One September day, Reverend James Reed, the minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Wooster, was in the midst of congregational calls when suddenly, overcome by the natural beauty around him, he had an inspiration. This should be the site for a Presbyterian college! The idea gained traction when the owner of the land (a member of his congregation) agreed to donate it and the citizens of Wooster and Wayne County pledged to raise the necessary $100,000 seed money. On Dec. 18, 1866, 15 months after Rev. Reed had a dream, the Presbyterian Synod incorporated the institution and named its first Board of Trustees.
Digital illustration by Alix Northrup
With faith that if they built it, students would come, founders constructed a five-story edifice which housed a chapel, recitation rooms, literary societies, library rooms, a museum, three offices, eight coatrooms, and a laboratory. Unofficially named ”the Bitters Bottle” by the students, and today remembered as “Old Main,” it towered over the trees and surrounding landscape. Because of plans to include a medical school and graduate departments (which would ultimately flounder) the early institution was called The University of Wooster.
On September 7, Wooster’s first president, Dr. Willis Lord, was inaugurated, the university was dedicated, and the College’s 34 students were introduced to their five professors. In his convocation speech, Willis Lord, formerly professor of didactic theology at the Theological Seminary of the Northwest in Chicago, said that Wooster should be “not only a place of all studies, it should be a place of studies for all... The essential test of citizenship in the commonwealth of science and letters should be character, mental and moral quality, and attainment, not condition, race, color, or sex.” On June 28, 1871, the six students who had been admitted as seniors graduated.
Bad health, exacerbated by worry over the inability of the school’s financial endowment to keep pace with its growth, prompted President Lord to resign. His successor, Dr. Archibald Alexander Edward Taylor, a Presbyterian minister from Cincinnati, was inaugurated on Oct. 7.
Emily Noyes, the College’s first female graduate, was closely followed by four women the following year, and within approximately six years there were about 80 more—40 enrolled in traditional courses and 40 in the preparatory department.
At the urging of students, Westminster Presbyterian Church was established on campus, joining the College’s founding congregation—First Presbyterian (located down the road) as a place for Presbyterian worship.
Seniors from the class of 1874 decided that their class gift would be the huge boulder residing in the neighborhood, which they must first dig up. They positioned the rock just south of old Main (destroyed in 1901) where it remained until 1971, when it was discovered that it was sinking into the ground and it was moved to its current location near McGaw Chapel.
At age 24, Annie B. Irish accepted President Taylor’s invitation to teach German language and literature. Before she began teaching she completed her studies and became the first student to be awarded a Ph.D. at Wooster (although no one ever called her “Dr. Irish”). By 1886, she was dead of scarlet fever. But in those short years, she made contributions to the College that are honored today, as faculty, students, and alumni reconstruct her experience, guided by her diaries.
During President Taylor’s leadership the campus grew to include the observatory and Severance Gymnasium. He enlarged the preparatory department, added summer school, and the departments of music and graduate study. A few years after his resignation as president, he returned to the college as professor of logic and political science, director of the post-graduate department, and editor of the Post Graduate and Wooster Quarterly (predecessor to the alumni magazine). As were his predecessors, President Sylvester Fithian Scovel was a Presbyterian minister, coming to Wooster from Pittsburgh.
Today, The Wooster Voice is one of the oldest student-run newspapers in the nation.
Clarence B. Allen graduated in 1892.
In early 1896, female students moved into Hoover Cottage, the college’s first dormitory for women and a mission of the late Annie Irish.
Following the death of his wife, President Scovel fell ill and Reverend Louis Holden of Beloit College in Wisconsin was appointed president. Like his predecessors, President Holden was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He was also a businessman. In the last days of President Scovel’s administration, the post-graduate courses leading to the doctorate of philosophy were discontinued. The medical school had closed three years earlier. Included in his primary accomplishments were additions to Old Main and beginning construction of the library. Included in his primary headaches was growing student belligerence over the college’s ban on intercollegiate athletics. Shortly after President Holden took office, he lifted the ban on intercollegiate athletics and hired a coach.
In the early morning of Dec. 11, the west wing of the chapel began burning. By mid-day, the entire building and its contents were destroyed.
By the year’s end, the College had not only replaced Old Main with Kauke Hall, it had also dedicated Taylor, Severance, and Scovel Halls. Surviving the fire was the College’s first pipe organ, which had not yet been installed in the doomed building. It was a centerpiece of the new Memorial Chapel and today the original instrument forms the base of the College’s Davis Memorial Organ at McGaw Chapel, the largest pipe organ in northeast Ohio.
To better reflect the institution's offerings, the state legislature, Presbyterian Synod and faculty, all vote for the change.
President Holden’s presidency saw huge growth in almost every aspect of College life. And after 16 years, he was tired. He was succeeded by John Campbell White, an 1890 Wooster alum. Like his predecessors, President White was an ordained minister, but unlike them, he came with no academic experience, but with a missionary zeal for making a difference in the larger world. He was a College trustee and a member of the search committee for the position he filled.
Today, the orchestra is one of the oldest town and gown orchestras in the country.
Military training for men was substituted for required physical education classes. Fall admissions fell by 28 percent. Coal shortages resulted in an extended Christmas vacation.
