From Ohio History Central
In 1871, Henry Solomon Lehr established Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. Lehr had been teaching college-level courses in the community since 1866. He served as the town schoolmaster and taught these more difficult classes to interested people in the evenings. By 1870, his evening classes had become so popular, Lehr convinced Ada residents to help him establish a college.
Ohio Northern University was originally known as the Northwestern Ohio Normal School. Originally, the school was to just train teachers, but very quickly Ohio Northern University began offering other majors designed to meet the needs of its students. Illustrating this expanded curriculum, the school was renamed the Ohio Normal University in 1885. From its beginnings, the institution was coeducational.
During Ohio Northern University’s early years, Lehr attempted to keep tuition as low as possible so all people could hopefully afford to enroll. Unfortunately, by the 1890s, the school faced some financial difficulties. To place the university on sound financial footing, Lehr sold Ohio Normal University to the Methodist Church. Since 1899, the Methodist Church has operated Ohio Northern University, although students and professors of all faiths are welcome at the institution. In 1903, Ohio Normal University became Ohio Northern University.
Over the next several decades, Ohio Northern University continued to evolve. However, during the Great Depression and World War II, enrollment declined dramatically and fears arose that the institution would not survive. Before the Great Depression, more than one thousand students usually enrolled at Ohio Northern every year. During World War II, enrollment reached a low of 156 students. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, which helped veterans enroll in college, Ohio Northern’s enrollment skyrocketed after World War II, reaching nine hundred students in early 1946.
Since World War II, Ohio Northern University has continued to grow. In 2005, 3,388 students were enrolled, including 319 students in Ohio Northern’s law school.