History of WVU

by Dr. Barbara Howe, Director, WVU Center for Women's Studies

West Virginia University, founded in 1867, has a long and rich history as a land-grant university. Our history actually predates 1867 because Morgantown was home to several private seminaries and academies (nineteenth-century versions of high schools) whose histories are linked to WVU’s. Then, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, offering land grants of 30,000 acres of federally-owed land to each state that agreed to establish a college to teach agriculture and the "mechanic arts" (engineering). The State of West Virginia was formed the following year and, shortly thereafter, the state’s legislature accepted the terms of the Morrill Act to raise the money to start the new land-grant college they called the Agricultural College of West Virginia. In 1868, the school’s name was changed to West Virginia University.

WVU, the Early Days

WVU opened in September 1867 as an all-male, all-white institution with six faculty members, six college students, and 118 Preparatory Department students (high school-aged students who were preparing to do college work). WVU used the former Woodburn Female Seminary building, where Woodburn Hall is now, as the first residence hall, and our first president, Alexander Martin, lived there with the students. "Woodburn" means "streamlet in a shady glen" and comes from Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering; the "streamlet" was Falling Run, which then ran through a wooded valley where the Business and Economics Building is now. WVU built its own first building in 1870 and later named it Martin Hall, for Alexander Martin.

WVU offered programs primarily in the humanities and sciences disciplines. The Morrill Act said we had to have an agriculture program, so students planted a garden in Woodburn Circle - then left for summer vacation and returned to a garden full of weeds. The Morrill Act also required that we had a Cadet Corps, which became the ROTC program during World War I. Some people argued that women could not attend WVU since women could not be in the Cadet Corps.

Today's students would have enjoyed paying for their education in 1867, because the tuition for a 13-week term was just $8.00. Room and board was $3.50 per week. The average student would have paid between $187.50 and $249 for a full academic year. Now, that's an inexpensive education!

During the 1880s, WVU began to be a more diverse institution. In September 1889, the first ten women entered WVU as degree candidates (a few women had taken occasional courses earlier). One of the ten was Harriet Lyon, who transferred here from Vassar College. Two Japanese students were admitted into the university that year, also. In June 1891, Lyon became the first woman to receive a degree from WVU, graduating at the head of her class. In 1989, Tower II in the Evansdale Residential Complex was dedicated as Lyon Tower, and WVU’s Housing & Residence Life Office created a scholarship in her memory. Levi Holland, an African American who lived in Morgantown, tried to enter WVU’s Law School as early as 1883, but all of West Virginia’s public schools were racially segregated by state law, and he was not allowed to attend.

President Jerome Hall Raymond (1897-1901) hired the first women faculty; added art, music, and domestic science (predecessor of family and consumer sciences today) to attract women students; started the first summer school; and hired the first graduate students to be assist faculty in teaching undergraduates.

There were many aspects of early WVU life that today’s students would find incredibly challenging. Until 1895, students were required to attend chapel exercises every morning and one church service on Sunday. While this requirement eased somewhat during the 1895-96 school year, students still had to appear each morning for roll call. Imagine having to meet each morning at 7:00 for roll call! By 1898, compulsory chapel attendance ended, much to the chagrin of the administration.Students participated in extracurricular activities then, as now. In 1887, WVU began publishing the Athenaeum, the predecessor of today’s DA. Many students belonged to literary societies that sponsored debates, and the men might belong to fraternities. The first sorority was a local group called Kappa Delta, founded in 1899 and not related to the current Kappa Delta sorority on campus. To provide further support for women on campus, Josephine Hall Raymond, President Raymond’s wife, organized the Woman’s League, which united women faculty, staff, and students with women in the Morgantown community.

The Turn of the Twentieth Century: 1900-1910

WVU hired its first dean of women, Susan Maxwell Moore, in 1903. Moore was the daughter of Elizabeth Moore (of E. Moore Hall fame). At this time, the University had a policy of acting in loco parentis, a Latin phrase meaning "in place of the parents." Students were expected to follow WVU’s rules as though they were following the instructions of their own parents.

President Daniel Boardman Purinton (1901-1911) allowed students to attend regular Saturday night dances, which was one of the main forms of entertainment for students at this time. Students also attended the local theaters for a show and, sometimes, a large group would "rush" a local theater to gain free admission. Obviously, theater owners and the local police force did not find this nearly so entertaining.

WVU also began to hire a well-qualified faculty who had earned their Ph.D. degrees at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. One of these men was John A. Eiesland, who taught math and for whom Eiesland Hall would be named. In 1910, several of these faculty members organized WVU’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious honorary for students who excel in arts & sciences disciplines.