Six years after he took office, President White resigned for an administrative position with the Interchurch World Movement of North America. He had never received the endorsement of the faculty, who had not been consulted on his appointment, and his early tenure was marred by disagreement about his firing of the College’s first dean of women. As were his predecessors, President Charles Frederick Wishart was a Presbyterian minister. He came to Wooster from Chicago and was a former member of the faculty at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
President Wishart was elected moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, beating out William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, famous for his role as prosecutor in the /Scopes Monkey Trial, had been on campus two years earlier to debate the question of evolution, a presentation Wishart dubbed “eloquent ignorance.”
As far back as World War I when the College was a unit of the Student Army Training Corps, the need for on-duty nurses had been acknowledged, and in 1922 the first student health service was established in a small building on campus. But it wasn’t until the construction of Hygeia Hall in 1927-28 that the campus hygiene department and live-in nursing staff had a home and 24-7 overnight care began.
At the urging of head football coach Phil Shipe, the College’s sports teams dropped their unofficial Presbyterian appellation in favor of “Scots.” In the 1950s, football added the adjective “Fighting” and in 1960s the other male sports followed suit. Women’s teams were called the “Scotties” until 1987, then “Lady Scots,” and finally “Scots” in the 2000s.
The marching band, established around 1911, was originally garbed in somber black suits. They graduated to capes in the 1920s, and in 1940, wore kilts for the first time, a gift from Birt Babcock class of 1894. Bagpipes didn’t arrive on campus until the late 1940s.
By the first day of classes in 1942, 65 students had already enlisted. In 1943, a total of 800 naval flight trainees arrived on campus to attend preparatory school, displacing students in Kenarden, Douglass, and Hoover residence halls. Every Wednesday morning at 10:25 a.m. for the duration of the war, the Chapel bell tolled for one minute, as students paused to honor Wooster’s servicemen.
During President Wishart’s 25 years as president, the teaching staff increased by one third, salaries in some cases nearly doubled, new degrees in music were conferred, and many new buildings were added to an expanded campus. Forty-four-year-old Howard Lowry, Class of 1923, was the College’s first president who was not an ordained Presbyterian minister. He came to Wooster from Princeton, where he was professor of English literature, but he was well known at Wooster because of his former position as head of the College’s English Department.
Introduced to the concept in President Lowry’s 1945 treatise, “Wooster: Adventure in Education,” the faculty decided to move forward with using research as a new way of teaching and learning. It wasn’t until 1949 that mandatory requirements were in place and all members of the graduating class were also authors of an Independent Study. “Such a system makes intelligence and studies generally respected on a campus,” he wrote, “because every member of the student body is included in the best academic invitation the College has to give. The tone is something quite different from that created by a little band of preordained honors students set apart from the rest of the human family.”
Thornton Wilder spent a week on campus, helped to produce “Our Town,” and received an honorary doctorate. He was joined by his friend, Robert Shaw, who continued to visit campus every few years for the next 14 years, dropping in on Prof. Richard Gore’s choir rehearsals.
In the aftermath of the Korean War the federal government sent a directive to the nation’s colleges to provide a list of their books for use by the Special Committee on Un-American Activities. President Lowry refused and becomes a vocal leader for academic independence, addressing the Association of American Colleges of about 700 presidents, deans, and other educators at their annual meeting in Cincinnati.
Vi Startzman, Class of 1931, began her 23-year tenure as the College’s medical director in 1956. The city of Wooster had only one other female physician and many of the city’s doctors refused to work with her.
Sixty-seven years after the College admitted its first African American student, it hired its first African American faculty member—Theodore Roosevelt “Ted” Williams, professor of chemistry, who went on to serve and lead for 42 years. His wife, Yvonne Williams, was professor of black studies and political science from 1973-2000 and dean of faculty from 1989-93.
Forty-four Presbyterian Scholars (students who had been awarded the title by the denomination) wrote and published a letter charging that the study of religion at Wooster was superficial because it didn’t show how Christianity related to the larger world and provincial because it didn’t include the study of more religions. It was superficial because church attendance was required. It was provincial because faculty members were required to be Christian.
With the advent of Andrews Library, whose nascent computer system was linked directly to the Battelle Institute in Columbus, Wooster became one of the first small colleges with such a system. The whole college community helped move 125,000 books from the old Frick Library. Robert Frost attended the gala celebration.
Seven years before Title IX mandated women’s inclusion in athletics, Wooster launched its basketball and field hockey teams.
At 10:15 a.m. on March 14, approximately 700 Wooster students and faculty members stepped off from the Memorial Chapel for a four-mile silent walk to the downtown square and back to campus, to demonstrate their sympathy with civil rights activists in Selma, Ala. The formation of an NAACP campus chapter in 1963 served as a catalyst for students’ work to focus attention on the discrimination in housing and employment everywhere, including the city of Wooster.
On July 4, 1967, President Lowry died suddenly of a heart attack. His 23 years of leadership had resulted in the construction of 15 new buildings and the renovation of five more. Independent Study had become a part of the College’s culture and purpose. Garber Drushal, vice present for academic affairs and chair of academic committees, was appointed acting president and in April 1968 was named the College’s seventh president. Drushal had been on campus for more than two decades, first in the speech department and then in political science. His first order of business was to shore up the College’s precarious finances.
