OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY
The dream of a Methodist institution of higher education in Oklahoma City began soon after the Land Run of 1889. The strongest support for such an institution came from two men. Anton H. Classen, a prominent early Oklahoma City developer, was a member of the First Methodist Church of Oklahoma City and a leader in the Oklahoma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Judge C. B. Ames, influential in the early development of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, was a member of St. Luke's Church and a leader in the Oklahoma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Due largely to their efforts, the two conferences signed an agreement in 1901 to jointly own and operate a university in Oklahoma City. The joint commission named the new school Epworth University. A new organization called the University Development Company of Oklahoma City formed to acquire the land needed for the new institution. The first building was finished in 1903, and Epworth University welcomed its first class of 116 students on September 7, 1904.
The new university expanded rapidly, and by 1907 it had more than four hundred students. The Epworth School of Medicine, established that year, was the first medical school in the new state. Also in 1907 the Epworth School of Law was established, with C. B. Ames as dean. However, by 1911 financial difficulties and disagreements between the Oklahoma conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South resulted in Epworth's closing. The School of Medicine was transferred to the University of Oklahoma. The original campus building is now part of Epworth United Methodist Church.
The Oklahoma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church formally withdrew from the union that controlled Epworth University at the March 1911 conference meeting. At the same meeting the conference elected a new trustees board and empowered them to establish a university affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Oklahoma.
A temporary home for the new Methodist University of Oklahoma was found in the old territorial capitol building in Guthrie. The new university opened in September 1911. Its faculty was drawn from old Epworth University and from Fort Worth (Texas) University, another Methodist institution that had recently closed. The new institution started with great promise, but World War I and the 1918 influenza epidemic led to declining enrollments from 1916 through 1918, which in turn led to financial difficulties. Negotiations with the city of Guthrie for a permanent home also failed, and on April 10, 1919, the trustees appointed a committee to study the problem of relocation. The committee considered offers from El Reno and Enid before deciding to return to Oklahoma City.
On June 14, 1919, the Methodist University of Oklahoma Board of Trustees voted to close the Guthrie campus and to establish a new institution to be named Oklahoma City College. On September 15, 1919, Oklahoma City College opened for classes. It was housed in two remodeled apartments at Twelfth and Walnut streets. In 1920 the university trustees purchased twenty-two acres of land for the new school at Northwest Twenty-third and Blackwelder streets. In March 1922 ground was broken for a new building that was dedicated the following December. At the turn of the twenty-first century this edifice served as the administration building.
Oklahoma City College changed its name to Oklahoma City University (OCU) in 1924. One of the first major developments for the new university was the reunification of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South in supporting the college. Negotiations for this reunification began in March 1925 and ended in 1928, thus repairing the split that had led to the closing of Epworth University in 1911. The conferences continued their joint support until Methodist unification in 1939.
The depression years of the 1930s were hard financial times for OCU. The university was in debt and in danger of becoming delinquent in its mortgage payments. A June 1937 meeting of Oklahoma City leaders and the Methodist General Board of Education actually resulted in an agreement for OCU to become a tax-supported, municipal institution. To counter this agreement, the 1937 annual conference of the Oklahoma Methodist Episcopal Church reaffirmed the church's commitment to maintain an institution of higher education in Oklahoma. While the financial situation was still precarious, OCU remained a Methodist institution.
The burgeoning economy during World War II helped bring an end to OCU's financial difficulties. New government educational programs plus an aggressive fund-raising campaign liquidated all of the university debt by 1945. The GI Bill brought a sudden influx of new students. On March 29, 1951, the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited the school. The Gold Star Memorial Building, a memorial to the gold star mothers of the two world wars, was completed in 1952. It originally housed the library and the school of religion and at the turn of the twenty-first century housed the law library.
Also in 1952, the university regained its law school. After Epworth University closed, a group of Oklahoma City lawyers had established the independent Oklahoma City College of Law. Negotiations began in the 1940s for the college to become part of Oklahoma City University. In 1952 the Oklahoma City College of Law closed and transferred all of its properties and records to OCU. The Oklahoma City University School of Law opened as an evening school in September 1952. Classes continued to meet in the downtown College of Law building until 1956, when law classes were held on Oklahoma City University's main campus. In 1972 a full schedule of day classes was added.
The School of Business began offering master's degrees in the fall of 1963. The Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel was dedicated in 1968, and the five-story Dulaney-Browne Library opened in January 1971. OCU now includes the Petree College of Arts and Sciences, the Meinders School of Business, the School of Law, the Margaret E. Petree College of Music and Performing Arts, the School of American Dance and Arts Management, the Kramer School of Nursing, and the Wimberly School of Religion and Graduate Theological Center. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Tom McDaniel served as president, and enrollment stood at 2,892.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Harry E. Brill, Story of Oklahoma City University and Its Predecessors (Oklahoma City, Okla.: University Press, 1938). Paul W. Milhouse, Oklahoma City University: A Miracle at 23rd and Blackwelder (Oklahoma City : Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1984). Clustor Q. Smith, Building for Tomorrow: The Story of Oklahoma City University (Nashville, Tenn.: Parthenon Press, 1961).
John D. Heisch
© Oklahoma Historical Society