History of… Western Kentucky University

History Of…WKU Graphic

Over the next several weeks, on #TBT (Throwback Thursday), the Herald will take a look at the history surrounding WKU.

Since its founding in 1906, the university has gone through an extensive series of changes through mergers and acquisitions. Because of this, the history of WKU is long and rich in spirit.

“It’s a fascinating history,” President Gary Ransdell said. “That history is made even more special because of our distinctiveness. The Hill, the red towel — things that define us make for a rich tapestry of history.”

In March of 1906, the Kentucky General Assembly approved legislation to establish two teacher training institutions or “normal schools.” Thus in Bowling Green, the Western Kentucky State Normal School was established.

With the establishment of WKSNS came the election of the school’s first president, Henry Hardin Cherry. The first classes began on Jan. 22, 1907, forging the institution’s beginnings on the Hill.

In 1910, Cherry gave a speech at WKSNS discussing the role of education in democracy.

“Unity, live instruction, and spontaneity characterize the life of the [school],” Cherry wrote.

From 1906 to present day, the institution has gone through a series of five official name changes. It settled on its current name, Western Kentucky University, in 1966.

“We are a university that is made of mergers and acquisitions,” Ransdell said. “We have in fact embraced — absorbed — three different institutions over our history … all with different circumstances and dynamics.”

These institutions include the following: Potter College for Young Ladies on Vinegar Hill, absorbed in 1909; Ogden College, then a preparatory school for boys, absorbed in 1928; and Bowling Green Business University, absorbed in 1963 after the original building burned down.

“The city and the university have kind of grown together,” Ransdell said, adding that there has “always been a rich interplay” between Bowling Green and WKU.

The current vision statement of the university, “A Leading American University with International Reach,” has changed almost as many times as the university’s name.

Over the past 18 years, WKU has had three different vision statements, and Ransdell has been the university’s president during each.

“As we developed confidence … expanded our programs … began to implement doctoral programs and began to get serious about recruitment … we went from ‘The Best Comprehensive University in Kentucky and Among the Best in the Nation’ to ‘A Leading American University with International Reach,’” Ransdell explained.

The physical atmosphere of the campus has also changed significantly in the last 109 years.

In 1997, the Board of Regents decided to begin another remodeling of campus — an idea Ransdell encouraged.

“The campus that I inherited in 1997 was tired and complacent,” Ransdell said. “We had not built or improved a building since 1976.”

Within the past 18 years, the campus has seen many improvements, including the construction of Preston Center and the remodeling of Downing Student Union and many of the residential halls.

According to university’s website, nearly $500 million has been spent in new construction, renovation and infrastructure improvements.

Ransdell said WKU has made much progress in philanthropy, renovation and national recognition. “We still have a ways to go,” he said.