June 17, 2010
First RSU Commencement Held 100 Years Ago on June 18
Five graduates – all women – received diplomas during the first commencement ceremony 100 years ago at Eastern University Preparatory School, the founding institution of Rogers State University.
The inaugural commencement exercises were held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, 1910, at the Windsor Opera House, located at Third St. and Missouri Ave. in downtown Claremore.
"RSU and its predecessor institutions share a fascinating history which bears remembering more than a century later," said RSU President Dr. Larry Rice, who authored a history of the institution. "The 100th anniversary of our first commencement ceremony is another milepost in that glorious history."
Two speakers delivered addresses during the first commencement ceremony, including Evan D. Cameron, State Superintendent of Education, and Sen. E.M. Landrum, who represented the Tahlequah area in the Oklahoma Senate. Landrum delivered a portion of his commencement address in the Cherokee language.
The ceremony was held just a week after state voters selected Oklahoma City as the permanent State Capitol, beating contenders Guthrie and Shawnee. It was held a couple of weeks ahead of Claremore's annual Fourth of July celebration, which featured a baseball game, poultry exhibits and horse races at the old fairgrounds.
The first five graduates comprising the Class of 1910 included Nannie Alberty, Elna Helm, Stella Ostenberg, Madeline Webb and Jesse Willis, according to an article recounting the ceremony in the Claremore Daily Progress.
Eastern University Preparatory School (EUPS) offered an academically rigorous high school education designed to prepare students for college.
The diplomas were presented to the graduates by Mr. Henderson (first name unknown), a member of the state's Board of Regents. The diplomas were handed to Henderson by Dr. Edmund D. Murdaugh, first president of EUPS. Oklahoma Governor Charles Haskell was also a member of the Board of Regents, but was not able to participate in the ceremony.
A piano trio by Claremore residents Nannie Mitchell, Elsie Wilson and Sylvia Griswold opened the ceremony, followed by a vocal selection by Rose Littlefield.
According to an article in the Claremore Daily Progress, "the opera house was appropriately decorated for the occasion, and the event was a milestone for the school, the graduates, and the city of Claremore, as the seat of so grand an institution."
The article went on to state that both commencement addressees "were fine," describing them as "a plea for moral development."
After a few closing remarks by President Murdaugh, Rev. J.R. Finley dismissed the assembly with a prayer. "Thus ends the first year's history of the State School of which we are so proud," the Progress article stated.
The next fall, students would begin attending classes in Preparatory Hall on College Hill while the building was still under construction. The building was completed in 1912. Preparatory Hall was the institution's first building and remains the flagship building of the RSU campus in Claremore. The structure, which features an iconic gold dome, sits atop College Hill overlooking the city of Claremore, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The remainder of EUPS history included tremendous growth in enrollment and stature, but also a fair degree of political tumult. President Murdaugh resigned after that first year, Dr. J.H. Bayes became president in 1911 and Stephen M. Barrett was named president in 1913. EUPS continued to grow, with support from the community and the state legislature, reaching a peak of 468 students in 1916, including 243 girls and 225 boys, and 21 faculty members (11 men and 10 women.) Two future Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, Wayne Bayless and N.B. Johnson, were among its alumni.
However, the school passed from the scene in 1917. Playwright Lynn Riggs – one of Claremore's favorite sons – was among 22 members of the final EUPS graduating class in 1917.
Two years later, the storied Oklahoma Military Academy would begin a long and glorious history as "the West Point of the Southwest" until it closed in 1971. The academy was followed by successor institutions Claremore Junior College, Rogers State College, and later, Rogers State University.
RSU received accreditation as a four-year university in 2000. Today, the university serves more than 4,200 students, offering a wide variety of bachelor and associate degrees on campuses in Claremore, Bartlesville and Pryor. More about RSU can be found at www.rsu.edu.