The History of USAO


Celebrating a century of service as Oklahoma's only public liberal arts college, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma – nationally ranked for quality and value – is a recognized leader and innovator in interdisciplinary studies.

Like the best private liberal arts colleges, USAO offers small classes, award-winning faculty committed to teaching (91 percent have the terminal degree), and a campus culture that fosters close faculty-student interaction and undergraduate research opportunities.  USAO dedicates itself to educating the whole student, encourages personal development through public service, and offers nationally ranked teams in five sports.

The college was founded in 1908 as a women's institution, the first college created by Oklahoma's first legislature.  USAO is one of only seven state institutions with similar missions ever created in the United States. Other than the University of Oklahoma, USAO has the oldest original mission of any state college or university in Oklahoma.  Located in Chickasha, USAO is the only Oklahoma college to be named a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. 



The determination of the citizens of Chickasha, the philanthropic act of a grieving father and the progressive attitude of the first state legislature, came together in 1908 to create this institution. As the life of the new school began, it was exclusively for girls.

The Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls, a preparatory school and college, was created with the enactment of Senate Bill 249.  The bill, introduced by Senator N.P. Stewart of Hugo, was signed into law by Governor Charles Haskell on May 16, 1908.

Miss Annie Wade O'Neill of Chickasha had persistently appeared before the state legislature and local citizens' groups pleading for the founding of a girls' preparatory school. The community offered 150 acres to the west of town for the site. An area cattleman, James B. Sparks, offered a 20-acre tract to help assuage the grief over the death of his daughter, Nellie Gaines Sparks, at a distant boarding school. The land, a portion of Miss Sparks' Chickasaw tribal inheritance located at the southwest edge of the city, was accepted as the site for the school.



OIICG was appropriated $100,000 for a school building by the first legislature. Believing that money would soon be appropriated for maintenance and salaries, the first President, J.B. Abernathy (1909-11) of Mississippi, and his faculty of seven planned to open classes in the fall of 1909. When the legislature failed to appropriate operating funds, the opening was postponed ... but not for long. Miss O'Neill began a community-wide canvass to secure facilities and operating funds so that classes could begin. Despite a seven-day delay, OIICG opened on September 14, 1909, in the Chickasha High School basement with 119 students registered.

The legislature in 1910 provided the next appropriation for the school in the amount of $39,300 to repay local citizens for support in 1909 and to fund the school in 1910. Each session thereafter, the legislature appropriated the operating funds for the school.



The first students were mostly from the local area. They were housed in private homes at a cost of $15 per month which included "room, meals, fuel, light, cold and hot baths." A faculty member was in charge of each home.

"Discipline will be gentle but firm; uniform and impartially enforced," stated an early college bulletin. With written permission, the girls were allowed to go shopping once a week accompanied by a matron. Students remained in their dormitory or cottage room every night during the school year, unless they were in the company of a parent.

President Abernathy stated that the first faculty was young and inexperienced and he had some difficulty in "harmonizing the teaching forces." Some resigned when salaries had not been set after three months. One "aristocratic" faculty member taught in a large brimmed hat and long gloves. No laughter was permitted in her classroom and she frowned upon a smile.

Girls wore uniforms to "avoid extravagance and ostentation." The dean held a trunk check before luggage was delivered to the girls' rooms to assure equality of belongings. If more than one party dress was discovered, it was returned to the girl's home.


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