University Founder Demia Butler & The University’s Abolitionist-Feminist Beginnings

By , February 4, 2015 9:13 am

University Founder Demia Butler

How much do you know about Founder’s Day at Butler? Demia Butler, the daughter of Ovid Butler, was the first woman to graduate from the full four-year classical studies program in 1862. There were women in the school’s first graduating class in 1856, but prior to 1862 women had graduated from a three-year program. After Demia graduated, the three-year woman’s program was abolished, and all students took the same curriculum.

Demia married in 1866, only to die in 1867 at the age of 25. To honor her memory, her father founded the Demia Butler Chair of English Literature in 1869, the first endowed chair in the U.S. specifically created for a female professor. In establishing the chair, Ovid Butler requested it was “to be filled always and only by a good and competent female professor” for courses “as may be most appropriately taught by female professors”; although in the chair’s 146-year history it has been held – against Ovid Butler’s wishes – twice by male professors. Today the chair is held by English professor Susan Neville.

 

Demia Butler

Demia Butler

 

Abolitionist and Feminist Beginnings

In 1847, abolitionist Disciples of Christ members in Indiana proposed founding a university on free soil. The closest Disciples school, Bethany College, was in Virginia, a slave-holding state. The importance of founding a school with abolitionist values was a primary motivator, as stated by Ovid Butler,

The institution originated in the desire of its founders and early patrons for an institution of learning of the highest class upon free soil, in which their children and the youth of the Northwest might receive a liberal and Christian education, removed, as far as practicable, from the pernicious influences of slavery.

When North Western Christian University opened its doors on November 1, 1855, women and students who had been expelled from Bethany College for their abolitionist beliefs were in the first class. Significantly, from its beginning, NWCU admitted women and students of color, as well as those from all religious backgrounds or none, being nonsectarian from its founding. NWCU was the first college in Indiana and the second in the US to admit women on an equal basis with men.

North Western Christian University at College Ave and 13th Street

North Western Christian University at College Ave and 13th Street

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