On December 18, 1866, the Presbyterian Church authorized the creation of the Wooster University, the predecessor of the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio. The school formally opened on September 8, 1870, with thirty-four students, including four women, enrolled. The university only had five faculty members at this time. Since its inception, the college has granted women and racial minorities equal access to a college education. Over the next thirty years, Wooster University developed several departments or schools, including a medical department in 1870, a preparatory department in 1872, a graduate school in 1881, a musical department in 1882, and a school of art in 1895. The institution suffered a major setback on December 11, 1901, when fire destroyed its original main structure. Within one year, the school had built five buildings to replace it.
In 1915, Wooster University became the College of Wooster. A majority of faculty members decided that the institution should focus on undergraduate teaching, thus forsaking the graduate programs previously developed. The university disbanded its various graduate programs and, thus, became the College of Wooster.
Throughout the twentieth century, the College of Wooster continued to grow. The institution became famous for its Independent Study program, which requires all senior-level students to complete a sizable research project. Many people compare the project to a master's thesis. In 2005, 1,827 students enrolled at the school. Seven percent of the student body consisted of international students, representing over forty different countries. Among the college's more prominent graduates are Stanley Gault, chief executive officer of Rubbermaid; Arthur Holly Compton, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics; Karl Taylor Compton, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Timothy Smucker, chief executive officer of The J.M. Smucker Company; and Dijana Plestina, a first lady of Croatia.