The Ohio State University

From Ohio History Central
Ohio State University Aerial View.jpg
Aerial view of the Ohio State University campus including the oval and the football stadium, Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1935-1943.

In 1870, the Ohio General Assembly chartered the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Governor Rutherford B. Hayes appointed a board of trustees for the institution and construction began in northern Columbus for the college's first building. The Ohio legislature utilized funds from the sale of land acquired under the Morrill Act to finance the institution. In 1862, the United States government approved the Morrill Act. This piece of legislation authorized the federal government to give each state and territory that had not seceded from the United States during the American Civil War thirty thousand acres of land for each United States Senator and Representative currently serving in the U.S. Congress. The individual states were to utilize this land to establish colleges that taught agriculture and mechanical arts. Ohio received a total of 630,000 acres of land as a result of the Morrill Act, and the state legislature sold the land for a total profit of $342,450.80.

The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors on September 17, 1873. The college's trustees located the institution on the Neil farm, approximately two miles north of Columbus's city limits. This site was chosen for several reasons. First, Columbus was central to the state and easily accessible to most state residents thanks to canals and railroads. Second, this more rural location would prevent students from frequenting bars and gambling houses located within Columbus' boundaries. Finally, a spring existed on the Neil farm, which would provide campus residents with an adequate water source.

Although the institution was to enhance Ohioans' knowledge of agricultural and mechanical practices, originally a majority of the trustees and faculty at the school placed more emphasis on a liberal arts education, frustrating the members of the Ohio Board of Agriculture. Norton Townshend, the Board of Agriculture's secretary, favored a "narrow gauge" education, with the college and its faculty providing instruction in new agricultural techniques. Joseph Sullivant, a member of the board of trustees, preferred a "broad gauge" education. Under this type of system, the college would offer agricultural and mechanical courses but also would provide students with courses in English, foreign languages, political science, history, and numerous other fields. This broader curriculum triumphed in the end and led the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, in 1878, to change its name to The Ohio State University to reflect the wide range of courses offered at the institution. The first class was made up of twenty-five students, including two women. By 1877, more than two hundred students attended the school.

The university continued to grow in the late nineteenth century. Beginning in 1879, the school began to offer free agricultural lectures to the community. Three years later, the state legislature authorized funds for the Agricultural Experiment Station, which later became known as the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and is now located in Wooster, Ohio. The university also began to offer graduate degrees, awarding the first M.A. degree in 1886 and the first doctorate in 1890. In 1891, Ohio State opened a law school on campus. By the end of the nineteenth century, more than one thousand students were enrolled.

The school continued to grow, in terms of both enrollment and campus size, and developed new programs in the early twentieth century. By the time that Ohio State celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, more than eight thousand students attended classes. In addition to academics, the school had also developed a sports program, including a football team. A new stadium, built in the shape of a horseshoe, was dedicated in 1922.

The Great Depression posed major challenges for the university, which dealt with financial difficulties by reducing course offerings and cutting faculty salaries. In addition, the school opened a special financial aid office to help students find resources to pay for their tuition. Despite the hard economic times, Ohio State had an enrollment of 17,568 students by 1940 and had successfully weathered the depression.

Like many institutions of higher learning, World War II had a significant effect on Ohio State. Many students left school to serve in the military, and students organized efforts on campus to support the troops. In addition, the university participated in research programs that supported U.S. government war efforts. When the war ended, enrollment soared as veterans returned home and went to college because of the G.I. Bill. By 1950, enrollment stood at almost 26,000 students. The university opened its first branch campus in Newark, Ohio, in 1957.

Although the university was continuing to grow, there was also conflict on campus. In May 1970, student protests erupted into riots. The Ohio National Guard and state troopers occupied the campus, and classes were temporarily cancelled.

By the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, The Ohio State University had become one of the largest universities in the United States. In addition to the main campus in Columbus, the institution has branch campuses in Lima, Mansfield, Marion, and Newark. In 2002, there were 48,477 students enrolled on the Columbus campus, which made it the second largest campus in the nation.

Over the years, The Ohio State University has had a number of famous graduates, including artist Roy Lichtenstein, cartoonist Milton Caniff, Nobel Laureate William Fowler, Heisman trophy winners Eddie George and Archie Griffin, football coach Woody Hayes, basketball coach Bobby Knight, General Curtis E. LeMay, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Olympian Jesse Owens, author James Thurber, and businessman Leslie Wexner, among others.

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