Throughout the nation, Christian denominations were rethinking their investment in higher education, and the Presbyterians were no exception. In 1969, the Ohio Synod voted to end its formal relationship with Wooster. The church/college division had played out at Wooster a few years earlier, when the minister of Westminster Church, Rev. Bev Asbury, asked that his salary no longer be paid by the College, becoming the only pastor of the nation’s 46 Presbyterian college-affiliated churches to end the employer/employee relationship. In 1969, seniors were no longer required to attend chapel; a year later the requirement was dropped for the entire student population.
Campus Council, created in the spring of 1969, combined the voices of students, faculty, and staff to make recommendations to the administration.
When Wooster students learned that Kent State students demonstrating against the Cambodian invasion had been killed by the National Guard, approximately 800 students, faculty, and administrators marched down Beall Avenue to East Liberty Street. Two student reporters who had witnessed the shootings reported extensively in The Voice. When the marchers returned to campus, resentments spilled over to the College administration, but were resolved with words rather than violence.
President Garber Drushal spoke with students in the Lowry Pit after the march.
The traditional, ivy covered chapel that had served the College for 69 years was replaced by the untraditional McGaw Chapel, prompting a storm of controversy. But while the new Chapel might not have looked much like a church, its purpose and faith tradition were made clear by the cross at its entrance.
On the same weekend of the McGaw Chapel dedication, members of the Black Student Association and Wooster Christian Fellowship demonstrated before the game began, holding signs that read “United We Stand Against Racism” and “We are People Deal With Us as People.” The five black members of the football team announced they would not play. Demands included accelerating faculty and student recruitment, financial aid to black students, and support for the academic programs of black students. Within two years, the administration approved a black studies program, making Wooster one of the earliest liberal arts colleges to have one.
President Drushal’s retirement came amidst much affection from members of the Wooster family, as they welcomed the promotion of Henry Copeland, professor of history and dean of the faculty for the past 11 years, to their top office.
Ohio Light Opera becomes the resident professional company on campus, one of only a handful of companies in the country still performing the genre.
An impromptu celebration that would turn into an annual tradition was reinforced by the first “I Did It” button and coverage in the New York Times, which picked up campus photographer Matt Dilyard’s photo of jubilant students in their March 27 issue.
On April 20, a group of black students took over the administrative offices of Galpin Hall for 13 hours, demanding many of the same things that had been demanded at the homecoming boycott 18 years earlier—an increase in the number of black faculty and psychological professionals and increased financial services for black students.
At the fairly young age of 59, President Copeland announced his resignation and the College embarked on a search for a president who would come from outside the College ranks—the first in 76 years. Accepting the offer as the College’s first woman president was Suzanne Woods, acting president for academic affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. Two days before Woods was to take office, the trustees rescinded their offer because of late-breaking concerns over her female partner. Stan Hales, professor of mathematics and vice president for academic affairs—on campus since 1990—served as acting president, and in 1996 accepted the offer to become the College’s tenth president.
In honor of past president Copeland, trustee Henry Luce endowed the position of campus chaplain and director of interfaith campus ministry. Although the position was separated from the Westminster church, it was stipulated that it would be filled by a Presbyterian. Reverend Linda Morgan-Clement became the first person in the position, also taking on the responsibility of directing the campus Volunteer Network. Although her denomination is Presbyterian, as stipulated, she serves and encourages all faith traditions and has taught courses on feminist theology, the theology of peace, and a course titled “Inter-Faith Dialogue.”
President Stan Hales’ 12-year administration saw a ground-breaking financial campaign and a surge of growth—the construction of new residence halls and academic buildings, a new admissions center, student health center, and the renovation of Kauke Hall. The College’s 11th president, Grant Cornwell, came to Wooster after 20 years at St. Lawrence, his alma mater, where he had been professor and chair of philosophy and vice president and dean of academic affairs.
The Senior Research Symposium was created to allow seniors to present their research through campus-wide presentations, poster sessions, and performances.
Between 2007 and 2012, applications for admissions jumped by 64 percent. Reflecting the larger pool of applying students, percentages of U.S. multiethnic students went from 9 percent to 16 percent during the same period. Instrumental to the College’s goal of increased diversity was the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement (which would be renamed the Center for Diversity and Inclusion), established in 2009 to formalize and encourage collaboration between campus programs and offices.
Dedicated in 2012, the Scot Center became the College’s first LEED-certified building. A year later, the College replaced its coal burning power plant with a natural gas boiler. The smoke stack, erected in 1956 to blow coal fumes high overhead, came down.
The Center for Advising, Planning, and Experiential Learning (APEX) was launched.
President Cornwell accepted a position as president of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, ending his eight-year tenure at Wooster. Georgia Nugent, senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges and former president of Kenyon College, was appointed to a one year position as interim president, while the College conducted a search.
In July, the College’s first woman president began her tenure. President Bolton came to Wooster from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where she was professor of physics and dean of the college.