The 1910s at WVU

Most WVU students continued to live in boarding houses, sometimes sleeping (rooming) in one house and eating (boarding) in another; thus, like today, they had to pay for room and board. WVU required that the owners or operators of the boarding houses had to enforce the regulations for women students, including curfews which prohibited women from staying out too late at night. WVU opened its first residence hall in 1919 - Woman’s Hall (now Stalnaker Hall, named for a long-time professor of psychology, Elizabeth Mattingly Stalnaker).

As early as 1909, freshmen males were required to wear "freshman beanies" whether on or off campus. According to Brad Laidley, a history major who graduated in 1915, "Anybody caught without it, they would deal with him accordingly."

On May 6, 1918, students voted to create a student governing organization to be led by the president of the student body. This student governing body became today’s Board of Governors and Student Administration.

Students looking for careers as teachers could work with "equipment for mental testing and measuring and for psychological experiments" in a lab in Woodburn Hall, sharing space in the building with the history, English, Latin, and Spanish classrooms; women’s gym (in the basement); zoology lab; school of medicine; school of music; law school; registrar’s office; telephone switchboard; and bookstore, among others.

Our records are not clear, but it is possible that the first women international students were two women from Serbia who enrolled at WVU in the fall of 1919 to study agriculture; they did not complete the school year.

Life at WVU During the "Roaring Twenties"

The "roaring twenties" brought many changes to WVU. Women who wore galoshes that they left unbuckled so that they flapped while they walked were known as "flappers"; they also often wore scandalously short dresses (to their knees) and had short hair.

Men returning from World War I smoked more often, and, for the first time, proper well-bred women began to smoke in public. By March 1922, so many students smoked that custodians had to clear the cigarette butts away from the entrance to Woodburn Hall six times a day. The next year, the state fire marshal declared that smoking in buildings was a fire hazard and banned smoking in all WVU buildings. President John Roscoe Turner (1928-1934), a smoker, ignored the ban, and ashtrays reappeared in offices across campus.

No students could drink legally, as the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandated prohibition, but students could drive or ride the train to Point Marion, Pennsylvania, to visit the "speak-easies" there.

Dean of Men Harry Stone began to talk about "Social Hygiene for men" in his freshman orientation classes in 1924 and distributed hundreds of copies of a booklet entitled "Social Hygiene," which the Bureau of Venereal Diseases of the State Department of Health published with the U.S. Public Health Service.

The administration eliminated freshmen hazing, but student "Vigilance Committees" still enforced very strict rules for first-year students. Besides suffering a paddling for not wearing a beanie, freshmen men were required to run around Mountaineer Field as a group before every football game. All freshmen were required to attend the football games. In 1922, this could have been considered quite an honor, instead of a requirement, since the Mountaineers had an undefeated football season and won a bowl game in San Diego on Christmas Day.

Elizabeth Moore Hall was dedicated in 1928 as a lounge and gymnasium for women, with sleeping rooms for women graduate students on the third floor. Stansbury Hall opened about the same time as the Field House - the men’s gymnasium.

Perley Isaac Reed (for whom the School of Journalism is now named) taught WVU’s first journalism classes in 1920-21. Earl Core (for whom the Core Arboretum is named) began to teach biology during the 1920s and took part in the biology department’s first summer botanical expedition in 1926.

WVU during the Great Depression of the 1930s

Many students found it difficult to stay in school during the Great Depression. Federal financial aid programs were available to students at WVU for the first time, as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. This aid made it possible for students to work and study at the same time; one student’s job was to be the night guard for the Chemistry Building (Clark Hall); he remembered that he got a lot of studying done on the job because there was nothing to guard against. Students also paid for their education with funds from their family or a few scholarships, or they worked in Morgantown or at home during the summer. Sometimes, families moved to Morgantown so their children could attend WVU and save the cost of room and board.

WVU opened its first residence hall for men in 1935 - Men’s Hall (now Boreman Hall). Out-of-town students packed their laundry into big crates or baskets and sent it home to mom by train - there were no Laundromats, no wrinkle-free clothes, and no one wore jeans and t-shirts to classes.

In December 1938, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada decision that colleges had to admit African-American students to any graduate courses that were not available at the state institutions for African-Americans. This would soon open WVU’s doors to a few African-American students.

WVU offered its first social work courses and its first humanities courses in the late 1930s. We still teach those humanities courses as Humanities 1 and Humanities 2.

