Originally called the Granville Literary and Theological Institution, Denison University was founded by the Ohio Baptist Education Society in 1831. The school met at two different locations in its early years, before moving to a hill overlooking the community of Granville in 1854. At this point, the institution was renamed Denison University after William S. Denison, who had made a significant donation to the school.
Denison only admitted male students in the nineteenth century, like many other colleges during this era. Granville also offered educational opportunities for young women. In 1832, Granville resident Charles Sawyer founded the Granville Female Seminary, which became known as the Young Ladies' Institute in 1861. The Institute was also associated with the Baptist Church. This school once again changed names in 1886, becoming known as Shepardson College for Women, before finally uniting with Denison University in 1900.
Although Denison offered the traditional liberal arts education that most small colleges offered in the nineteenth century, the university also offered a Bachelor of Science degree, which was a relatively new concept at this time. In addition, Denison students could also attend a master's degree program at the school, although this option was eliminated in the late 1920s.
Denison University claims a number of famous alumni, including actors Hal Holbrook and Steve Carell, Walt Disney Company President Michael Eisner, and racecar driver Bobby Rahal.