Adapted from Butler University Named Spaces
University founder Ovid Butler (1801-1881), born in Augusta, N.Y., on Feb. 7, 1801, became an eminent educational leader, noted lawyer, influential religious leader, and political activist. A self-educated lawyer, Butler built a large and lucrative practice in the 1840s in Indianapolis.
Butler, a passionate abolitionist, helped organize the abolitionist Free Soil Party and worked for the end of slavery. He helped found the short-lived Free Soil Banner newspaper, published from 1848 to 1854 in Indianapolis. The newspaper gave voice to the Free Soil party position and candidates whose slogan made clear their views, “Free soil, free speech, free labor, free men.” Butler’s commitment to abolition remained a touchstone through the Civil War—even leading him to gently chastise his son Scot when he wavered briefly in the family’s commitment to the cause.
In 1849, Butler headed a committee that would, by 1850, secure a special charter for North Western Christian University—later renamed Butler University in 1877 to honor him. The University opened in 1855. The University’s first campus was built on land once held by Ovid Butler. Butler’s daughter, Demia Butler, graduated in 1862, as the first woman to earn a B.A. at the university, by completing the four-year liberal arts curriculum—making North Western Christian University the second co-educational institution in the United States.
When Demia Butler died tragically just a few years later, Ovid Butler proposed, and the Board of Directors approved, the establishment of the Demia Butler Chair at the university. The endowed professorship required that the Chair be held at all times by a female professor. Butler endowed the position in perpetuity through a generous endowment of lands whose sale provided the funds. The Demia Butler Chair became the first endowed chair specifically for a female professor in the United States.
Butler served as president of the University’s board of directors for 20 years. He then held the special office of chancellor, a position the board created in his honor, until his death in 1881. Writing of her grandfather in 1934, Evelyn M. Butler, the university’s Demia Butler Professor of English at the time, said, “We are told by those who knew him that one of the most beautiful traits of his character was his charity for the frailties and follies of others. . . . Mr. Butler was a man of strong and independent individuality. His opinions on conduct, on politics and on religion were his own. Entirely without pride of opinion, he studied and reflected until he came to his conclusion and to those conclusions he held with the utmost tenacity.”