In 1886, a determined group of citizens endeavored to create a school for women that would become the “Vassar of the West.” While the college for women never materialized, that initial effort laid the groundwork for what today is Wichita State University.
Although WSU is no longer a religiously affiliated institution, Fairmount College, WSU’s precursor, was founded by the Congregational Church in 1895. The Congregationalists established more than 40 colleges across the United States, beginning with Yale in 1701, and, of the entire group, Wichita State is the largest institution of higher education today. The academic roots of these institutions clearly were the liberal arts.
Fairmount College was located on ground identified as Fairmount Hill. The first building erected was Fairmount Hall, which burned to the ground in 1929. Some of the remains of the building are incorporated in a bridge near Charles Koch Arena.
The church was unable to maintain its financial support of Fairmount College. As a result, the governance of the institution changed; in 1926, Fairmount College became the Municipal University of Wichita (WU), the first city-owned university west of the Mississippi River.
During President Harry Corbin’s tenure in the 1960s, it became clear that Wichita needed a state-assisted educational institution. As a result, President Corbin and a group of dedicated citizens led the drive to bring WU into the Kansas Regents’ system. Since the university had no endowment, the citizens of Wichita passed a 1.5 mill levy to provide annual income in lieu of an endowment. The Kansas Legislature passed legislation to allow the University of Wichita to enter the Kansas Regents’ system in 1964. The name of the university was changed to Wichita State University in 1964.
The nickname “Wheatshocker” dates back to the Fairmount College days when many Fairmount athletes earned money for college by cutting and stacking (shocking) wheat during the summer harvest. The nickname was created by R.J. Kirk, a 1907 Fairmount graduate, when he was a football team manager and player. The university’s unique mascot, “WuShock,” or “Wu,” is an imposing but friendly figure who appears at many Shocker athletic events.
The university’s colors of black and sunflower yellow were selected in 1909 when alumnus Bliss Isely spearheaded efforts to adopt the colors of the sunflower, the state flower, as the university’s colors.