History of Wesleyan

The mission of West Virginia Wesleyan College is reflected in good measure in its name. Its founding in 1890 by the West Virginia Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church climaxed a 16-year effort to establish a center of learning in the then-young state that would reflect the values of the Methodist community, meet the church's need for an educated leadership, and provide an educational resource for the general citizenry of the state and region.

Although the founders were always loyal to these overarching principles, the immediate catalyst for the College's establishment was perhaps less lofty: by 1882, Methodists believed they had "lost control" of West Virginia University in Morgantown, leading to an exodus from the state university of Methodist students who now sought an educational alternative.

Originally known as the West Virginia Conference Seminary, the new school opened September 3, 1890, in a splendid new three-story brick building located on the present site of the Lynch-Raine Administration Building. (The original building was destroyed by fire in 1905 and replaced the following year by the current structure.) In keeping with the tradition of seminaries or academies of the day, it offered largely pre-college instruction. Bennett W. Hutchinson, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology and an ordained minister, came from Massachusetts to accept the presidency. Mr. Roy Reger of Buckhannon was the first of 201 students to enroll that first year.

Full-fledged college work was initiated in 1900 and gradually expanded until the first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in 1905. After one year as Wesleyan University of West Virginia, the name was officially changed in 1906 to West Virginia Wesleyan College, in honor of Methodism's founder, John Wesley. Pre-college work continued through 1922-23, when it was deemed no longer necessary due to the growth of high schools in the state.

The early beginnings of the College were modest, and the fledgling school was frequently plagued by debt, debt that became particularly threatening during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the shortage of fiscal resources never dampened the vision of the college community and its supporters. By 1939, when the three major Methodist bodies united to become the Methodist Church, leaders of the College dreamed of making Wesleyan the outstanding liberal arts college in the state-a challenging vision for a financially struggling college of fewer than 500 Students.

Historians of the College credit Thomas W. Haught, an 1894 graduate of the Seminary, 20-year academic dean (1909-1929), long-time faculty member, and three-time acting president, as one of Wesleyan's most influential champions of academic excellence. In addition to strengthening the faculty and the emphasis on academics, he led efforts to achieve initial accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1927.

For many, the presidency of Dr. Stanley H. Martin (1957-1972) marks the period of the College's most dramatic growth, measured in student enrollments, increasing academic stature, and an expanding physical plant. It was largely his vision that gave the campus its present Georgian character. Wesley Chapel, Christopher Hall of Science, the Benedum Campus Center, Jenkins Hall, Doney Hall, Holloway Hall, McCuskey Hall, and the Martin Religious Center are tangible expressions of the expansion that characterized President Martin's tenure.

Many features of modern campus life at Wesleyan have long traditions. An example is football, which was introduced in the pre-college seminary in 1898. The school colors of orange and black go back to that very first game, when fullback and team captain Frank Thompson wore a turtleneck sweater in Princeton University's orange and black to honor two football greats of that university whom he especially admired. A more comprehensive athletic program was formally organized at the collegiate level in 1902. Early sports included football, baseball, basketball, and gymnastics-all for men only.

Music was an important part of campus life, beginning in 1890 when two pianos and an organ were installed in the seminary's new building. In 1902, the current Annex Building was constructed as the Conservatory of Music, the College's first building dedicated solely to academic purposes. The Greek system was initiated on campus in 1925, when the Board of Trustees authorized the establishment of two sororities and three fraternities. And as early as 1910, the Wesleyan Volunteer Band-followed in 1930 by the Student Volunteer Movement established a tradition of service among Wesleyan students, concentrating in those early years on foreign missions of the Christian church, but also maintaining strong ties to the local community.

Much has changed in higher education and in West Virginia since West Virginia Wesleyan College was established. Yet the founders would recognize much of today's curriculum and many of today's campus traditions as worthy continuations of their early efforts. From its earliest days, the College's strong liberal arts core was complemented by professional and pre-professional studies that sought to meet the practical needs of a new and developing state: teacher preparation, business and commerce, and pre-ministry. Today's students continue to explore and develop their potential in ways that prepare them to make lifelong contributions to the quality of life in this region and throughout the world.

Agnus Howard Hall