WVU During World War II and Post-War Growth

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States found itself at war. WVU, like colleges across the country, soon felt the impact of the war. Men students and faculty enlisted or were drafted into military service. Students in engineering might stay in school but had accelerated programs, with heavy course loads crammed into short periods of time, so they might graduate early and go into the armed forces with better preparation for wartime service. In the absence of many men students, women became a more dominant and visible force on campus. Sororities and women's honoraries became some of the most active groups on campus. In 1942, Betty Head became the first female student body president when Peter Yost enlisted in the Navy. In classes, women often knitted for the war effort.

During the war, approximately 300 men of the 48th College Training Detachment lived, trained, and studied on WVU’s campus. Terrace Hall, now Dadisman Hall, was converted into a "mess hall" for these cadets. Dean of Women Edna Arnold (for whom Arnold Hall is named) expected the women students to do their patriotic duty by attending Saturday-night dances at E. Moore Hall to entertain the soldiers.

Women were still required to wear either skirts or dresses to class, since slacks and blue jeans were not permitted. Some women students wore shorts or rolled-up blue jeans under trench coats so it was not obvious that they were disobeying the rules. While men were expected to dress "respectably," jackets and ties were not required.

In 1941, WVU granted the first graduate degree to the first known African-American student. In 1945, Victorine Louistall became the first known African-American woman to earn a graduate degree from WVU when she received her M.Ed. degree. She later returned to WVU in 1966 to teach library science and was the first known African-American faculty member. We have no way of knowing whether other students or faculty "passed" as white so they could attend or work at WVU earlier.

The war ended in 1945, and enrollment skyrocketed to a record high of 6,010 in the fall of 1946 as veterans attended school with financial help from the G.I. Bill; this provided federal funding for those who had served our country during the war. Classes met from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday to meet demand. Students crowded into apartments and residence halls, government-surplus barracks and trailers, and homes of Morgantown families; five veterans lived on the second floor of the president’s house with the family of President Irvin Stewart (1946-1958, for whom Stewart Hall is named).

WVU in the 1950s

During the late 1940s and 1950s, while Sen. Joseph McCarthy was in power in Congress, there were many threats to academic freedom throughout the country as Americans feared the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. WVU survived this period of McCarthyism much better than did some other institutions.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in May 1954, handed down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which determined that "separate" was not "equal" in terms of education. Many southern states actively resisted this order to desegregate schools, but President Stewart announced that WVU would obey the court’s order. Jack Hodge became the first known African-American student to earn an undergraduate degree from WVU, a B.S. in Journalism. John Reuben Sheeler became the first known African-American to receive a Ph.D. from WVU when he earned his doctorate in history in 1954. In 1957, Annette Chandler-Broome became the first known African-American woman to earn an undergraduate degree, a B.S. in Home Economics and Nutrition.

Dress codes and curfews were still very important during the 1950s, especially for women students. Freshmen women had a curfew of 7:30 p.m. for the first four nights of the week and 11:00 p.m. on weekends. How would you like these rules?

The 1960s at WVU

In the late 1950s and 1960s, WVU converted farm land to buildings and roads and parking lots for the new Evansdale campus. The first two Towers of the Evansdale Residential Complex opened in 1965 and the last two Towers in 1968 as "baby boomers," the children of World War II veterans, entered college. Also in 1968, the Mountainlair was built on the downtown campus. Can you even imagine WVU without the 'Lair?

The student body became more diverse. The College of Agriculture and Forestry and the Cooperative Extension Program developed programs in East Africa brought African students to WVU. The first African-American athletes played on WVU teams.

The early 1960s were filled with "Mountaineer pride" activities. All freshmen, both men and women, were required to wear freshmen beanies during the 1961-62 school year. Students participated in events that included dressing in Mountaineer costumes. Men students wore jackets and ties to football games, while women wore skirts and dresses.

There were also many curriculum changes. WVU’s core curriculum went into effect in September 1964, the predecessor of today’s liberal studies program. The English department opened its Writing Lab in 1967. Faculty taught new courses on subjects such as "Negro history" and worked with students in the "Free University" that met from 1968 to 1974 to explore subjects that were not part of the formal curriculum. Notes for New Mountaineers: A Student Handbook, 1961-1962 suggested that, in class, students "Look alert, interested and cheerful, as if you cared about what’s being said. Don’t slouch and don’t sleep; pay attention instead of "reading a newspaper, writing a letter home, knitting, or doing your nails."

We didn’t call it "service learning" then, but students and faculty tutored children in the coal-mining communities along Scotts Run, and President Paul Miller (1962-1966) encouraged WVU to improve the lives of West Virginians through the Center for Appalachian Studies and Development.

Students throughout the United States demonstrated against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four students during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio. In response, WVU students joined with students across the country and held a vigil to protest the deaths. The quiet vigil quickly escalated into a full demonstration lasting three days. State police were called in to try to clear the students from University Avenue; at one point, the police used tear gas to try to clear students from the area. However, as soon as the gas disbursed, the students returned to the demonstration. In support of the students' efforts, William Haymond, chair of the philosophy department, announced that he was canceling finals for his classes and giving all students in his classes "A"s for the semester. At the end of the term, Haymond was removed as chair of the philosophy department, but continued to teach as a tenured professor. Students who flunked out of school could be drafted into military service and sent to Vietnam.

WVU in the 1970s

The 1970s brought about some of the most radical changes in student life on campus. Most importantly, WVU had to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, which Congress passed in 1972. This forbade discrimination against students and employees in federally assisted educational programs. As a result, the marching band first admitted women in the fall of 1972. In 1973, WVU abolished curfews and dress codes for women students and approved a proposal for women’s intercollegiate athletic teams. Across the country, the growth of women’s intercollegiate athletics has been one of the most visible results of Title IX, but the law also opened opportunities for more women to study law, medicine, and engineering.

WVU began to offer more courses that focused on the environment, women’s history, and women and literature. "Man and His Environment" was an experimental lower-level general education course in the spring of 1971.

Several more facilities were added to the campus, including the Coliseum in 1970, the Natatorium in 1975, and Mountaineer Field in 1980. The PRT (Personal Rapid Transit system) was completed in 1979.

1980s at WVU

WVU developed more new programs in the 1980s. The Women’s Studies Program began in 1980 and became the Center for Women’s Studies in 1984. WWVU-FM U-92 went on the air in 1982, and the Social Justice Office was established in 1986, followed by the Center for Black Culture and Research. WVU celebrated the centenary of women’s education on campus from 1989 to 1991, using a theme of "Excellence Through Equity."

Athletics continued to be a primary focus at WVU. During the 1980s, many athletes earned All-American status. For the newly developed women's athletic teams, this was a particularly sweet victory. Shari Retton was the first athlete to win All-American status in a women's sport, gymnastics, in 1983. In December of 1984, Georgeann Wells became the first woman to dunk a basketball in a game. She was inducted into Phi Slama Jama, the dunking fraternity. The basketball she used for the dunk is now in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Mountaineer Field was expanded to 60,686 seats in 1985 and to 63,175 seats in 1986. This expansion was an excellent move for the university since Mountaineer football was soon to experience one of its best seasons in history, as the team was undefeated (11-0) in 1988.

Moving Toward a New Millennium at WVU: 1991-1999

Several new programs are designed specifically to assist freshmen in their transition to college. In 1997, President David Hardesty (1995-present) announced the Operation Jump-Start program. This program places first-year students in one of nine residence halls, or "homes away from home," based upon the students’ interests. Each of these "homes" works as a small community led by Resident Faculty Leaders, referred to affectionately as RFLs (pronounced "Riffles"). The RFLs act as mentors for the students in their residence halls.

When President Hardesty was student body president in the 1960s, WVU had a "Festival of Ideas." In the 1990s, now as WVU’s president, he revived this idea. During this multi-week "festival," WVU hosts nationally and internationally renowned guest speakers. In recent years, these have included Yolanda King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Spike Lee; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; and Greg Louganis.

WVU developed several fun activities for the students, like FallFest, which is a huge party to welcome students back to classes. In 1999, SpringFest was a time to celebrate before the last week of classes began. WVUp All Night started in 1998 to offer free weekend entertainment to students including free food, films, and various other activities.

WVU’s curriculum and programs became even more diverse in the 1990s. The university approved the Africana Studies Certificate in 1990, developed new courses in environmental sciences, started the forensic identification program, and offered an introductory course to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies in the spring of 1999. Operation Safe Zone, to provide support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, started in the spring of 1998.

As WVU moves into the twenty-first century, its rich history of academic excellence and progressive programs will continue to grow. As students, you are now part of this history.


Doherty, William T., Jr., and Summers, Festus P. West Virginia University: Symbol of Unity In a Sectionalized State. Morgantown, W.Va.: West Virginia University Press, 1982.

Howe, Barbara J., "History of the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences," in progress.

WVU Women’s Centenary Project. WVU Women: The First Century, A Historical Digest. 2nd ed. Morgantown, W.Va.: WVU Women’s Centenary Project, 1991.

Credit line: The WVU history section was researched and written by Dr. Barbara J. Howe, interim director of the Center for Women’s Studies and associate professor of history, with assistance from Sara Hoffman, a sociology major.