During most of its life Phillips University was a private, church-affiliated (Disciples of Christ) school, with a liberal arts college offering a variety of four-year degrees, graduate programs, and a graduate seminary. The institution produced many of the Disciples of Christ preachers for Oklahoma.
On October 9, 1906, Dr. Ely Vaughn Zollars arranged for the founding charter of a college originally named Oklahoma Christian University. Enid businessmen promised $150,000 and secured grounds for a forty-acre campus east of Enid. With the backing of T. W. Phillips of Butler, Pennsylvania, and the donations of Disciples of Christ Churches of Oklahoma, the school held its first classes September 17, 1907. In 1912, following Phillips's death, the university was renamed in his honor.
Phillips University gained a reputation in teaching music. The institution was instrumental in starting the Tri-State Music Festival in April 1933. In addition, Phillips Professor Maurits Kesnar started the Enid Symphony, which had its first concert season in 1936-37.
In 1983 Phillips had 690 full time students, seventy teachers, and thirty adjunct professors. In spite of its prestige, in the 1970s and 1980s the school continually lost money. In 1987 the citizens of Enid narrowly passed a three-fourths-cent sales tax to purchase the university in order to keep it open. However, because the principle of separation of church and state prevents a city government from operating a religious-based organization, Phillips Seminary was separated from the university and was moved to Tulsa. In 1993 the Phillips University Board of Regents purchased the school from the City of Enid. Unfortunately, financial problems continued and grew worse until the board decided close the institution before the fall semester 1998.
Phillips University survives in two organizations: a legacy foundation, which can provide scholarships, and an alumni association. These organizations keep alive the tradition of a college that influenced many Oklahomans.
SEE ALSO: COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES–PRIVATE.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Garfield County, Oklahoma, 1893-1982 (Enid, Okla.: Garfield County Historical Society, 1982). Frank H. Marshall, Phillips University's First Fifty Years, Vol. 1, The Early Days of Phillips University (Enid, Okla.: Phillips University, 1957). Frank H. Marshall and Wilfred Powell, Phillips University's First Fifty Years, Vol. 2, The Turbulent Middle Decades (Enid, Okla.: Phillips University, 1960). Frank H. Marshall and Robert G. Martin, Phillips University's First Fifty Years, Vol. 3, The Years of Greatest Advance (Enid, Okla.: Phillips University, 1967).
Glen V. McIntyre
© Oklahoma Historical Society