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Butler Digital History

Ovid Butler

Photograph of an engraving of Ovid Butler

Ovid Butler

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.

Charter for North Western Christian University, later renamed Butler University

Charter for North Western Christian University

The Founding of Butler

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.

Endowment for the Demia Butler Chair of English Literature at North Western Christian University, later renamed Butler University

Endowment for the Demia Butler Chair of English Literature

The Demia Butler Chair

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.

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Ovid Butler