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Moment of Indiana History

Butler’s First President

In Samuel Hoshour's first teaching position at Wayne County Seminary, his pupils included governor-to-be Oliver P. Morton, and the future author of Ben Hur.

Long before he became the first president of what would be Butler University, Samuel Hoshour taught at Wayne County Seminary.

Today, basketball fans around the nation recognize the name Butler University for their two consecutive trips to the finals of the NCAA tournament. The school has long been popular among students for its academic excellence and its beautiful campus in northern Indianapolis. Less known among alumni and current students, however, is the name of Samuel Hoshour – the first president of the school that became today’s university.

In 1833, Samuel Hoshour arrived in Centerville, Indiana, from his home in Pennsylvania. A convert from Lutheranism to the Campbellite movement, he left behind the ostracism of family and friends, settled in the Hoosier state, and took up a career in education. Hoshour began his life’s work teaching young men at the Wayne County Seminary. He would perhaps not be remembered for this were it not for some of his pupils – politician George W. Julian, future governor Oliver P. Morton, and Civil War general and famous novelist Lew Wallace.

Through the 1840s, Hoshour taught at a school in Cambridge City, taught summer courses at Asbury College (later DePauw University), and also taught German during the summer at Indiana University. In 1855, he became the first president of the newly established North Western Christian University—later to be renamed for Ovid Butler—in Indianapolis. He presided as president for 3 years but then stayed on at the school for 14 more years, teaching foreign languages —French, German, Latin, and Greek.

For one year during the Civil War, Hoshour left his teaching duties behind at the request of his former pupil, now Indiana governor, Oliver Morton, to take on the position of state superintendent of public instruction, replacing the former office holder who had died. During his brief time in the position, Hoshour improved the quality of the state’s school examination process by mandating a yearly state convention for examiners; he also presided over a period in which many more women gained jobs as teachers (from 22% of teachers in state pre-college schools in 1860 to 42% by the end of 1862).

Hoshour returned to his teaching duties after 1862. He died in 1883 and was buried, like many other well-known Hoosiers, in Indianapolis’s Crown Hill Cemetery. Years later, in his autobiography, Lew Wallace remembered his old teacher with fondness and great respect: “Professor Hoshour was the first to observe a glimmer of writing capacity in me. An indifferent teacher would have allowed the discovery to pass without account; but he set about making the most of it”.

Sources: Albert Ross Williams, “Samuel K. Hoshour: A Pioneer Educator,” Indiana Magazine of History 27 (December 1931); Lew Wallace, An Autobiography (1906).

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History

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