Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) is an outgrowth of what was originally known as Central Mennonite College, founded in 1898 by the Middle District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, and located at Bluffton, Ohio. As early as 1896, the Middle District, at its conference session at Noble, Iowa, appointed a committee of three men—N. C. Hirschy of Wadsworth, Ohio, J. F. Lehman of Berne, Indiana, and J. B. Baer of Bluffton, Ohio—to investigate the possibility of establishing a school of higher learning under Christian influences for the educating of the young people of the church. The committee, later increased to 7, believing that a conference with only 3,000 members was not large enough to finance a satisfactory school of this nature, first investigated the possibility of uniting in an educational project with the (old) Mennonites, who had just inaugurated a school at Elkhart, Indiana, called the Elkhart Institute. The effort was unsuccessful, however.
At the conference session of 1898, held at Danvers, Illinois, it was decided to found the institution, and Bluffton, Ohio, was selected as the location. The first building was erected in 1900, and the school was opened 5 November of the same year, under the name of the Central Mennonite College. N. C. Hirschy was elected president, and D. F. Janzen of Elkhart and I. B. Beechy of Bluffton were added to the faculty. Others were added later for part-time work. Although called a college, the school offered only academy subjects, with additional courses in commercial subjects and music. There were 29 students on the opening day, nearly all from the local community, increased to 48 by the end of the year, 30 of whom had registered in the academy and the remainder divided between the commercial and music departments.
The growth of the school was slow, due to several factors. The development during the period of the growth of high schools everywhere was making the work of the academies increasingly unnecessary; the small membership of the Middle District Conference was not able to support a college efficiently; and unfortunately there was not sufficient harmony between the leaders of the school and local church community. There was continual expansion, though slight. In 1902 the junior college was added, giving two years of college instruction, with four students the first year. In 1904, the Herschler estate, valued at $40,000, was added to the endowment fund. In 1907 Edmund Hirschler joined the faculty, and a little later S. K. Mosiman, a former missionary to the American Indians, and but recently returned from Germany where he had been granted a Ph.D. degree from Jena.
Because of the handicaps above mentioned, the year 1908 was a critical year for the college, and a turning point in its history. President Hirschy had resigned his office, to be succeeded in 1910 by S. K. Mosiman; and William Gottschall from Pennsylvania became the pastor of the local congregation, thus bringing in new leadership to both the college and the church. The special independent college church congregation was liquidated, and a special endowment fund of $60,000 was planned, and later raised.
In spite of this new lease on life, however, it was doubtful whether the slender resources of the small Middle Conference were sufficient to promise any hope of developing the school into a full-fledged college. By 1913, the last year of the independent existence of Central Mennonite College, the total number of students registered for the year was 198, of whom 40 were registered in the junior college, and the remainder scattered through the other departments—commercial, music, Bible, and art, most of these for part time only. It is extremely doubtful whether Central Mennonite College could have survived many years longer with its slender financial and student backing had it not been that just at this time it fell heir to a new movement that greatly enlarged its constituency and financial backing.
The enlarged Bluffton College was the result of the vision of several of the educational leaders from different Mennonite groups for a united establishment of a standard college and theological seminary for all the Mennonite groups. Chief among these leaders were N. E. Byers, president of Goshen College, and S. K. Mosiman, president of Central Mennonite College. Two of the Mennonite colleges were granting college degrees at this time, Goshen and Bethel; but even these were not recognized by any accrediting agency as meeting the requirements of a standard college. There were a number of academies and Bible schools and two junior colleges—Central Mennonite and Freeman. Most of the smaller Mennonite groups had no college or school connections whatever. The movement above described had a threefold objective: (1) To provide a fully recognized standard college in connection with one of the colleges already established. (2) To unite in this common effort all the branches of the church including those smaller groups not yet supplied with educational institutions. (3) To supply the whole denomination with a theological seminary for the training of the ministers and church workers.
At a meeting held at Warsaw, Indiana, on 29 May 1913, 24 of the educational leaders representing several of the larger branches of the church, decided unofficially to launch this experiment, and the following resolutions were adopted:
Resolved: That it is the sense of this meeting that an institution be established, representing the various branches of the Mennonite church, giving the undergraduate work of a standard college (courses leading to the A.B. and A.M. degrees), the theological and Biblical work of a standard seminary, and courses in music aiming at the thorough development of the musical ability of our people, and meeting the needs of our churches; and further, that the institution should be established in connection with one of the schools already controlled by the Mennonite people.Accordingly a board of 15 directors was selected from the different branches of the church represented, and the location of the institution decided. Although Goshen and Bethel were the only Mennonite colleges at this time giving a full four-year college course, and thus the logical candidates for the new affiliation, yet neither found it expedient for various reasons to accept this responsibility; and so Central Mennonite, though but a small junior college, with an uncertain future, was chosen as the beneficiary of the new experiment, under the name of Bluffton College and Mennonite Seminary. S. K. Mosiman was retained as president of the new college, and N. E. Byers, who had resigned as president of Goshen, was elected as dean. C. Henry Smith, formerly dean of Goshen, was also added to the faculty. On 27 January 1914 the board of trustees of the old Central Mennonite College, who eagerly welcomed this new turn in the affairs of the college, turned over the direction of the institution to the new board. At the same time under the direction of Dr. Mosiman, an extensive building program was inaugurated, which added to the campus within the year a central heating plant, a science hall, and a women’s dormitory, the latter a gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Ropp of Bloomington, Illinois, warm friends of the new movement.
