In August 1870, a group of local Quakers purchased, for $11,334 at an auction, an unfinished building and adjacent land that was to become Wilmington College.
This property represented the failed attempt by local brothers to establish Franklin College in Wilmington during the especially challenging economic times following the Civil War. It also represented the Quakers’ appreciation for higher education, their vision for the future and a perseverance to see that vision realized.
The new institution opened the following April and in 1875 graduated its first class of students — all four of them. The fledgling College adopted as its guiding principle the central testimony of the Religious Society of Friends: the supreme value of the individual or “that of God in every man.”
The original building, the present-day College Hall, featured an auditorium on the third floor with a seating capacity for 750 people. It was used for special College chapel activities, lecture courses, commencement, the staging of dramatic productions and even as a gymnasium for basketball games. In the early years, College Hall housed essentially the entire College, including dormitory rooms for students and faculty members.
As the College gained a firmer footing, new buildings were erected to house students and serve as academic facilities. Some especially unique structures included the observatory, from which a 12-inch reflecting lens telescope was installed in first a wooden observatory in 1888 and later a brick structure. The observatory today rests atop Kettering Science Hall.
Another distinct facility is the Simon Goodman Memorial Carillon, which, dedicated 50 years ago, features a 35-bell carillon cast at the request of Pope Pius XII for the Vatican’s pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The carillon, which is housed in a 60-foot tower, was renovated in recent years and 23 of its bells are automated for programmed music and the ability to be played from remote locations.
In more recent years, the College built the Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center as part of the $7.6 million Oscar F. Boyd Cultural Arts Center. The QHC hosts programs and exhibits of special interest to Friends and those interested in Quaker-related topics and testimonies. The QHC also features the T. Canby Jones Meetinghouse and a statue depicting the famous Friends’ story of Isaac and Sarah Harvey’s trip to visit President Lincoln.
During the College’s formative period (1871-1903), the average enrollment was 100 students. Separate dormitories, each with its own dining hall, were provided for men and women. There were very limited student activities outside of classes and those were usually religious in nature. Also, there were no intercollegiate athletics.
The period of 1903 to 1915 is known as the “transition period.” Academically, there was a shift from the classical courses to the natural and social sciences. The first “secret societies,” a.k.a. fraternities and sororities, appeared with the formal College acceptance of Gamma Phi Gamma and Delta Omega Theta.
The so-called “period of expansion” occurred under the leadership of President J. Edwin Jay, under whose tenure Lebanon Normal University merged with Wilmington College and teacher training was introduced into the curriculum.
This came with a marked increase in enrollment and expansion of academic departments, organized athletics and numerous student organizations and activities. After Jay left the presidency, dancing was allowed on campus and athletics took on a more prominent role on campus.
In 1921, under coach Chic Harper, the football team went undefeated. Several years later, with former Ohio State All-American Shifty Bolen coaching the team, football success continued and included defeating a (junior varsity) team from Ohio State.
Athletics success continued after World War II with Fred Raizk’s 19-3 basketball team in 1958 and Bill Ramseyer’s 1980 football team, which played in the NAIA national championship game. Bud Lewis’ 1987 soccer team finished in the NAIA top four.
The early 1990s brought Wilmington into the NCAA Division III, where its women’s athletics programs have gained prominence. The women’s soccer teams have made a number of NCAA Tournament appearances and coach Jerry Scheve’s 2004 women’s basketball team won the NCAA D-III Championship in “a season for the ages.”
Also, during this modern NCAA era, the soccer teams have continued their success while individuals in wrestling and track and field have won national championships. In winter 2010, the men’s basketball team won the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament and qualified to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time and seven-time All-American Callen Martin won the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track & Field championship in the 55-meter dash.
Also, for 29 years, the Cincinnati Bengals football team held its summer training camp on campus.
During the Great Depression, Wilmington was able to maintain and even increase its enrollment, however, fiscal austerity and belt-tightening resulted in a curtailment of many student activities. WC’s real depression came with World War II, as the almost surreal occurrence of men being in class one week and the military the next was both a financial and psychological blow to the institution.
The impact of the war in 1942 through 1945 left as few as 100 students enrolled, predominantly women.
While the College faced many challenges during those years, during the depth of the war depression, the College was awarded accreditation in 1944 by the North Central Association of Colleges. This watershed event, coupled with the end of the war and subsequent GI Bill, ushered in a new era of great success and expansion.
In 1947, President Sam Marble — then thought to be the youngest college president in the country — represented a College reborn with idealism and youthful vitality.
The College established a program in agriculture in 1948 and instituted a student work-study program that was a national model for success. Also, it had a thriving industrial education program during this era that was complemented by students working at the Randall Company.
In the late 1940s, WC’s enrollment expanded more than six-fold from the depths of the war years as the GI Bill made college both affordable and appealing to veterans. However, with the influx of male students came the challenge of housing them.
In spring of 1948, Wilmington College students garnered shovels, hammers and bricklayers’ tools, and built a dormitory to house the students. That residence hall named after Marble is still in use and, all these years later, WC’s commitment to service is greater than ever.
While today’s students are not building residence halls, they have been engaged in service both on campus and in the community, as well as involved with national and international initiatives.
In 2013, WC earned its seventh consecutive designation on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Recent years have witnessed as many as 23,000 hours of voluntary service annually by a student body that numbers about 1,100.
Among its recent projects, the College community has built a Habitat for Humanity house in Wilmington and assisted with clean-up and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, in addition to such activities as tutoring elementary school students, helping clear hiking trails along a local creek bed and serving dinners to the homeless.
In 2009, its legacy of service converged with the College’s long-time excellence in agriculture when WC established the Grow Food, Grow Hope Community Gardens initiative in the wake of massive layoffs in the community when DHL abandoned the local airpark.
WC’s Ag Department and Center for Service and Civic Engagement spearheaded an effort in which small plot vegetable gardening was taught to select families in the community whose breadwinners were unemployed or underemployed.
The families learned the intricacies of successful vegetable gardening and harvested fresh vegetables for their dinner tables from June through October. On the heels of that experience, many plan to plant their own home gardens this spring.
The Community Gardens project is but one component of the broader Wilmington College outreach initiative known as Grow Food, Grow Hope.
The College was awarded federal stimulus grants that funded multiple AmeriCorps*VISTA workers from 2009 through 2013. In addition to their involvement with the gardens, their presence resulted in an infusion of youthful idealism and creativity as they worked in other areas designed to increase the community’s capacity for producing affordable, nutritious food for local consumption.
The “VISTAs” and their subsequent student replacements have been involved with such areas as youth outreach, a year-round farmers’ market, backyard gardening, the local food pantries and a growers co-op.
The Community Gardens were chronicled in an Associated Press story that ran in 2.4 million media outlets worldwide in November 2010.
Service and leadership, as well as a hallmark for HANDS-ON LEARNING. HANDS-ON LIVING, are paramount as Wilmington College establishes its foothold in the new century.
Today, the College has a main campus enrollment of nearly 1,100 students with degree completion programs geared toward working adults at satellite campuses in Blue Ash and at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. It also offers a graduate studies program in education.
In recent years, the College’s soil judging team has placed nationally in the top 10, its Mock Trial team won a national championship and WC’s Athletic Training Quiz Bowl team has won multiple state and regional championships, and placed in the top 10 nationally. Also, its Odyssey of the Mind team won several world titles in the late 1990s.
Wilmington’s largest academic majors continue to be agriculture, teacher education, athletic training, business and sport management as WC alumni engage in careers in southwest Ohio and beyond. Also, WC has been included in the top tier of US News and World Report’s “Best Colleges” Midwest Region for more than the last 15 years.
WC hosts the acclaimed Westheimer Peace Symposium each year and the Issues & Artists Series brings to campus unique entertainers, provocative and informative speakers, and entities representing diverse American and international cultures.
Much has changed at Wilmington College since those students gained national fame for building a dormitory in 1948, let alone those four inaugural graduates that served as standard bearers in 1875. But a constant throughout the College’s 140-plus year history has been the transforming nature of the Wilmington College experience.
Wilmington College challenges students by providing an educational environment that fosters active learning, passionate engagement in service and leadership, and intentional encounters with the values of peace, social justice and global citizenship.
As a school founded by Quakers, WC embraces persons from all backgrounds, faiths and philosophies, and promotes campus-wide in its programs and activities the values of integrity, diversity, community, excellence, service and civic engagement, peace and social justice, and respect for all persons.
Students leave WC with the tools to succeed as they engage in careers or further their education in today’s rapidly changing world. They also bring with them a wealth of knowledge and the experience gained from the liberal arts. They represent the embodiment of well-rounded individuals able to think critically and appreciate the role the arts, sciences and humanities play in a fulfilling life.
They also realize that service to others is often an important road to self-realization. Indeed, since 1870, Wilmington College has provided a hallmark for HANDS-ON LEARNING. HANDS-ON LIVING.