West Liberty University celebrates 185th anniversary of foundation

March 30, 2022, marked the 185th anniversary of West Liberty University’s (WLU’s) foundation. In 1837, the year of WLU’s foundation, the school was known as West Liberty Academy, and in 1870 it was changed to West Liberty State Normal School. It wasn’t until 1931 that West Liberty would gain the title of a college, as it was named West Liberty State Teacher’s College, only to be changed again in 1943 to West Liberty State College. In 2009, the school received its final title, West Liberty University.

West Liberty is often considered the first public university in the state of West Virginia. In 1837, when our school was known as West Liberty Academy, West Virginia was not yet a state. The school, according to West Liberty’s website, “was created to respond to the need for higher educational opportunities west of the Appalachian ridge,” and it was named after the town in which it is located. The first graduating class consisted of 65 students, and the original building named “Academy Hall,” which was built by citizens, survived until the mid-1970s. All students attended daily chapel, and student’s lived in private homes or boarding houses as dorms were not built until the 1920s.

In retired West Liberty University professor Dr. David T. Javersak’s book, “West Liberty: From Academy to University, A History,” Javersak states: “Three years after the purchase of the West Liberty Academy, on March 1, 1870, the West Virginia Legislature passed the ‘act to establish a Branch Normal School at West Liberty in Ohio County.’ The school opened on May 2 of that year. Originally, it was considered a branch of the WV State Normal School at Huntington. A normal school was an institution with a mean and opportunity and free to prepare mature men and women to teach and supervise teaching in the public schools of every kind and grade. Before 1900, West Liberty Normal School was a hybrid creature – part high school and part teacher preparatory.”

In 1931, under the guidance of Dr. Paul N. Elbin, West Liberty received the name West Liberty State Teacher’s College. West Liberty’s mission grew beyond training teachers, and in 1943 the name was changed again to West Liberty State College. In 2008, West Liberty was approved to become a university by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and the West Liberty Board of Governors voted to change the name once again to West Liberty University.

West Liberty now offers more than 80 programs within four colleges and 11 masters programs to undergraduate and graduate students. With a student population of nearly 3,000 students, West Liberty University continues to grow.

To celebrate Founders Day on campus, the WLU Foundation is offering anyone who gives $185 or over to the foundation a logo lapel pin to show appreciation on Topper Day of Giving. President Dr. W. Franklin Evans commented on the historic day by saying, “We are pleased to fulfill our mission as we continue to evolve and embrace the needs of our changing world and prepare our students for a successful future.”

To learn more about West Liberty University’s history, visit Dr. David T. Javersak’s website, which describes the history in further detail.