As rapidly as possible the whole program inaugurated at Warsaw was put into operation, and the former junior college was transformed into a full-fledged four-year institution. During the first winter, J. A. Huffman, of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, gave a course in Bible. The next year J. H. Langenwalter was selected as dean of the Mennonite Seminary, and additional members were added to the faculty as the student body grew in numbers. Under the able guidance of Dean Byers the necessary changes were soon made. Two years were added to the course of study and the first class of eight were granted the A.B. degree in 1915. In the years immediately following, G. A. Lehman was made head of the music department; the academy, up to this time the largest department of the school, was dropped, as was also the commercial department. Student organization also kept pace with the progress of the educational policies. Active young men’s and young women’s Christian associations were organized as was also a strong student volunteer mission band.
In 1921 the Mennonite Seminary became a separate institution, though it remained on the same campus, in close affiliation with the college. J. E. Hartzler became the first president, and P. E. Whitmer the first dean. The name was changed to Witmarsum Seminary.
In 1925, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the original Central Mennonite College, President Mosiman summarized the achievements of Bluffton up to that time:
The total enrollment in all departments at present (January 1925) is 395. Of these, 238 are in the college of liberal arts. Seventy per cent of the students are from Mennonite homes, and six branches of the denomination are represented; but twelve other denominations are also represented in the student body. They come from eleven different states with Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania leading in the order named. Two hundred forty-one A.B. degrees have been granted since 1914, besides a number of Master’s degrees. Within the past ten years $500,000 has been collected, ninety per cent of which has come from Mennonite contributors. The eight buildings on the campus are valued at $260,000, while the permanent investments equal $367,000.During the depression years of the middle thirties, and the war years of the early forties, student attendance was greatly reduced, and financial difficulties became severe, but the postwar years brought attendance back again to the highest point in the history of the school, approximately 400 in 1948, from 21 states and foreign countries, and the majority of them of the Mennonite faith. After that attendance again declined for a number of years.
Students of the 1950s were given a large share in the government of student affairs. A student council, elected by the students themselves, assisted the faculty in all matters of student discipline. The honor system applied to all student tests and examinations. The Witmarsum was the student college paper, and the Ista, the student annual. The official administration publication was the monthly Bluffton College Bulletin.
The curriculum in 1950 was that of the usual liberal arts college, with special additional attention to religion, music, and fine arts. Twenty-one departments of study were grouped under four divisions— Christian fundamentals, arts and literature, material sciences, and social sciences.
While the college aimed to be strictly broadly Christian and nonsectarian, yet in the Bible Department and among the Mennonite students, special emphasis was placed upon the traditional Mennonite faith, especially the peace teaching of the church. Among the active student organizations were two Gospel teams, one of men and the other of women; YMCA and YWCA organizations; an active peace action club; and an international relations club. A number of the faculty were members of the various boards and committees of the General Conference.
The faculty in 1948 consisted of 21 regular members, graduates of the leading universities and colleges of the U.S. and abroad; and a number of part-time assistants. S. K. Mosiman, the first president of Bluffton College, retired in 1935, to be succeeded for a few years by A. S. Rosenberger, who served from 1935 until 1938. He was followed by Lloyd L. Ramseyer (1938-1965). N. E. Byers, the first dean of the college, retired in 1937 to be succeeded by J. S. Schultz (1937-1954) and Robert Kreider (1954- ).
The board of directors of the college in 1948 consisted of 16 members, 9 of whom were officially elected by three district conferences of the General Conference —the Eastern District, the Middle District, and the Central Conference. Four members were selected from the Mennonite church at large by the board itself; while two represented the alumni. There were also two advisory councils, one of men and the other of women. Dr. J. S. Slabaugh of Nappanee, Indiana, served for some years as the president of the board.
Bluffton College an Adventure in Faith 1900-1950. Bluffton, Ohio, The College, 1950.
Bush, Perry. Dancing with the kobzar: Bluffton College and Mennonite higher education, 1899-1999. Telford, Pa. : Pandora Press U.S. ; Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press ; Newton, Kan. : Faith & Life Press, 2000.
Smith, C. H. and E. J. Hirschler. The Story of Bluffton College. Bluffton, Ohio: The College, 1925.
 Additional Information
Address: 1 University Drive, Bluffton, Ohio
Website: Bluffton University
Bluffton University Presidents
|Noah Calvin Hirschy||1900-1908|
|Samuel K. Mosiman||1910-1935|
|Arthur S. Rosenberger||1935-1938|
|Lloyd L. Ramseyer||1938-1965|
|Robert S. Kreider||1965-1972|
|Lee F. Snyder||1996-2006|
|James M. Harder||2006-present|
|Author(s)||C. Henry Smith|
 Cite This Article
Smith, C. Henry. "Bluffton University (Bluffton, Ohio, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 16 Mar 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bluffton_University_(Bluffton,_Ohio,_USA)&oldid=91158.
Smith, C. Henry. (1955). Bluffton University (Bluffton, Ohio, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 March 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bluffton_University_(Bluffton,_Ohio,_USA)&oldid=91158.
Herald Press website.
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