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History of UW Oshkosh

Since the University’s inception as a teacher-training school in 1871 to its stature today as a premier comprehensive institution, quality and innovative higher education have been hallmarks of UW Oshkosh’s success.

In the early years, the Oshkosh State Normal School was Wisconsin’s foremost institution for educating teachers and the first such school in the nation to have a kindergarten. Rose C. Swart, a powerhouse in the model school department for half a century, introduced practice teaching in 1872. Tuition was free to all who declared their intention to teach in Wisconsin public schools. In 1916, fire destroyed the main campus building; Dempsey Hall replaced it in 1918.

As the educational focus evolved and expanded, the institution underwent several name changes to the Oshkosh State Teachers College in 1927 and the Wisconsin State College Oshkosh in 1951. A graduate school was added in 1963, transforming the one-time normal school into a fully developed university.

In its centennial year of 1971, the institution merged into the Wisconsin system and became the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. With 11,500 students and 35 buildings, UW Oshkosh was the largest of the comprehensive universities. Innovations — such as a new academic calendar with 14-week semesters and three-week interim sessions and a Faculty Development Program — followed when Chancellor Robert Birnbaum arrived in 1974.

UW Oshkosh’s academic excellence continued to gain recognition under the leadership of chancellors Edward M. Penson and John E. Kerrigan. New programs, institutes and degrees have kept the curriculum relevant, while building expansions, renovations and additions are evidence of the institution’s continued growth.

Today, led by Chancellor Richard H. Wells, UW Oshkosh proudly serves the region as the third-largest university in Wisconsin with an annual on- and off-campus enrollment of 13,500. Recent key campus initiatives include a commitment to sustainability and the ideals of a liberal education across the curriculum.