well as boys. On June 17 she informed President Scott she did not want a diploma with masculine endings, and the endings were changed. Scott remarked at the 1873 commencement ceremony that Boyd was the “oldest of a great sisterhood of graduates.” Boyd has remained a popular historical figure on the Ohio University campus, with numerous functions named in her honor.

Only a few years after Boyd became the university's first female graduate in 1873, there were fourteen women on campus, including Minerva Woodson, who was probably the first black woman to enroll at Ohio University.[1 1] Susan B. Anthony visited Athens in 1878. A decade after Boyd's graduation, the East Wing, now Wilson Hall, housed thirty women at $0.50 per week; the janitor's family; and the first female faculty member, Cynthia Weld, who was hired in 1883 to teach history and rhetoric. Beginning in 1902, the new State Normal College (later the College of Education) drew many women who were planning to become teachers. To house them, the university acquired Howard Hall and in 1906 built Boyd Hall, named for Margaret Boyd. However, the university did not provide a place for Martha Jane Hunley (Blackburn), who graduated summa cum laude with a major in literature and English studies in 1916. Hunley, the first African American woman to graduate, had to find her own housing in Athens. In 1999, the university recognized her accomplishment by placing her name, along with John Newton Templeton's, on the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.[1 1]

Beta Theta Pi became the first fraternity at Ohio University

By the twentieth century, almost half the university's students were women. They organized chapters of four national sororities—Pi Beta Phi (1889), Alpha Gamma Delta (1908), Alpha Xi Delta (1911), and Chi Omega (1913); several departmental clubs, including the Home Economics Club and Kindergarten Club; and the Young Women's Christian Association, or YWCA, which sponsored activities ranging from volunteering in the community to team sports.

During this time, the state built a massive psychiatric facility on what would become known as The Ridges. Although the university would not be affiliated with the institution until much later, the asylum played a large role in the local activities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries until its retirement to the university much later.

In 1892, the Ohio University baseball team became the first sports team sponsored at the school, and was followed by the football team in 1894.[1 1]

Unprecedented growth[edit]

In 1913, with about 330 women and nearly 500 men, the university hired its first dean for women. Arriving on her thirty-first birthday, Dean Irma Voight later wrote that aside from getting a desk in the hallway of Cutler Hall, she received little instruction, much less camaraderie, from President Alston Ellis. Within three weeks, she called a meeting of all women students and faculty to discuss establishing a Women's League, which would develop “spirit, loyalty, and standards.” During her thirty-six years of influence on the campus, Dean Voight was also active in the university branch of the YWCA, the Women's Recreation Association, Student Council, and the Panhellenic Council and was the first president of the Athens branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). In 1920, when the nineteenth amendment gave women the right to vote, Voight, a suffragist, arranged political forums for women, believing that some men were “sitting back and waiting for us to make a mess out of our enfranchisement.”

Women at Ohio University in the early 1900s performing a Maypole dance as a rite of Spring, by a queen and attendants, on the College Green.

World War I and II saw incredible contributions of Ohio University students and faculty to the Allied war effort. A sharp decrease in student enrollment in 1918 paralyzed the university, although student activity resumed. Many young men left the university to fight overseas. Ohio University became a charter member of the Mid-American Conference in 1946.

Voight liberalized women's rules, refereed women's basketball games, and took hiking trips with “her girls.” Dean Irma Voight retired in 1949. Three years after herfuneral in 1953, Voight Hall was named in her honor. Flo Hutchins, in a 1950 letter to Dean Voight, wrote:

Once or twice a year, Mrs. Chubb (Dean Chubb's wife) gave us a talk on morals, manners, and hygiene. We thought her most charming and promised her that we would lean out our open windows each morning on arising and take long breaths, sniffing as if we were smelling a rose.

Leona Wise Felsted and Janice Battin Bixler each served as dean of women for brief periods in the early 1950s. In 1953 Margaret Deppen, an early feminist, was appointed. When the positions of dean of women and dean of men were dissolved in 1962, Dean Deppen took the new title Director of Organizations and Activities, retiring in 1975.

1960s–1980s: Activism[edit]

The 1960s brought recognition of the consequences of racist ideologies, a simultaneous commitment to the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and growing demands of African Americans for equal rights. In 1963, the university's first black faculty member was hired by the English department. The next year brought James Barnes to Political Science and Ronald Williams to hearing and speech. Representatives from black organizations met with President Alden to propose separate dormitories for African American students, the hiring of more black faculty, the inclusion of more African American works in the library, and more attention to programming for African American students.

The 1960s brought numerous changes to the women at the university as well. In spring of 1967, the band director eliminated women from the famous Marching 110 marching band in order to build “greater esprit de corps,” and for seven years after, the band remained open only to male members. When the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal employees (AFSCME) went on strike the same year, they demanded "equal classification of jobs" and more sensible requirements for cafeteria workers (who were all women). In 1974, a group of female part-time faculty led a survey that concluded low-wage jobs, inadequate benefits, and sub-standard housing were actively offered through university contracts. Subsequently, the faculty senate proposed several improvements.

The Vietnam War was extremely unpopular to Ohio University students and Athens residents alike, and in its wake, saw the emergence of some of America's foremost examples of student protest and civil unrest during the era.

