Each year, Ohio University celebrates Founder’s Day on Feb. 18, but this year the focus is on the five regional campuses rather than the Athens branch.
Founder’s Day is a way to acknowledge the education provided for students by the Athens and regional campuses since the university’s founding by Manasseh Cutler in 1804. As part of the Founder’s Day celebrations, Ohio University’s five regional campuses are being honored in an exhibit on the fifth floor of Alden Library on Feb. 20 at 3:30 p.m. The deans from all of the regional campuses will come to visit the exhibit, which depicts both the past and present of the branches.
OU’s first branch campus opened more than 70 years ago.
In 1938, before establishing official regional campuses, the university worked with the Portsmouth City School District to offer classes to high school graduates who couldn’t leave home to attend college. A similar program started in Zanesville a year later with major university courses being taught at Lash High School. It wasn’t until after World War II that there was a need to create more education opportunities.
“The three branches were started in 1946 when heavy enrollment caused by returning veterans filled the Athens campus beyond capacity,” according to an article written in The Post on Sept. 20, 1948.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt established The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 to help veterans of the war receive higher education. OU did its part to accommodate for them by expanding to different parts of Southeast Ohio. OU’s then-President John C. Baker appointed Albert C. Gubitz to be the director of the Ohio University Branch College system in 1946.
Gubitz was able to create the first regional campus in Ohio in Chillicothe, as well as expand the programs offered in Portsmouth and Zanesville. The campuses allowed veterans to stay close to home, to take care of their families and to work while attending classes in the evening.
According to a piece written by Bill Kimok, university archivist and records manager, for the Regional Campus exhibit on the fifth floor of Alden Library, “it was not originally Ohio University’s intention to make the branches a permanent fixture of university concern.”
As more students began to enroll, it created a need for larger campuses and more education opportunities. For the first 15 years in Chillicothe, classes were taken in a high school building until it was unable to meet the demands of the growing student population. Daytime classes were soon offered at the First Presbyterian Church until the first campus building, Bennett Hall, opened five years later. The first campus library was opened in 1974.
A Post article from Feb. 18, 1949 stated that “approximately 5,800 students have enrolled for classes at OU and its three branches.”
Each of the three campuses expanded to accommodate the influx of students, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the number of students who wanted to study at a branch campus. Three more campuses were established, one in Lancaster and one in Ironton in 1956 and one in Belmont County in 1957.
Professors at OU Lancaster started teaching courses in what is now known as the Stanberry Freshman School in September 1956. The campus has since then grown to open Brasee Hall in 1968 and Herrold Hall in 1976. Gordon Herrold, whom the building is named after, had ancestors who were responsible for providing the lumber used to build Cutler Hall on the Athens campus.
The Ironton branch has expanded from the old Ironton High School building where courses were first taught. Today, the branch is now OU Southern with four locations in Scioto and Lawrence counties.
Known as the Belmont County branch when it first opened, the Eastern campus first held classes in Martins Ferry High School. In 1967, Wilson Shannon Hall in St. Clairsville was built to expand the campus. Today, the Eastern campus offers classes in liberal arts and the sciences.
The number of branch campuses has since decreased from six to five. The Portsmouth branch was a part of OU for about 30 years until OU’s Board of Trustees, the Ohio Board of Regents and the Scioto County Technical College District decided to create a general and technical college. Today, it is better known as Shawnee State University.