West Virginia University has played a key role in the history and development of West Virginia, almost from the moment of the state’s formation.

Written by Becky Lofstead | Photos courtesy of West Virginia University and West Virginia & Regional History Center (see more at wvhistoryonview.org)

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting time to be at WVU than as we celebrate its 150th anniversary. The university’s future is bright—but to know where we’re going, you have to understand where we’ve been.

From Humble Beginnings …

On February 7, 1867, West Virginia Governor Arthur I. Boreman signed the bill that created the Agricultural College of West Virginia, which became West Virginia University a year later.

Just a few students—all men—attended when the Reverend Alexander Martin, a Methodist minister, became the school’s first president. Classes were originally held in two locations: the Monongalia Academy and Woodburn Seminary. Martin Hall, located beside Woodburn Seminary, was named in 1889 in honor of WVU’s first president.

In 1870, just three years after the university opened its doors, Marmaduke Dent became the university’s first graduate. He went on to become the WVU Alumni Association’s inaugural president when that group formed in 1873.

Campus continued to grow, and in 1876 construction of the original section of New Hall, now Woodburn Hall, was completed.

By 1889, nine years after first being proposed, the Board of Regents voted to admit women to all but the “Preparatory Department,” and the first 10 women arrived to study alongside 198 men. Two years later, in 1891, Harriet Lyon graduated first in her class, becoming the first woman to earn a WVU degree.

Sports landed on the scene in 1891 with the formation of the first football team—not a memorable day, as the Mountaineers were crushed by Washington and Jefferson 72–0.

Fast forward to 1897 and 1902, when WVU’s two divisional campuses opened: WVU Tech in Montgomery and Potomac State College of WVU in Keyser.

A proud academic tradition began in 1904 when Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke, a WVU graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. Twenty-four others have followed in his footsteps over the years.

The heart and soul of the university, the Extension Service, was established in 1912 and remains the driving force behind WVU’s service mission.

During the following few decades, the university experienced unprecedented growth in academic programs, facilities, and students. By 1948, enrollment was 8,000, and the campus expanded to Evansdale—the eventual site of the university’s new medical center complex, engineering and agricultural sciences buildings, additional student housing, and more.

It was 1945 when the first-known black woman, Victorine Louistall, earned a WVU graduate degree, and 1954 when Jack Hodge, the first-known black undergraduate, received his diploma. Also in 1954, the WVU Foundation, the university’s private fundraising arm, was incorporated.

The ’70s were marked by anti-war demonstrations over the Vietnam War and the Kent State tragedy. Dress codes and curfews for female students were abolished, women’s intercollegiate athletic teams came to fruition, and students began to get the ride of their lives on the then-sleek and modern electric-powered Personal Rapid Transit system.

… to Today’s Transformation …

Today, in one of America’s “Best Small Cities,” WVU boasts 14 schools and colleges and five campuses across the state, including WVU Tech’s new location in Beckley.

New academic programs like biometrics, forensic identification, hospitality and tourism, and literacy education—coupled with modern facilities such as the Launch Lab and a new agricultural sciences facility—create boundless opportunities for WVU’s 31,000-plus students.

WVU’s status as a premier Research I University is a testament to the outstanding faculty who are detecting and studying gravitational waves, addressing the health issues affecting West Virginians, and studying and improving the shale gas extraction and production of renewable energy, among other innovations.

One project many are familiar with is the recent headline-making work of researchers in the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions who discovered the Volkswagen emissions scandal. The revelation spurred new research into vehicle emissions that will advance automotive technologies and reduce the impact on the environment.

The work of the WVU Extension Service continues to be life-changing. It is making a difference for the 1.8 million citizens of this state—whether it’s rolling up its sleeves during the devastating floods that ravaged the state in June 2016 or offering programs like Energy Express and 4-H for West Virginia’s youth.

Tackling the health care needs of the state—opioid addiction, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few—is another high priority. New schools and facilities like the School for Public Health, Ruby Memorial Hospital’s new tower, and advances at the WVU Cancer, Neurosciences, and Heart and Vascular institutes are aiding those heroic efforts.

Thanks to the passion and commitment of the WVU family, the WVU Foundation achieved a historic milestone in its private fundraising efforts last fall, surpassing the $1 billion “State of Minds” campaign goal.

WVU opened a new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Inclusive Center this past year as well, sending a clear and positive message about the importance of inclusivity and a diverse and welcoming campus.

And public–private partnerships like one in Sunnyside that blends modern housing with retail options are transforming once run-down neighborhoods near campus.

As members of the Big 12, WVU belongs to one of the premier athletic conferences in the country. Last August, three WVU students earned Olympic medals at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro—including Ginny Thrasher, who won the very first medal awarded at the games: a gold in the women’s 10 meter air rifle. She is a member of WVU’s national championship rifle team and WVU holds 19 national titles. Also at the Olympics, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, members of WVU’s Big 12 regular-season championship women’s soccer team, won bronze medals with the Canadian team.

… and an Even Brighter Future

WVU has a storied history rich with groundbreaking discoveries, academic achievements, athletic pride, and a love for the gold and blue that beats strong around the world. That is one constant that has held true throughout its 150 years—through wars, economic fluctuations, and incredible technological advancements: WVU has been a polar star guiding West Virginians toward a brighter tomorrow. And while 2017 is a time to reflect on the university’s proud heritage, it is also an opportunity to envision and prepare for the next 150 years.

WVU has always held its mission as a land grant institution close to its heart. It is the driving force for everything that is pursued under the three pillars of education, health care, and prosperity.

So as the university moves forward, President Gordon Gee makes it clear: “We must fix our gaze on our own polar star—our mission to advance education, health care, and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity; by advancing new, life-changing research; and by leading transformation in West Virginia and around the world.”

With its mission in clear focus, WVU is poised for its next 150 years.

Celebrating 150

AUGUST 10–16
WVU welcomes students to campus for the start of the 2017–18 academic year with events full of birthday excitement.

AUGUST 28–September 1
WVU Reed College of Media 150th events planned throughout the week

President Gordon Gee will deliver a State of the University address touching on the yearlong 150th anniversary celebration.

College of Business and Economics 150th events planned throughout the week

Look for activities and events that showcase “150 Ways Students Appreciate WVU.”

Fall Family Weekend

School of Nursing 150th events planned throughout the week


OCTOBER 16–20 
College of Education and Human Services 150th events planned throughout the week

OCTOBER 20–29 
Mountaineer Week

OCTOBER 23–27 
College of Creative Arts 150th events planned throughout the week

Look for the latest events and updates at birthday.wvu.edu