The history of presidential inaugurations at Ohio University
By Marisa Long
Editor's Note: Take a trip back to the inaugurations of a few of Ohio University's former presidents by clicking on the images that appear below.
History permeates the present as Ohio University prepares to inaugurate its 20th president, Roderick J. McDavis, on Sept. 10.
Throughout its 200-year history, Ohio University has marked its presidents' inaugurations with both quiet ceremonies and elaborate affairs. The ceremony, despite subtle changes, continues to show a high regard for the presidency and ardor toward Ohio University, the state of Ohio and the United States.
The first two presidents, Jacob Lindley and James Irvine, quietly signed oaths of office, but the first publicly celebrated inauguration took place with the installation of Ohio University's third president, Robert G. Wilson, 180 years ago on Aug. 11, 1824. Wilson's inauguration drew attention to the presidency of the pioneering Ohio institution and began a rich tradition that continues today. The event included a procession of inaugural participants led by Wilson, administration of the oath of office, presentation of the University charter and key, delivery of inaugural addresses and a benediction -- all staples of the modern ceremony.
A tradition that began as a small gathering of local representatives has developed into an event of pomp and circumstance. The board of trustees, delegates from other universities across the country, former University presidents, state officials, faculty and staff, alumni and friends, students and Athens community members participate in and attend the ceremony. Scholarly robes worn by the delegates, an array of ROTC color guard flags and festive music contribute to the celebratory atmosphere.
The location of inaugural ceremonies has changed over the years. Earlier inaugurations, beginning with that of William Holmes McGuffey, were set on the College Green. Participants and guests sometimes assembled outside Cutler Hall, the University's oldest building, or Ewing Hall, which formerly housed the president's office. Herman Gerlach James, the University's 12th president, was the first inaugurated in what is now Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium, and many of his successors continued that tradition. Vernon Alden was inaugurated on the auditorium's West Portico. Ceremonies for the University's most recent presidents, Charles Ping and Robert Glidden, were conducted in the Convocation Center. McDavis, the second alumnus to serve as Ohio University's president, will be inaugurated in Memorial Auditorium, where he attended many events as a student in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Music also is important in setting the mood for inaugurations. Throughout the years, the national anthem, Ohio University's alma mater and other musical selections have been played. The marching band, choirs and the ROTC color guard are incorporated into the ceremonies. The inaugural celebration often includes luncheons and dinners for visiting delegates and evening entertainment. A separate student welcome, forums and lectures also have been part of past inaugurations.
Though the size and fanfare of the inaugurations have been influenced by the presidents' personal preferences as well as external factors such as war or financial hardships, the event never loses its symbolic value. The inauguration continues to present an excellent opportunity for the incoming president to introduce himself and share his vision for the University. With each ceremony, air is breathed into the life of the institution and the future is celebrated.
Marisa Long is a writer for University Communications and Marketing. University Archivist Bill Kimok helped research information for this article using the resources of the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections.