History of Central

Did you know that Central Washington University has actually gone through four name changes? It’s only been CWU since 1977. Originally founded in 1891, its first name was “Washington State National School in Ellensburg.” How’s that for a mouthful?

Now it is filled with over eleven-thousand students annually and was recently ranked “Top-rated four-year University in Washington,” by The Economist. Currently labeled as “Top five percent Globally in Business Programs,” “LGBT Friendly,” and “honored for Diversity,” CWU didn’t always have that kind of reputation. Not to say that Central was ever discriminatory, or a “bad” school, it was just different when it first began.

Let’s explore the history.

The “Washington State National School in Ellensburg” was originally founded to educated future teachers, and of its 51 students enrolled that first year, most of them were women. And it would stay a mostly female dominated school until much later on. Two years after opening its “doors,” the first official building was erected: The Barge Hall.

In 1915, the first dorms were built for women. Until that point, it had been mostly local students attending courses as they needed to be able to return home afterwards. Twelve years later in 1927, men would be allowed to live on campus as well, in their separated dorm building.

With over twenty-four million men registering for the draft during World War I from 1911 to 1918, it makes sense that the University sadly lost thousands of male students. Top that off with a round of horrible influenza, and the school was suffering. But the principal at that time, George H. Black had an idea. He wanted to make being a student attractive and so he hired a coach to begin a competitive sports program. It worked. The school gained over sixty new male students just for that program alone.

More improvements

George H. Black did some amazing things during his time as president at what had become known as, “Central Washington College of Education.” He improved the school newspaper & yearbook, made the dorms available, and saw that a library and classroom buildings were constructed. Thanks to all of that hard work, the state of Washington took notice, and now CWCE could require a high school diploma before registering as a student.

After the recognition from the state, the school began offering three and four-year degrees; one for “rural school teaching,” and “Health Education.” Things were working out quite alright. Until the Great Depression…


Difficult times

During the Great Depression, the school fell under hard times. With the new arrival of the first principal with a doctorate (in education) Robert Ervie McConnell had a hard task ahead of him. He led the school for close to thirty years, guiding it through the second world war, the depression and then the great expansion of students dueto the G.I. Bill granting soldiers that returned home free admission in 1949. (Updated veterans information, here.)

But the Depression meant that many students were no longer able to afford tuition or housing which meant they had to drop out. McConnell was well known for being a penny pincher, and for literally counting the paper clips. Due to his annoying and sometimes upsetting diligence, the school made it through just alright. And when the G.I.’s started coming in, the school went from 268 students to 1,558. (Which is when the school stopped being female dominated).

McConnell had the longest running presidency the school has ever seen, but wasn’t ready to make the changes that the Board of Trustees was seeking, so he left.

Heading into the new territory

In the years to come, new undergraduate majors would come, acreage expansion would happen, as would a new name in 1977. Central Washington University was the new name of this school that had made it through bouts of activism in the 60’s, (as every other school did at that time), the vast expansion of the campus and buildings and even having housed chimpanzees so that the usage of American Sign Language could be studied.

Sister campus relationships were built all over the world at this time as well. From Hungary, Japan, Mexico and China, the word was getting out about this great school.

The late 90’s and early 2000’s brought about a lot of change for students and faculty alike. Computers had taken over. Then President Nelson, wanted to completely digitalize the library catalogue and use email as the main form of communication. And under President McIntyre, faculty research and grant writing had taken off, later one she would launch the “first major fundraising campaign, garnering $21 million.”

In 2006 the campus, still under McIntyre, would sign its first union contract. With that came the retirement of professors, many of whom had been at the university for over thirty eras. When hiring, minorities were more than welcome, and that brought about another change to campus. Following a wave of new professors, new buildings came, including a music facility.

2009 began with a new President in school: James Gaudino. We can’t wait to see what changes come about with him and his direction.

For admissions information, click here.


Pictures used from Central Washington with permission