About Ohio Northern University
Ohio Northern University Founded in 1871, Ohio Northern University is a competitive, comprehensive university affiliated with the United Methodist church. ONU is one of the few private universities to offer a distinctive blend of nationally ranked liberal arts and professional programs in its five colleges: Arts & Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering, Pharmacy and Law.
In March 1866 a slight, 28-year old man detrained at the Ada depot. A casual observer could easily have overlooked Henry Solomon Lehr, a recently discharged Union veteran. He had come to northwestern Ohio in search of a site for his projected university. That same observer might well have smiled if he knew of Lehr’s ambition since neither he nor the rough village of Ada showed obvious promise.
Lehr’s Select School
The members of the Ada school board were, however, sufficiently impressed to hire him as their schoolmaster. This was with the understanding that he would be able to use the facilities after classes to teach a “select school” for those wishing education beyond that offered during the day. As his reputation grew throughout the area, the number of select school students increased, and in 1870, Lehr felt sufficiently well established to approach the citizens of Ada for funds to purchase land for a campus and an academic building. In August of 1871, the Northwestern Ohio Normal School, later Ohio Northern University, was launched.
The period after the Civil War saw dramatic changes in American higher education as a re-united nation was transformed by industrialization and urbanization. A more educated populace was needed, and the sciences and modern languages rose in importance in college curricula to equal footing with the humanities, religion, and classical languages. Lehr was receptive to the needs of the new era, and he crafted an institution with those needs in mind. He also bore in mind his own educational experiences, both as a student and teacher, and this, in turn, shaped his philosophy.
Coming from a poor family, young Henry’s schooling was formed by his need to support himself. He strove to keep tuition at Northern as low as possible, and as a country schoolmaster, realized that in order to be accessible to most Americans, his institution’s calendar and curriculum would require considerable flexibility. The curriculum offered was clearly and unabashedly practical. As the schools first catalog noted:
It is the design of the Institution to provide... an education that will fit the rising generation to discharge life’s duties with credit to themselves, honor to their parents, and benefit to humanity.
While a student at Mount Union College, Lehr absorbed the concept of education as a democratizing force. Side-stepping the debate over whether women should be admitted as students, Northern, from its inception, was co-educational in both its student body and faculty. It is also worth noting that, although Lehr was a man of strong religious convictions, the school was not established with a specific religious affiliation, nor has it subsequently sought to limit admission according to church membership.