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hugh scott

The University at 125

Every Sooner worthy of wearing crimson and cream knows the legend of David Ross Boyd’s arrival in the barren prairie town of Norman during the summer of 1892 and exclaiming, “What possibilities!” But as the University of Oklahoma prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary, even the most die-hard Soonerphile may have trouble comprehending how a school begun by a handful of faculty and 57 “dead earnest” pioneer students became today’s world-class academic and research institution.

Miss the OU campus?
With the help of a drone Oklahoma Daily staffer Christopher Michie captured the South Oval in all its autumnal splendor.

From its earliest days, optimism and a belief in the transformative power of education have ruled at OU, which quite literally rose from the ashes – not once, but twice. But neither flames nor political dramas that led to the resignations of Presidents Boyd, Evans and Brooks deterred OU from its mission.

Even the devastating effects of World War I failed to dampen the spirit of a university expanding on two campuses or OU’s “Roaring ’20s” students, who were wild for football and pranks between law and engineering students.

The university matured and spread its influence despite the Great Depression, thanks to the guiding hand of President William Bennett Bizzell. It’s no secret that Bizzell’s passion for books led to the library in his name, but OU’s doctoral programs, the OU Press, World Literature Today and OU Outreach also are his legacy.

World War II revolutionized OU, as female students outnumbered males three to one and the university became home to the bustling U.S. Naval Air Station and Naval Technical Training Center. But the real tidal wave of troops arrived when the war ended and President Cross faced a student population that had suddenly doubled.

The fight for racial desegregation and real or imagined battles against Communism came to OU in the late 1940s along with the tragedy of the BOQ fire. Heartbreak struck again in 1953 with the Naval ROTC plane crash. Still, the 1950s brought a calmer, idyllic student life highlighted by Coach Bud Wilkinson’s three national championships and 47-game winning streak.

Cultural change swept OU in the 1960s and 1970s, crescendoing with the 1970 Field Day demonstration and the 1973 firebombing of President Paul Sharp’s home. Yet the era’s activism also shaped a generation of students who became state and national leaders.

The 1980s meant oil booms and busts, and President William S. Banowsky led OU to survive this dynamic period “bloodied but not bowed.” The decade ended with OU bloodied again; this time by a series of athletic scandals that made national headlines rivaling football coach Barry Switzer’s three national championships.

OU’s Centennial celebration kicked off the 1990s in style, and that period saw the dawn of OU’s emergence as a research and weather superpower.

When the Boren era began in 1994, OU reveled in a renaissance that generated a head-spinning tally of achievements, including record-breaking private fundraising, a six-fold increase in endowed faculty positions, three thriving campuses transformed by $2 billion in construction projects, and an internationalized education attracting the nation’s finest students – including the largest class of National Merit Scholars in U.S. public higher education.

Today, OU eagerly looks to a future made even brighter by the forthcoming Stephenson School of Biomedical Engineering and two new Residential Colleges. Yet, for the 300,000 alumni who have called OU home during the past century and a quarter, one reality stays constant: the University of Oklahoma will always live on to teach, inspire and serve.

Editor’s Note: To commemorate OU’s 125th anniversary, the OU Press is publishing three new books this fall: The Sooner Story; Path to Excellence; and The University of Oklahoma: A History, Vol II. For more on OU’s history, visit the Western History Collections special exhibit, “A History of OU: 125 Years of Excellence” in Monnet Hall, Room 300.

The early years, 1890 to 1916

OU's first president, David Ross Boyd, at his desk.

Students at the "Rock Building" on Main Street in 1892. The facility was rented for $20 a month.
Coach Bennie Owen, back row, far right, and his "1911 All Victorious Team."
A colored postcard highlights the destruction of University Hall in December 1907.

OU roars into the '20s, 1917 to 1929

OU "coeds" bobbed their hair and raised their hemlines as the nation celebrated the end of World War I.
The earliest-known photo of the OU Ruf/Neks in 1920.
The Kiowa Five were recruited to OU by art professor and first OU art museum director Oscar Jacobson. Together, they introduced much of the world to Native American art.

Sooners enter WWII, 1930 to 1945

In a tradition that still exists today, the OU marching band gathers a crowd along the homecoming parade route.
In 1942, the U.S. Navy constructed four major naval projects in and around Norman, including a naval aviation traning base.
The ratio of females to males in the OU student body was 3 to 1 during duing the war years, but changed drastically after peace was declared in 1945.

Peace and football reign, 1946 to 1965

Enrollment swelled after WWII, giving rise to the creation of Sooner City, rows of no-frills duplexes for GIs-turned-students and their wives.
Nicknamed the "Passion Pit," this spot on Van Vleet Oval is still a favorite for students to soak up the sun and admire the beautiful views.
President George Lynn Cross and First Lady Cleo Cross congratulate football coach Bud Wilkinson on his 20-14 victory over Texas in 1948.

Time of transition, 1966 to 1980

The OU campus in 1980.
Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens graces the cover of a Sooner football program in 1969.
OU President Bill Banowsky meets with the 1980 President's Leadership Class.

OU enters the digital age, 1981 to 1994

Computers that once were utilized predominantly by engineering students began finding their way into classrooms across campus.
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher made the cover of Sooner Magazine when she became an OU Regent in 1992. Fisher led the way for integration when she became the first black student admitted to the OU School of Law in 1948.
The legendary Wayman Tisdale rocked the Lloyd Noble arena in the mid-'80s playing for Coach Billy Tubbs.

The Boren era, 1995 to 2015

The OU Sooners celebrate a win over the University of Tennessee Volunteers with fireworks at Oklahoma Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in 2014.
President David Boren and First Lady Molly Shi Boren recieve a resolution honoring their 20 years of service from the Board of Regents in 2014.
International speakers like Desmond Tutu, here at the 2000 Commencement, have been a regular feature of the Boren years. Artists, historians, world leaders and journalists make frequent stops on campus to speak to students, faculty and the OU community at events like the President's Associates dinners.
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