The Bronze statue created to honor ONU’s founder Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr. Photo/ ONU Archives

Most people have walked past this bronze statue at the head of campus, between Hill and Dicke. Have you ever stopped to learn more about the man behind the statue? The statue is of Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr, born in 1838 to George and Salome Lehr of Ohltown, Ohio, the eleventh child in the family. He is the treasured founding father of Ohio Northern University. 

Lehr balanced two jobs during his young adult years. He worked as a part time teacher as well as a farm hand for the family farm. Lehr was diligently working to provide for his family and save funds to receive a higher education. After saving up, Henry could afford an education at Mount Union College. Henry enrolled in 1857. As a student, Lehr developed the idea that colleges should create their schedules and curriculum for the convenience of the student, which had not been implemented in higher education. Unfortunately his studies were halted due to the American Civil War.

Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr. Photo/ ONU Archives

After the tragedy and destruction Dr. Lehr witnessed during the trying times of the Civil War, he decided that he wanted to continue teaching and believed Americans needed education. He was determined to make an impact in the lives of people around him. In 1866, Lehr moved to the small town of rural Ada, Ohio. He found himself becoming the one and only schoolmaster in town. Lehr saw the increasing need of education beyond the daily classroom, an increased need of more professional teachers, and targeted teaching in Ada. After heavy negotiation with the town, he was able to use city school facilities to offer “select school” to people who wished to get more targeted education and expand their knowledge in the field of education. After seeing his select school flourish, Lehr felt it was time to ask the citizens of Ada for financial help to expand his vocation. In 1870 he purchased land to build an academic facility for his growing education center.

In August 1871, Lehr founded the “Northwestern Ohio Normal School” which was strictly a school to train teachers. During the early years of the school’s opening, Lehr commuted to Mount Union to complete his PhD. He graduated ten years behind his original class. In 1885, after the expansion of degrees offered at the school, Lehr’s Northwestern Ohio Normal School became the Northwestern Ohio Normal University. Lehr acted as sitting president from 1871 until 1900 when Dr. Leroy Belt was elected to be the second president. In 1903 Dr. Lehr stepped down from his positions as Treasurer, Secretary and Manager to retire to Winona Lake, Indiana.

Ohio Northern University early chemistry class – 1902. Photo/ ONU Archives

During the University’s early years, Lehr wanted to keep tuition as low as possible to enable many people to be able to afford to enroll. Unfortunately, by the 1890s, the school faced financial difficulties. To place the university on sound financial footing, Lehr transferred Ohio Normal University to the Methodist Church, and since 1899, the university has been affiliated with the church. In 1903, after the college’s offered curriculum grew to include graduate degrees such as pharmacy, engineering, law and business, the university changed their name to the well known and beloved Ohio Northern University. Now, when you pass that brass statue, you will know the history of the man behind it, Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr.

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