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History & Traditions

One hundred and seventy-five years of educating leaders in disciplines as diverse as the sciences, government, the arts, business and music.

DePauw University was founded in 1837 by the Methodist Church. The original name, Indiana Asbury University, came from the first American bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Francis Asbury. At its conception the school was to be an ecumenical institution of national stature. In fact, the college was "forever to be conducted on the most liberal principles, accessible to all religious denominations, and designed for the benefit of our citizens in general."

Greencastle was the chosen site because the community worked diligently to raise $25,000 -- a huge sum in those days -- to convince the Methodists to establish their college in the rough, frontier village. The General Assembly of the State of Indiana granted a charter for the establishment of the University on January 10, 1837, and the cornerstone of the first building was laid that year.

Three years later the first president, Matthew Simpson, a friend and counselor of Abraham Lincoln, was inaugurated and the first college class graduated. Over several decades the curriculum developed from a traditional classical one to a set of courses that included history, composition and the natural sciences.

From its humble beginnings of one professor and five students, Indiana Asbury University grew quickly, although many men left the University to fight for either North or South during the Civil War. In 1867, with the strong support of the faculty and Board of Trustees, the college admitted a small group of women.

In 1870 the construction of East College began. Although it took 13 years to build, East College was and still is the centerpiece of the campus. During the economic hardships of the 1870s, Washington C. DePauw and his family generously gave over $600,000 to  the University, and out of gratitude the trustees authorized the change in name to DePauw University.

W. C. DePauw and his family took a special interest in the formation and progress of the School of Music, which was founded in 1884 and is one of the oldest in the country.

Two other benefactors have helped shape the history of DePauw. In 1919 Edward Rector gave $2.5 million for the establishment of the Rector Scholarship Fund. DePauw alumni Ruth Clark and Philip Forbes Holton gave a total of $128 million, and in 1999 the Holton Memorial Fund was established in order to provide scholarships to students of "high character and with academic and leadership potential." Both scholarship funds continue to make it possible for deserving students to pursue a DePauw education.

DePauw University boasts a number of firsts:

  • Indiana's first Phi Beta Kappa chapter is located at DePauw. Admittance is limited to students with the highest academic achievement.
  • It is home to the first sorority in the nation, Kappa Alpha Theta, established in 1870. The Alpha chapter of Alpha Chi Omega sorority was founded at DePauw.
  • DePauw students founded Sigma Delta Chi, a national journalistic honorary fraternity in 1909. It spread to other campuses and today is also known as The Society of Professional Journalists.
  • Other DePauw firsts include the first 10-watt college FM radio station in the country, WGRE-FM, which went on the air in 1949. DePauw's student-managed and award-winning newspaper, The DePauw, is the oldest college newspaper in Indiana.

DePauw Today

DePauw students are uncommonly engaged in their education, and DePauw is one of those rare places that attracts and trains students who have multiple talents. The classic DePauw student is not just an exemplary scholar, but also a team captain, the student body president, and a community service leader. DePauw students are social, and they are welcoming. They are open to each other and to the world. DePauw students have a sense of joy in life, and a curiosity about themselves, about each other, and about the world. Our talented faculty offer our students personal attention in small classes, helping them hone their thinking, skills, and abilities in order to build a sound foundation for future success. DePauw's School of Music offers talented musicians the opportunity to develop their skills while receiving all the benefits of a strong liberal arts education.