Celebrating 150 Years of Teaching on The Campus Beautiful

Published on January 08, 2024

By Ethan Sirles

2024 is the sesquicentennial anniversary of Eastern Kentucky University (EKU)—marking an impressive 150 years since the inception of higher education on the Richmond, Kentucky campus. Since 1874, the Campus Beautiful has served the Commonwealth, preparing students to make a difference in their communities as teachers, healthcare professionals, social workers, business leaders, first responders, pilots and more. 

“The Campus Beautiful serves as a beacon of quality education in Kentucky,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Our students graduate ready to enter the workforce and fill critical needs within the state and beyond. We don't simply educate—we are a stepping stone that leads to a fruitful career in fields with high job demands.”

In the many years since the Richmond campus welcomed higher education to the region, EKU has more than 125,000 living alumni and has established a legacy of providing students with the knowledge, skills and abilities to contribute to society in meaningful ways. After graduation, 93% of EKU graduates report satisfaction with their career choice. The university also boasts the highest percentage of graduates being employed in-state among Kentucky’s public institutions, with 67% of graduates staying in the Commonwealth to pursue their careers. 

The university, which was originally founded as a school for teachers, now offers 85 undergraduate, 34 master’s, one specialist and four doctorate degrees in a variety of fields.

The first instance of higher education on the Richmond campus came on Sept. 22, 1874, when Central University was founded. The first campus facility, the University Building, was constructed the same year. Central University merged with Centre College in 1901, leaving behind the eight buildings that made up the campus. 

After the Centre College merger was completed, the Kentucky General Assembly established the Eastern Kentucky State Normal School—which would eventually become Eastern Kentucky University—in 1906. Later that year, the old Central University campus was selected as the new home of the normal school, which would primarily train K-12 educators.

Dr. Ruric N. Roark was selected as Eastern’s first president. Roark had a national reputation as an expert on public school management, and he and his wife, Mary, advocated progressive educational reforms. After Dr. Roark passed away, Mary Roark, a champion for education in Kentucky, became the first woman president of the normal school in 1909. After she retired from the position in 1910, she remained involved with Eastern, serving as the dean of women until 1915.  

In 1922, the normal school became a four-year institution and was renamed Eastern Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College. In 1928, the college was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Just two years later in 1930, the Kentucky General Assembly renamed the school again, removing “normal school” from the title. 

By 1935, Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College was approved to expand its academic offerings to include a graduate program in education. Eventually, the General Assembly removed “Teachers” from the school’s name and gave the college the ability to award nonprofessional degrees in 1948. 

The final name change, and most significant day in the school’s history, was on Feb. 26, 1966. On this day, Gov. Edward T. Breathitt signed a bill into law changing the name of Eastern Kentucky State College to Eastern Kentucky University and sanctioning the awarding of graduate degrees in fields other than education. 

Building on a long-standing reputation for excellence in teaching, elementary education remains one of EKU’s top-enrolled academic programs today, along with psychology, nursing, criminal justice and business. As a School of Opportunity, EKU continues to serve the region by providing an affordable and accessible education to all those who seek it. As of Fall 2023, EKU has an enrollment of approximately 15,000 students, with more than 50% of new freshmen being first-generation college students. Breaking down barriers to education, EKU offers a competitive scholarship model, financial aid and free textbooks for all degree-seeking students through EKU BookSmart. 

“Serving others through education always has been and continues to be the guiding focus for our institution. EKU is proud to call our campus home, and we look forward to adding to its history of longevity through the opportunity of education for many years to come,” said McFaddin.