In 1969 for several nights, hundreds of women stayed out past the university women's curfew in protest of the curfew policy. Alicia Woodson, a leader of the protest, was a relative of Minerva Woodson who had been a student nearly a century before. The university ceased women's hours in 1972. In 1974, the university awarded its first athletic scholarships to women and Wendy Weeden Devine was the first woman inducted into the Ohio University Athletic Hall of Fame. President Claude Sowle appointed 1969 alumna Beverly Price as special assistant for women's affairs. Reverend Jan Griesinger, the first female minister in Athens, directed United Campus Ministry which established the Athens Women Against Rape in 1974 and the Athens chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1975.

In 1978, six women in the music school filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that resulted in an investigation of the inequities between men's and women's pay, and the adjustment of $30,000 in equitable wages. After the incident, the provost's office initiated regular “salary equity studies.” That same year, the Athens Women's Collective grew out of talks within United Campus Ministries, and raised issues pertaining to violence that produced the Student Escort Service. In 1979, the collective organized the first Take Back the Night March, and saw hundreds of women and men rally against staying home as being a solution to unsafe street violence and rape.

Patricia Richard, Joy Huntley, and Barbara Daniel organized the first women's studies program at Ohio University in 1978. In 1979, the program established a certificate program with a $10,000 budget. By 1980, eighteen women's studies courses were being offered by twelve departments. Also in the early 1980s, the university faced allegations that it discriminated on the basis of sex in its intercollegiate athletic program, and also saw the first time women outnumbered men 7,735 to 6,474; however, faculty and graduate assistant numbers were reversed.

International university[edit]

Many new programs, faculty, and students contributed to the new international imprint left by Ohio University that departed from the former frontier university model. A graduate Women's Studies program was approved in 1985, and in 1999, the university hired Susan Burgess as the first full-time tenured director of the program. At the seventy-fifth anniversary of women's suffrage in 1995, the university placed a plaque on Memorial Auditorium commemorating Susan B. Anthony's visit to Athens. The number of tenure-tracked female faculty spiked from 150 in 1992 to 240 that year. 265 women played on university-sponsored intercollegiate athletic teams.

Ohio University today maintains a Women's Center dedicated for use of university women at the Baker University Center. The center features studying space, health-related stations, and female-integrated programming to foster the five university pillars of the honor code. Additionally, the student body recognizes a Women's Affairs Commission as one of several commissions on the Ohio University Student Senate.

In 1993, Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., was appointed Dean of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, becoming the first African-American woman to serve as dean of a medical school in America.[6] As of 2004, Distinguished Teaching Professors recognized by the university included Alan R. Booth (PhD Boston University, Professor of Humanities and History since 1964 – History of Southern Africa), Lois Davis Vines (PhD Georgetown University, Professor of Humanities and French since 1969 – Poe abroad), Thomas H. Carpenter (PhD Oxford University, Professor of Humanities and Classics since 1996 – Art and myth in Ancient Greece), and Dean McWilliams (PhD University of Oregon, Professor of Humanities and English since 1969 – Butor and Gardner).

Coaches at Ohio University have been continually recognized for excellence, and philanthropists have increased total contributions to the university in its present period more so than ever before.


Ohio University has known twenty-one men lead as president:

Lindley Hall at Ohio University, named for first President Jacob Lindley
Order Name years
1 Lindley, JacobJacob Lindley 1809–1822
2 Irvine, JamesJames Irvine 1822–1824
3 Wilson, Robert G.Robert G. Wilson 1824–1839
4 McGuffey, William HolmesWilliam Holmes McGuffey 1839–1843
5 Ryors, AlfredAlfred Ryors 1848–1852
6 Howard, SolomonSolomon Howard 1852–1872
7 Scott, William HenryWilliam Henry Scott 1872–1883
8 Super, Charles WilliamCharles William Super 1884–1896
9 Crook, IsaacIsaac Crook 1896–1898
10 Ellis, AlstonAlston Ellis 1901–1920*
11 Bryan, Elmer BurrittElmer Burritt Bryan 1921–1934*
12 James, Herman GerlachHerman Gerlach James 1935–1943
13 Gamertsfelder, Walter S.Walter S. Gamertsfelder 1943–1945
14 Baker, John CalhounJohn Calhoun Baker 1945–1961
15 Alden, VernonVernon Alden 1962–1969
16 Sowle, Claude R.Claude R. Sowle 1969–1974
17 Crewson, Harry B.Harry B. Crewson 1974–1975
18 Ping, Charles J.Charles J. Ping 1975–1994
19 Glidden, RobertRobert Glidden 1994–2004
20 McDavis, Roderick J.Roderick J. McDavis 2004–2017
21 Nellis, DuaneDuane Nellis 2017–Present

* Edwin Watts Chubb was acting president for one year in 1920 when President Ellis died and again in 1934 when President Bryan died.[7]

Except for Super, Crook, McDavis, and Nellis, all presidents of the University have buildings named after them, most notably Ping Recreation Center and Baker University Center. The remaining buildings are residence halls and operations buildings.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Ohio University 1804–2004: Spirit of a Singular Place. Betty Hollow. 2004.
  1. ^ Life of Manasseh Cutler, Vol. 2, p. 21. 
  2. ^ Life of Manasseh Cutler, Vol. 1, p. 346. 
  3. ^ Peters, William E. (1910). The Legal History of The Ohio University, p. 87. The Western Methodist Book Concern. 
  4. ^ Peters, William E. (1910). The Legal History of The Ohio University. The Western Methodist Book Concern. 
  5. ^ Ari Arthur Hoogenboom (1988). The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, p. 10. University Press of Kansas (original from University of California). ISBN 0-7006-0338-7. 
  6. ^ "Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee". National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 17, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Chubb Hall". ohiou.edu. 
  8. ^ https://www.ohio.edu/athens/map_index.html

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