150 Years of Leadership
at Southern Oregon University
Celebrating 150 years of service to the Southern Oregon region. SOU inspires curiosity and creativity, compels critical thinking, fosters discovery and creates lives of purpose. It’s been our calling since 1872.
Watch: A Special Message from SOU’s President Rick Bailey Jr.
Celebrate the Incredible Journey!
Congratulations to all who have made SOU’s first 150 years possible. Our campus certainly benefits from a remarkably beautiful location; however, it is the dynamic partnership with our community and the full engagement of our faculty, staff and students that set SOU apart. And we’re just beginning! We are on the cusp of game-changing shifts, and we encourage our larger community to remain engaged and share in our optimism for the future. We commit to remaining accessible and ensuring that our graduates will be ready for meaningful careers and active citizenship. The excitement is building. Take a look at where we’ve been – and where we’re going!
A Brief History of Southern Oregon University
Fostering Leadership in Higher Education
Southern Oregon University’s first building was completed in 1872, a square clapboard schoolhouse, where Briscoe School now stands, the school was called the Ashland Academy. In 1895, the school was renamed Southern Oregon State Normal School and was located about a mile south of the present campus. In 1925, the City of Ashland donated 24 acres for a new campus, the present site of SOU. For 150 years, dedicated faculty and staff have led the way at SOU.
In every era, Southern Oregon University students have embraced new ways of learning, thinking, and impacting the world. Join us as we mark SOU’s Sesquicentennial with stories that celebrate our rich history and illuminate our path as the university of the future.
1872: Ashland Academy, the earliest incarnation of SOU.
A Rich History in the Making
Stories & Inspiration from the Past
1872: Rev. Joseph Henry Skidmore and wife Annie Hill Skidmore
SOU’s Early Days
Ashland Academy Opens in 1872
Southern Oregon University can trace its beginning to 1869 when local citizens formed the Rogue River Valley Educational Society with the goal of building an academy of higher learning. Funds were raised through subscription sales, a building lot was donated by A.D. Helman, and construction of a new building began. Under the leadership of the Reverend Joseph Skidmore, who obtained a mortgage, the building was completed, and the Ashland Academy opened in November 1872.
In 1882, the Oregon Legislature authorized creation of a state normal school in Ashland for teacher training, and the school was renamed Ashland State Normal School.
In 1895, W.T. Van Scoy became president of the newly renamed Southern Oregon State Normal School. That fall, there were 133 students, and the school’s eight faculty were paid an average of $200 per year.
Postcard from the Past
Southern Oregon State Normal School
The new campus of Southern Oregon State Normal School opened in 1895 with an academic building and a women’s dormitory. The seven and a half acre campus was located near the intersection of present day Normal Street and Siskiyou Boulevard, a mile south of today’s campus.
An early graduate in 1896, Suzanne Holmes Carter dedicated her life to teaching and in 1920 was elected superintendent of Jackson County schools, serving for 12 years. Suzanne Holmes Residence Hall was later named in her honor.
The Southern Oregon State Normal School campus closed in 1909, when the state legislature failed to fund Oregon’s normal schools. Promotional postcards were created by local citizens as part of a campaign to reopen the normal school.
1899: Southern Oregon State Normal School Campus
Completed 1926: Churchill Hall, designed by Architect John Bennes
Churchill Hall & Britt Hall Founded
A New Campus in the Heart of Ashland
Following the closure of Southern Oregon State Normal School in 1909, the region united to advocate for a teacher training school in Southern Oregon. In 1925, $175,000 was appropriated for a normal school building, and the City of Ashland donated 24 acres for a new campus, the present site of SOU. Construction was completed on the new building known as Churchill Hall, and Southern Oregon State Normal School officially reopened on June 21, 1926.
In 1932, the school name was officially shortened to Southern Oregon Normal School (SONS,) and the normal school expanded into a junior college offering more courses and evening classes. In 1939, after the Oregon Board of Regents eliminated normal schools, SONS received full accreditation from the American Association of Teachers Colleges, and the institution changed names again to Southern Oregon College of Education.
When the Boys Came Home
From War Years to Boom Years
In 1939, SOCE enrollment was declining. By 1941, most male faculty had joined the military, and men who otherwise might have gone to college enlisted as well. The country waited out the war and waited for its boys to come home.
And come home they did. In the fall of 1946, 387 men enrolled as freshman, bringing the student body to 492. Clubs, societies, and sports started up with a roar, and the 1946 football team won every game. College life was vibrant and exciting.
Dormitories, classrooms, and service buildings were erected, and the construction of McNeil Pavilion in 1957 gave athletics a proper home. President Elmo Stevenson expanded the campus borders across Siskiyou Boulevard and a 20-year plan was approved by the Oregon State Board of Education.
1953: Students Enjoying a Newspaper Fight, Suzanne Homes Residence Hall
1967: Southern Oregon College Homecoming Court, posed in Lithia Park.
Growing in the Right Direction
An Era of Cultural & Social Change
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of turbulent change. A growing focus on inclusion and diversity was taking shape on campus. The first Las Posadas celebration was held in December 1967, the Black Student Union was formed in 1969, a Director of Minority Students was hired in 1970, Indian Awareness Days were observed in 1975, and a Women’s Center was created in 1976.
The physical campus was transformed with the construction and opening of new buildings, including the Student Health Center in 1962, Taylor Hall in 1965, the Library in 1967, and the Greensprings Residence Hall complex in 1969. A Student Union was constructed and opened in 1972 and named after past SOU president Elmo Stevenson. During 1966 – 1967, the Science Building was expanded and Central Hall was remodeled. Two years later, the student radio station KSOR was established.
Art, Technology, and Progressive Thinking
Evolution to Southern Oregon University
Southern Oregon State College grew and transformed during the final decades of the last century. Despite the recession of the early 1980s, public and private fundraising aided in a time of growth, including a modern multi-use stadium and the construction of the Schneider Museum of Art. Academic programs were organized into four schools, and preprofessional programs were introduced in nursing, forest management, social work, and other disciplines.
In 1997, Southern Oregon State College attained university status with an official name change to Southern Oregon University! Major campus events during this time included the construction of the Theater Arts Building, KSOR’s affiliation with National Public Radio, and construction of the Computing Services Center and Family Housing Complex which were both completed in 1990.
1988: The newly built Schneider Museum of Art Building, before construction of the SOU Center for Visual Arts.
2012: The renovated and expanded Hannon library was dedicated on May 18, 2005, doubling in size from 64,380 to 122,830 feet.
A Transforming Campus
Embracing Sustainability in Higher Education
Since 2000, SOU has seen unprecedented change. A focus on Sustainability has allowed the university to develop programs including an organic farm, solar panel installation, a recycling center, Bee-campus and Tree-campus designations, and most recently SOU was awarded a Gold rating for “Sustainability in Higher Education.”
New construction projects have continued to transform the campus, including: the four-building Center for the Visual Arts complex completed in 2000; the renovated and expanded Hannon Library in 2005; the Higher Education Center at SOU’s Medford campus in 2008; Raider Village, which opened in 2013, including residence halls and a dining commons; the 96,000 square-foot Lithia Motors Pavilion and adjacent Student Recreation Center in 2018; and the expanded and renovated Theater building with the Jefferson Public Radio broadcast center, also completed in 2018.
Explore Southern Oregon University
150 Years of Leadership at SOU
Richard J. Bailey, Jr. – SOU President
S. Glassford – Website Development
Words and Photos Inspired by:
“Southern Oregon University”
By Mary Jane McDermott Cedar Face & Maureen Flanagan Battistella
Arcadia Publishing, 2019